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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 23, 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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Micah

Micah was the last of the eighth-century prophets. He was from south-western Judah, west of Hebron. He is preoccupied with social justice and is totally independent of political and religious leaders. Times are bad: Assyria has captured Damascus and Samaria. Jerusalem was besieged in 701 BC. But danger was internal too: leaders accepted bribes; merchants cheated their customers; pagan gods were worshipped along with the Lord. Micah preaches about sin and punishment; people have rejected God. The coming punishment is due to their sin. Even so, there is hope for the future: a remnant will form the nucleus of a new Israel, and its leader will be a true shepherd, one who brings peace.


Micah 5:2-5a

Micah wrote at a time when the Assyrian army had invaded the northern kingdom, Israel, and when corruption was rife in Judah. The rich cheated and robbed the poor; priests and prophets adapted their words to suit their audiences. In 701 BC, Jerusalem was besieged and Judah became a vassal state of Assyria. The invaders occupied part of the coastal plain, menacing Micah’s home city, Moresheth, and the surrounding area. The prophet speaks “the word of the LORD that came” (1:1) to him: in 4:9-5:1, he tells of the humiliation and difficulties Israel must experience in the near future. Despite “many nations [being] ... assembled against you” (4:11), God will give the Israelites victory over their enemies: this is God’s plan.

But a time will come when a ruler will arise from the Ephrathah clan of the tribe of Judah (Ephrathah being the area round Bethlehem); he will “rule in Israel” (v. 2) and will be of ancient lineage (“from of old ...”). (David being from Bethlehem, people understood the lineage to be his; as Matthew 2:5-6 shows, at the time of Jesus, they understood this figure to be the Messiah, the ideal future king, who would bring misery to an end and usher in God’s glorious kingdom.) God will “give them up” (v. 3, allow his people to be oppressed) until the right time. The woman in v. 3 is this king’s mother. When he is born, oppression will end and all Israelites will be reunited. He will be like a shepherd, feeding his people (“flock”, v. 4) through the power and authority of God. He will bring an era of peace. He will rule in Jerusalem (v. 7).


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 1:46b-55

Mary is visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah. God’s messenger, Gabriel, has told her that she will bear Jesus, “the Son of God” (v. 35), successor to David and founder of an eternal kingdom. With God, “nothing will be impossible” (v. 37) – it was possible for Sarah to bear a child. Mary now thanks God in a poem known as the Magnificat, the first word of its Latin translation. Speaking today, she might begin: From the depth of my heart, I declare the Lord’s greatness and rejoice in God my Saviour. “Servant” (v. 48) can also be rendered slave or handmaid: in v. 38, she has acknowledged that she is a “servant of the Lord”, i.e. obedient to him in all things. She will be hailed by people of every age (“generations”, v. 48) in the new era of salvation launched by her son. Why? Because of the seemingly impossible “things” (v. 49) God has done for her. Then a reminder (v. 50): God is compassionate to all who hold him in awe throughout time.

Vv. 51-53 universalize her experience, to reflect how God deals with all humanity. While the verbs are in the past tense in English, the Greek tense has the sense of:

  • how God customarily acts – as he always has and will continue to do – and
  • what he is starting to do in the conception of Jesus.
  • The “proud” (v. 51), the arrogant, are alienated from God by their very “thoughts”; he reverses fortunes, raising up those in need (“lowly”, v. 52, “hungry”, v. 53) and rejecting the rich, those who think they don’t need God. Vv. 54-55 sum up the Magnificat: in his compassion, God has fulfilled and continues to fulfill his promises to the patriarchs.


    Psalms

    Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


    Psalm 80:1-7

    This is a prayer for deliverance from Israel’s enemies, calling on God to “shine forth” (smile), be favourably disposed towards his people. God was seen as enthroned invisibly on the “cherubim”, the half-human, half-animal winged creatures on the Ark. From the mention of three northern tribes in v. 2 we can guess that this psalm was written shortly before the conquest of the northern kingdom in 721 BC. Vv. 3, 7 and 19 are a refrain: please take us back, God, into the covenant relationship with you! The nation’s current plight is seen as due to God’s anger (v. 4). Vv. 5 and 6 tell of the present evils besetting the nation; in contrast, vv. 8-11 recall God’s gracious hand in the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. Why, asks v. 12, have you made Israel vulnerable? Please Lord, look after us! Vv. 17-19 seek deliverance: may you be with our king, “the one at your right hand”, so we will never desert you (v. 18). Give us strength (“life”) to seek favours from you. Be with us, so that “we may be saved” (v. 19).


    Hebrews

    Apart from the concluding verses (which may have been added later), this book is a treatise (or sermon) rather than a letter. Its name comes from its approach to Christianity: it is couched is Judaic terms. The identity of the author is unknown; Origen, c. 200 said that "only God knows" who wrote Hebrews. The book presents an elaborate analysis, arguing for the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as revealer and mediator of God's grace. Basing his argument on the Old Testament, the author argues for the superiority of Christ to the prophets, angels and Moses. Christ offers a superior priesthood, and his sacrifice is much more significant than that of Levite priests. Jesus is the "heavenly" High Priest, making the true sacrifice for the sins of the people, but he is also of the same flesh and blood as those he makes holy.


    Hebrews 10:5-10

    In v. 1, the author has stated that the sacrifices offered annually in the Temple on the Day of Atonement (according to Jewish law) foreshadow (point forward to) “the good things [that are] to come” through Christ. He then argues: if the temple sacrifices were “good things”, i.e. cleansing of all inner guilt that sin causes, why did these sacrifices need to continue? (v. 2) These sacrifices, he says, did not wipe the slate clean (v. 3); they can’t (v. 4).

    Now, quoting Psalm 40, the author explains that God prefers obedience (“a body ...”, v. 5) to sacrifices: doing God’s will is what counts (v. 7). In v. 8 the author interprets the psalm. He lists the four types of sacrifice offered in the Temple, offered according to Mosaic “law” (v. 8). Jesus, he says (v. 9), came to do away with “the first” (the sacrificial system) and to inaugurate “the second” (the self-offering of Jesus). It is “by God’s will” (v. 10), carried out through Christ, that we have been “sanctified”, been made ceremonially clean and been perfected, made complete, through Christ’s death on the cross – “once for all” time.


    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 1:39-45

    The gospel reading precedes the Magnificat, said or sung today. An angel has appeared to Zechariah in the Temple, and later the angel Gabriel has come to Mary. Zechariah has been told that his wife Elizabeth will bear a child in her old age; Mary has heard that she will bear a son to be called Jesus and “Son of the Most High” (v. 32), of God. God will make him a king of David’s line; he will rule Israel for ever.

    Now Mary visits her “relative” (v. 36) Elizabeth. A scholar tells us that the Greek words translated “with haste” (v. 39) can be rendered very thoughtfully. In telling us that “the child” (v. 41, John the Baptist) “leaped” in Elizabeth’s womb, Luke intends us to understand that John recognizes his Lord, Jesus. Elizabeth’s reaction, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to praise Mary. Luke’s first readers would have recalled the liberation brought to Israel militarily by two women called “blessed” (v. 42) in other books: one in Judges, the other in Judith. Elizabeth “exclaimed with a loud cry” (or voice) – the way marvellous prophecies were given in the Old Testament.

    V. 43 translates a Semitic idiom: today Elizabeth might say: How can I be thought worthy of being visited by the mother of my Lord? V. 45 portrays Mary as the model believer: she trusted that God would keep his promise made through Gabriel, preposterous as it sounded.


    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 1:39-45,(46-55)

    An angel has appeared to Zechariah in the Temple, and later the angel Gabriel has come to Mary. Zechariah has been told that his wife Elizabeth will bear a child in her old age; Mary has heard that she will bear a son to be called Jesus and “Son of the Most High” (v. 32), of God. God will make him a king of David’s line; he will rule Israel for ever.

    Now Mary visits her “relative” (v. 36) Elizabeth. In telling us that “the child” (v. 41, John the Baptist) “leaped” in Elizabeth’s womb, Luke intends us to understand that John recognizes his Lord, Jesus. Elizabeth’s reaction, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to praise Mary. Elizabeth “exclaimed with a loud cry” (v. 42, or voice) – the way marvellous prophecies were given in the Old Testament. V. 43 translates a Semitic idiom: today Elizabeth might say: How can I be thought worthy of being visited by the mother of my Lord? V. 45 portrays Mary as the model believer: she trusted that God would keep his promise made through Gabriel, preposterous as it sounded.

    Mary thanks God (vv. 47-55) in a poem known as the Magnificat, the first word of its Latin translation. Speaking today, she might begin: From the depth of my heart, I declare the Lord’s greatness and rejoice in God my Saviour. “Servant” (v. 48) can also be rendered slave or handmaid: in v. 38, she has acknowledged that she is a “servant of the Lord”, i.e. obedient to him in all things. She will be hailed by people of every age (“generations”, v. 48) in the new era of salvation launched by her son. Why? Because of the seemingly impossible “things” (v. 49) God has done for her. Vv. 51-53 universalize her experience, to reflect how God deals with all humanity. While the verbs are in the past tense in English, the Greek tense has the sense of:

  • how God customarily acts – as he always has and will continue to do – and
  • what he is starting to do in the conception of Jesus.
  • The “proud” (v. 51), the arrogant, are alienated from God by their very “thoughts”; he reverses fortunes, raising up those in need (“lowly”, v. 52, “hungry”, v. 53) and rejecting the rich, those who think they don’t need God.

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