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Wrestling with the Word, episode 50: Second Sunday of Advent, Year C (December 6, 2009) November 17, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Second Sunday of Advent

God is full of surprises. What else are the Incarnation of the Word of God and the appearance of God’s Son as an artisan from Nazareth? At the same time, God consistently sends messengers to prepare people for the surprise. The biblical narratives abound in God’s use of messengers—Moses preparing the crowd at the foot of Mount Sinai for God’s appearance (Exodus 19:10-15); Second Isaiah preparing the people for the imminent salvation of God that would take them home from exile (Isaiah 40); the appearance of Elijah as “my messenger” to prepare people for the Day of the Lord (Malachi 3—4); and now comes John the Baptizer and the Apostle Paul. What makes the coming of God such a surprise is that it is usually very ordinary. The messengers warn and instruct us to see what we will be looking at and to listen to what we will hear.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 50: Second Sunday of Advent, Year C.

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Luke 1:68-79 (the Benedictus)
Filled with the Holy Spirit, the priest Zechariah, who had been mute for the past nine months, opens his mouth. His words bless God as Zechariah interprets God’s purpose for his newborn son John (vv. 68-75). The emphasis on salvation is typical of Luke, and the verbs “looked favorably” and “redeemed” appear in the past tense to indicate that the promise is as good as done. The song testifies to the faithfulness of God to promises by pointing to “the oath that he (the Lord) swore to our ancestor Abraham” (v. 73). True to the message given him by the angel Gabriel at 1:17, the proud father speaks to his baby son about the role he is to play:  as “prophet of the Most High”: he will fulfill the function of Elijah in turning the hearts of people to one another and to God He will prepare the way for the promised salvation and God’s kingdom (v. 76). The goal of his mission appears to be that of giving “knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins” (v. 77).

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Malachi 3:1-4
As a response to the priests’ weariness with their roles of sacrifice and of instructing the people in the ways of justice, God sends a messenger to refine the relationship that once existed between the Lord and the Levitical priesthood.

Context
The Book of Malachi seems to address the post-exilic community of Israel. Sufficient time has elapsed since the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (520 B.C.) that the priests (1:6) have become weary at offering their sacrifices (see 1:12-13) and have failed at their responsibility for instructing the people in ways of truthfulness and justice. Further, they blame the people for asking the whereabouts of the “God of justice” (2:17). As a result, the Lord no longer accepts their offerings (2:13). While the priests are weary with worship, the Lord became weary with them (2:17).

Key Words
V. 1. hinenî šālēach mal’ākî = “Behold I am sending my messenger”:  The Hebrew word  mal’ākî provides the name of the book. While the identity of “messenger” becomes the prophet Elijah at the end of the book, the messenger in 2:4-9 seems to be a Levite priest, and the covenant mentioned in our passage is probably the one mentioned at 2:4-5 (“my covenant with Levi” as a “covenant of life and well-being”). More important is the almost identical expression in 4:5:  hinnê ’ānōkî šōlēach lākem ’ēt ’ēlîyyâ hannābî’ = “Behold I am sending to you Elijah the prophet.” Elijah’s ascent on a cloud with the chariot of fire (2 Kings 2) leads to the hope that he would return.

V. 3. wehāyû laYHWH maggîšê minchâ bitsedāqâ = “and there will be bringers of sacrifice in righteousness”:  The unclarity of the expression raises a note of caution, but the sense seems to be that in contrast to the sacrifices made out of the priests’ “weariness” and the lack of “justice” (2:17), a different attitude, one of righteousness, will prevail when the Lord refines the priesthood.

V. 4.  we‘ārebâ … kîmê ‘ôlām ûkešānîm qadmōniyyôt = “and pleasing … as in the days of old and in former years”:  The reference might be to the sweet-smelling (i.e., acceptable) sacrifice which Noah offered following the chaos of the flood (see Gen. 8:20-21). One will recall that the result of the cessation of the flood was a new creation, not unlike the expectation here.

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Philippians 1:3-11
In anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ, Paul moves from his personal thanks for the congregation at Philippi to his prayer that they may abound in love, so that they might be pure and blameless on the day of Jesus Christ and will have demonstrated the harvest of righteousness.

Context
Philippi was the first stop on Paul’s journey into Europe. He established a congregation there as early as A.D. 49, making it the first European congregation Acts 16:12-39). Paul indicates clearly in the paragraph following our pericope that he writes this letter from prison.  The traditional view is his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:14-31), dating the epistle about 59-60. However, other scholars argue that the imprisonment mentioned might be the one in Caesarea (Acts 23:33–26:32), dating the epistle about 56-58. Still others point to the imprisonment in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:30ff; 2 Cor. 1:8ff.), indicating the earliest date of 53-55.

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Luke 3:1-6
Through the preaching of John the Baptist, God commences the dawning of the new Day and the ensuing kingdom that God promised through the prophets.

Context
The passage of time since Jesus’ birth can be traced somewhat by the reference in 2:1 that Jesus was born during the reign of Augustus, while the action in our pericope occurs after Tiberius had succeeded him. The 15th year of Tiberius would be A.D. 28, a date which is also consistent with the governorship of Pontius Pilate (26-36). The list of persons in 3:1-2 in quite intentional, as it lays forth the characters who will appear later in the Gospel:  Tiberias at 20:20-26; Pilate at 13:1 and ch. 23; Herod Antipas at 3:19; 8:3; 9:7, 9; 13:31; 23:7-15; Philip at 3:19; Caiaphas at 22:50, 54.  Only Lysanias is not mentioned again.

Key Words
V. 2. egeneto rēma theou epi Iōannēn = “the word of God came to John”:  The typical expression of prophetic address implies that John is a prophet. The following OT quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 verifies the claim and points to his function. Recall that in the Benedictus by John’s father Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), the baby was identified at his birth as “prophet of the Most High,” who would go before the Lord to prepare his ways (1:76).

V. 3.  kēryssōn baptisma metanoias eis aphesin hamartiōn = “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”:  Recall the song of his father Zechariah in which John is destined to “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (1:77). In Matthew’s Gospel, the sermon that both John and Jesus preached was the same: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2 and 4:17). Mark adds “repent and believe in the gospel” to Jesus’ announcement about the nearness of God’s kingdom (Mark 1:15), to limits John’s sermon to the words used here in Luke (Mark 1:4).

Vv. 4-6.  “the words of Isaiah the prophet”:  The Isaiah passage from Isa. 40:3-5 is part of the call of the prophet Second Isaiah, and it comes in the context of the new time of salvation for the Israelites who have been held captive in Babylon. The understanding of the people’s salvation from that long exile was based upon the Lord’s announcement that Israel has paid double for her sins and so the people would now be allowed to return home.

V. 6. kai opsetai para sarx to sōtērion tou theou = “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”: These words belong to end of the quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 where they introduce the preaching of Second Isaiah to the exiles in Babylon. They also appear at Isaiah 52:10 where they demonstrate the consequence of Israel’s homecoming to Jerusalem as the Reign of God. Furthermore, the words are virtually identical to Psalm 98:3 where they speak of the universal response to the victory of God over chaos, the result of which is the Reign of God.

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