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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Third Sunday of Advent - December 16, 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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Zephaniah

In 1:1, Zephaniah tells us that he is descended from Hezekiah, most likely the king who ruled Judah 715-687 BCE. This prophet's intimate knowledge of Jerusalem and affairs in the court, and the absence of a theme found in other prophetic books - denunciation of the king - suggest that he was of royal descent. 1:1 also tells us that his ministry began in the reign of King Josiah, the great reformer. But his denunciation of corruption in religious affairs suggests that his prophecies date from before the reforms of 621 BCE. The book predicts doom for Judah for failing to follow God's ways, and adverse judgememht on other nations, too; however, the final chapter promises comfort and consolation for those inhabitants of Jerusalem who wait petiently for the Lord and serve God as a community. They will rejoice when God comes into their midst.


Zephaniah 3:14-20

Earlier in the chapter, the author has spoken of Jerusalem (her inhabitants) and their crimes: they have failed to listen to God, accept his advice, trust in him and draw near (v. 2) to him. He has destroyed other nations as a warning to Jerusalem, but she has ignored it (vv. 6-7). In spite of this, he will cause Gentiles to turn to his ways (v. 9); they will serve him by permitting the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem (v. 10). When God does rise (“on that day”, v. 11, in an ideal future time), he will bring about Jerusalem’s moral recovery by removing the arrogant from their midst (v. 12), leaving as “the remnant” (v. 13), the “humble and lowly” (v. 12), who will be godly; they will live in tranquillity.

Now the author (or perhaps a later editor) invites Jerusalem to rejoice because her salvation is about to happen. God has intervened (v. 15); he dwells with his people; he protects them. In a military image, God will lead Israel’s army. He will encourage her people (v. 16); he will give them victory, rejoice in their return to his ways, make his love for them apparent again, and celebrate in song. As people expected to happen at the end of time, God will destroy Jerusalem’s (and Judah’s) enemies, look after those who suffer, bring the exiles home, and make the city to be honoured by all (v. 19). They will see Judah’s fortunes restored! (v. 20).


Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 12:2-6

This passage is in a similar vein to our reading from Zephaniah. V. 1 and v. 4 begin “... in that day”; 11:10 says “On that day” other nations will note that a king of David’s line (“the root of Jesse”) sits on Israel’s throne; they will ask about him and the divine glory that is with him. “On that day”, says 11:11, God will gather the remnant, the remaining faithful, from throughout the world. So the day is the end of the era, when the Messiah will come. “You” (12:1) is singular, so perhaps God instructs a herald of events to come. He will tell the people to give thanks for the end of God’s anger and return to his comfort. Perhaps metaphorically, “salvation” in v. 2 and v. 3 is restoration to the Promised Land: note “wells of salvation”. God’s “strength and ... might” (v. 2) will protect his people. Life-giving water symbolizes God’s saving power. In a second song (vv. 4-6), the people not only give thanks but also proclaim the good news to all nations: that all may know of him and his actions. His people are inhabitants of “Zion” (v. 6), “royal” because God, “the Holy One of Israel” dwells there.


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 4:4-7

Paul began the conclusion to the letter back in 3:1a. After a digression – to warn against heresy and self-indulgence and to urge devotion to Christ – he tries to finish the letter, but certain concerns intrude. It seems that “Euodia” (v. 2) and “Syntyche”, two workers for Christ, differ in their understanding of what the way of Christ is, and that this is causing disunity in the Philippian community. We do not know to whom Paul refers as his “loyal companion” (v. 3); he is asked to be instrumental in achieving reconciliation.

V. 4 is the conventional Greek salutation (like our goodbye) but here Paul means “rejoice” literally. May you behave towards others as you should (“gentleness”, v. 5). Paul expects the Second Coming soon: “The Lord is near.” Then v. 6: rather than worrying on their own, the Philippians should ask God to help them, through prayer, both in prayers of “supplication” (petition) and of “thanksgiving”. God’s “peace” (v. 7) will protect them against their own failings and external threats. It “surpasses all understanding” either by being beyond the grasp of the human mind or by achieving more than we can conceive.


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 3:7-18

Luke has told us that “... the word of God came to John ... in the wilderness. He went into all the region ... proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins ...” (vv. 2-3). Now John the Baptist addresses people in general (“crowds”, v. 7): he calls them “vipers” (poisonous snakes common in Judea), and accuses them of being baptised with no intention of starting a new, ethical, life. If they think that by being baptised they will evade God’s judgement at the end of the era (“wrath to come”, v. 7), they are wrong: they must also turn to godliness. Being Jewish, having “Abraham as our ancestor” (v. 8) is no assurance of salvation, for anyone who responds to God’s gift of love with appropriate behaviour will be part of the renewed Israel. The people have a choice (v. 9): either respond to God’s offer by beginning a new way of living, or face condemnation at the end of time. (Here “fire” symbolizes adverse judgement.) God will fulfil his promises to Abraham in unexpected ways! Luke gives us three examples of behaviour which fit with turning over a new leaf. The “crowds” (v. 10) are probably ordinary people; they should have selfless concern for the disadvantaged. In spite of attempted reforms, “tax collectors” (v. 12) still collected more than prescribed. The “soldiers” (v. 14) were probably Jews in the service of Herod Antipas; they too were despised. John tells them that they should follow the emperor’s guidelines on military conduct. That “What should we do?” is answered here and elsewhere in various ways probably indicates that simply following rules is inadequate: we must ask again and again in openness to God’s will.

At the time, people expected the Messiah to come at any moment (v. 15): perhaps John would restore Israel’s fortunes and God’s power would triumph now. John says that the baptism he offers is vastly inferior to Jesus’ baptism: for Jesus, he is so unworthy that he cannot even do a slave’s task (“untie ...”, v. 16). (In Acts 2:3, fire is associated with the Holy Spirit.) V. 17 says, in agricultural language, that the godly (“wheat”) will be gathered to Christ but the ungodly (“chaff”) will be destroyed. John preached a message of forgiveness of sins and the advent of a new relationship between people and God.

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