Monday, December 10, 2018

Advent 3C Readings & Commentaries

John the Baptist

The Third Sunday of Advent traditionally is called Gaudate Sunday, a name which comes from the first word of the Latin Mass introit on this Sunday:  Gaudate, “be joyful,” or “rejoice.” The color is lightened to rose, signaling that we are more than halfway to Christmas.  Some people call this “Stir Up Sunday” because of the first words of the Collect of the Day.

1st Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Zephaniah prophesied in the closing years of the seventh century bce. and was clearly influenced by Amos and Isaiah of Jerusalem (“First Isaiah”).  These were good years for Israel under King Josiah (640-609 bce), who many regarded as the greatest king since David.  The prophets of this time, however, knew that prosperity was being built on the backs of the poor and that the collapse of the society was just a matter of time.  Zephaniah himself may have been an Ethiopian, the only Jewish prophet we know of African origin.  His writing consists of nine oracles. The first eight are full of judgment and coming destruction.  The ninth is our reading this morning, proclaiming that there is still hope for a righteous remnant.  Zephaniah celebrates God’s presence remaining with a renewed Israel.

3:14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.

Canticle: The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)
The psalm is replaced today by a canticle from The Book of Common Prayer (#9).  Isaiah 12:2-6 (usually referred to as “The First Song of Isaiah”) is a song of praise that concludes the first major section of the book of Isaiah.  It is a song of awaited redemption.  It continues the hopeful theme of Zephaniah and leads into Paul’s theme of joy in the next reading.

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you
is the Holy One of Israel.

2nd Reading Philippians 4:4-7
At the beginning of this chapter, Paul called the Philippians his joy and his crown (4:1).  Joy is a major theme of the letter, culminating in our passage this morning.  How to translate “The Lord is near” is anybody’s guess as there is no verb in the original Greek.  It probably ties to the next phrase, “Do not worry…”  That makes the sentiment something like, “The Lord is near so do not worry…”  The last sentence of the passage is, of course, the traditional blessing from Anglican/Episcopal liturgies.  Notice, however, the stronger word “guard” rather than the “keep” in our blessing.

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 3:7-18
The first six lines below follow on the reading from last week and are parallel to the other Gospels’ account of John’s preaching.  What follows (“And the crowds asked him…”) is found only in Luke.  They describe a very practical following of John’s and then Jesus’ teaching.  This is what repentance looks like. It looks like compassion, honesty and justice.  John’s baptism was a ritual purification signifying repentance.  Christian baptism would develop into something deeper—initiation into the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and membership in Christ’s Body the Church.

3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

The Scripture quotations (except for the canticle) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Canticle translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Advent 2C Readings & Commentaries

Our first reading today is part of a longer poem of consolation for Jerusalem and her captive children. Jerusalem in exile is to look to the east for her liberation. (It will come, ironically, with the Persians).

1st Reading: Baruch 5:1-9
Baruch was probably written sometime between 200 and 60 b.c.e., although its setting is during the exile in Babylon in the sixth century b.c.e.  Baruch was the name of the prophet Jeremiah’s trusted friend and secretary.  We occasionally read them liturgically as Scripture.  Our reading this morning is part of a longer poem of consolation for Jerusalem and her captive children. Jerusalem in exile is to look to the east for her liberation. (It will come, ironically, with the Persians).

5:1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. 2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; 3 for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. 4 For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” 5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. 6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. 7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. 8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. 9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

Or this

1st Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
Malachi (the final book of the Hebrew Scriptures) was a prophet devoted to the restored Temple.  He is partially dealing with the crushed idealism of those who rebuilt the Temple (completed by 515 bce) and expected a new golden age to dawn for Judah (see Haggai 8:1-5, for example).  Malachi points out that the covenant must still be followed and the exercise of the priesthood be pure.  The messenger cited in this passage was the returned Elijah (4:5), although in the New Testament this passage is used to describe the ministry of John the Baptist.

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Canticle: The Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79)
In place of a psalm we have a biblical canticle from the Book of Common Prayer (#16).  It is the song Zechariah sings at the circumcision and naming of his son John, his lips having been freed from the silence imposed on him since the announcement of the child’s conception by the archangel Gabriel (1:20).  The first part of the song praises God’s mighty works in history. The second half prophesizes about the child.  He will be a prophet.  He will prepare the way.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

2nd Reading:  Philippians 1:3-11
These verses are a prayer of thanksgiving, a version of which Paul uses at the beginning of most of his letters.  Right off the bat he uses an important word in this letter: koinonia, which is translated “fellowship,” “partnership,” “sharing,” or “communion.”  Two mentions of “the day of Jesus Christ” make this an Advent reading.  They tell us that the promised day is never far from Paul’s thoughts.  All he does is a preparation for that day, and he urges his listeners to take on the same attitude and practice.

1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 3:1-6
One characteristic of Luke’s Gospel is that he carefully sets it in the context of the world situation.  This is true especially at the beginning of his Gospel.  Here there is a long introduction to John’s appearance, running down the list of the powerful of the region.  John comes as a prophet and calls for reform of life, with immersion in water as a symbol.  Luke quotes Isaiah 40:3-5 to describe John’s ministry.

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

The Scripture quotations (except for the canticle) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Canticle translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.