On the Second and Third Sundays of Advent, we turn to the figure of John the Baptist. We celebrate that the new world for which we work and pray is one of humility and justice. We accept this not only as a future hope, but as a present challenge. The acceptance of this hope and challenge requires in us the practice of repentance.
The Collect of the Day
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach
repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their
warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus
Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, now and for ever. Amen.
Baruch is a book of The Apocrypha, a set of books which are not a part of the Jewish canon of Scripture, but some Christians regard either as Scripture or as (for Anglicans) “read for example of life and instruction of manners” (Bookof Common Prayer, p. 868). 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. 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.
Malachi (the final book of the Hebrew Scriptures) was a prophet devoted to the restored Temple. He is 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
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 away 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. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Canticle translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2021 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.