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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Second Sunday of Advent - December 9, 2012



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Malachi

We know of no prophet named Malachi, so it is likely that this book is named after a passage well known in later Judaism: 3:1 speaks of "my messenger", malaki in Hebrew. The book was written generations after the people returned to Israel and restored the Temple. The prophet addresses his message of judgement to corrupt priests, and gives hope of a future messenger from God. God will then come to judge, purify, and end the era. This messenger, per 4:5, was expected to be Elijah.


Malachi 3:1-4

Cyrus, King of Persia, has permitted the people of Israel to return to Palestine. The Temple, gutted in 586 BC, has been restored, but Israel is still a Persian province. People expected that their fidelity to God would be rewarded by (material) prosperity, but life has continued to be hard, so after several decades, they have lapsed into waywardness. It is the ungodly who prosper. In the old days, the king was God’s agent, but now (there being no king), the priests have assumed this role. In previous chapters, the prophet has condemned the priests for despising God, corrupting worship and misleading the people.

A “messenger” (v. 1) or angel, God’s agent, will come to prepare a way for him. God, long expected, will come to “his temple”, to the priests. God’s “covenant” with Israel was summed up in the priests. His arrival will be sudden, unannounced. V. 2 implies that when God comes, he will judge the people. (The accused stands to hear judgement.) A refiner used the heat of a fire to separate ore into pure metal and slag; a fuller cared for newly shorn wool or woven garments by cleaning them, purifying them, with lye. The messenger will “purify ... and refine” ( v. 3) the priests (“the descendants of Levi”) until they hold him in proper respect. Their offerings, on behalf of the people, will then again be “pleasing to the Lord” (v. 4). God will judge adversely those who deviate from proper moral behaviour and from his ways (v. 5). He will bless all who return to his ways, for he still cares for his people. 4:5 identifies the messenger as Elijah (who ascended to heaven without dying: see 2 Kings 2:10-12); hence the popular belief in Jesus’ day that Elijah would return: see, for example, Luke 9:7-8.


Baruch

This book is set during the Babylonian exile (soon after 600 BC) but it was probably written between 200 and 60 BC. It is attributed to Jeremiah's friend and secretary, Baruch. In Jeremiah 43:1-7, both men are reported to have been taken to Egypt (in 582 BC) but a later tradition says that Baruch went to Babylonia. Baruch 1:15-2:19 is largely a rewrite of Daniel 9:4-19, so Baruch was written after Daniel. As is the case with several books in the Apocrypha, most of the book is passages copied or paraphrased from Old Testament books. Jeremiah's Baruch was meticulous; he would not have made the many errors to be found in 1:1-14.


Baruch 5:1-9

This book is set in the time of the Exile, when some Jews had been deported to Babylon and others had dispersed around the Mediterranean. The author has stated that the Exile happened because many Jews did not obey the Law of Moses (4:12): the speaker there is Jerusalem, the personified mother of the nation. She is a prophet of events to come. God, she says, has noted the people’s return to obedience to him, so the time of the return home is imminent. The time of the city’s mourning for the loss of her “children” (4:12, v. 5) is nearing its end.

Now the author speaks to Jerusalem. It is time to remove mourning attire, to don forever splendid garments given by God, guarantees and symbols of harmony, security and prosperity. Exodus tells us that Aaron, as priest, wore a “diadem” (v. 2, or mitre) inscribed “Holy to the Lord”, a symbol of divine regal splendour. Now personified Jerusalem is made a priest of God (“of the Everlasting”), succeeding Aaron, as a sign of God’s power. The city will receive two titles forever: “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory” (v. 4). From now on, Jerusalem will be a place where justice and peace prevail and where God’s glory will be seen. Vv. 5ff tell of a procession, a pilgrimage to the holy city. The exiles will return from “the east” (Babylon), and from elsewhere, God having spoken (“the word”) and remembered them. They departed the city “on foot” (v. 6) but will return regally, as if borne on thrones. V. 7 echoes Isaiah 40:3-4: a road will be levelled through the Arabian Desert, so they can return safely. It will be surrounded with trees (“woods”, v. 8) which will have miraculously grown in the desert “at God’s command”. God will be present with them (“in the light of his glory”, v. 9), as will “mercy and righteousness”, attributes of God.


Symbol of St Luke

Luke

Three gospels in the New Testament offer similar portraits of the life of Jesus; Luke is the third of them. Its author, traditionally Luke the physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, draws on three sources: Mark (via Matthew), a collection of sayings (known as Q for Quelle, German for source) and his own source. It is a gospel that emphasizes God's love for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers. Women play a more prominent part than in the other gospels. Luke never uses Semitic words; this is one argument for thinking that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.


Luke 1:68-79

Zechariah has been struck mute upon hearing that his wife Elizabeth will bear a child in old age. Later, she has given birth to a son, and his parents have brought him to be circumcised and named. Elizabeth has favoured the name John, and Zechariah has agreed. Now Zechariah “filled with the Holy Spirit ... spoke this prophecy” (v. 67), known as the Benedictus – the Latin translation of “Blessed” (v. 68).

Vv. 68-69 tell of the blessing Israel’s God brings to “his people”: the Jews are the elect. (While the verbs in translations are in the past tense, the present is equally appropriate. The tense in Greek shows that they describe how God characteristically acts and what he is inaugurating in Jesus.) God gives them one who will save them from sin (“mighty saviour”, v. 69), descended from David, in fulfilment of prophecies he made through the Old Testament “prophets” (v. 70) who told of rescue from “enemies” (v. 71). God fulfils his promises, especially his pact with Abraham (vv. 72-73), so Israel may from now on hold him in proper respect but not fear his wrath. The “child” (v. 76) is John the Baptist. He will be thought to be Elijah, “the prophet ...” (although Luke sees the prophet long expected as Jesus). John’s mission will be to bring people to an ethical, godly, way of living, thus preparing the way for “the Lord”. Vv. 78-79 return to Jesus’ role: he will be the “dawn” (new light) from heaven, the one through whom God fulfills his purpose for humanity. At a time when hopes are at low ebb and people are particularly in need, he will be a beacon guiding them into “peace” (v. 79), i.e. wholeness, harmony, well-being, prosperity and security.


Philippians

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, a prosperous Roman colony in northern Greece, from prison. We do not know whether this imprisonment was in Ephesus or in Rome. It appears that he was held under house arrest. It is possible that the epistle is actually made up of three letters. It contains many personal references, exhorts members of the Philippian church to live the Christian life and to good ethical conduct, introduces Timothy and Epaphroditus as his representatives, and warns against legalists and libertines. Lastly, he thanks the Philippian community for their material support.


Philippians 1:3-11

In the verses following the salutation of the letter, Paul thanks God for the Christians at Philippi, “praying with joy” (v. 4, a pervasive quality of the book), because of their participation (“sharing”, v. 5) in spreading the good news, “from the first day”, since their conversion. Paul is “confident” (v. 6) that God (“the one”) will finish what God has begun among them by “the day of Jesus Christ”, i.e. when he returns at the end of the era. Paul is particularly close to the Philippians because they “share” (v. 7) in Christian community, “in God’s grace”, with him: in suffering, and in defending and confirming the good news. (At his trial, Paul will have the opportunity to defend the gospel and show its power, v. 16). He longs to be with them with deep affection (“compassion”, v. 8).

Vv. 9-11 are his prayer for them: may they grow in love of God through knowing more of the Christian reality, marked by keen awareness of its meaning (“insight”), that they may discern the difference being Christians makes (“best”), so that when Christ comes again, they may be ready - having achieved a right relationship with God (“harvest of righteousness”, v. 11), through being in and with Christ, thus augmenting God’s “glory”, the showing forth of his inherent absolute goodness, and being ideally suited to praising God, rendering him homage, for it.


Symbol of St Luke

Luke

Three gospels in the New Testament offer similar portraits of the life of Jesus; Luke is the third of them. Its author, traditionally Luke the physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, draws on three sources: Mark (via Matthew), a collection of sayings (known as Q for Quelle, German for source) and his own source. It is a gospel that emphasizes God's love for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers. Women play a more prominent part than in the other gospels. Luke never uses Semitic words; this is one argument for thinking that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.


Luke 3:1-6

As did classical Greek authors, Luke places an event (John’s ministry) in the context of rulers, here both secular and religious. (V. 1a gives the most precise dating of the start of Jesus’ ministry in the gospels, i.e. 26-29 AD.) “Herod” here is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. “Caiaphas” (v. 2), Annas’ son, is now high priest but his father retains his prestige (and power). The Greek translated “the word of God came” (v. 2) is the same as in Jeremiah: Luke sees John as continuing Jeremiah’s role of announcing judgement at the end of the era and a new pact with God, available to all. John travels throughout the Jordan Valley, preaching return to God’s ways and being ethically and spiritually renewed, here (vv. 4-6) expressed through metaphor. (These verses are from Isaiah 40:3-5.) Luke makes one change in the quotation: “his” (v. 4) emphasizes that it is Jesus for whom he prepares the way. To Luke, “all flesh” (v. 6), all people, not only Jews, will have the opportunity to be rescued from sin.

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