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Wrestling with the Word, episode 51: Third Sunday of Advent, Year C (December 13, 2009) November 26, 2009

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

Some time ago, I learned that when I write to someone requesting a favor, I should never thank him or her in advance. As I recall the lesson in diplomacy, the reason for the prohibition was the audacious assumption that the person would accept, almost reducing the freedom of the person to choose. Yet the Bible abounds in calls to thank and praise God for the promises about coming near to us, comforting and saving us, and even turning the world upside down. In other words, the Bible calls us to thank God in advance. However, far from an enticement to improper etiquette, the call assumes that once God has made a promise, the thing promised is as good as done! With that assurance of God’s effective word, we can already give thanks and live with the joy that the coming event has already defined our lives now and eternally. This Third Sunday of Advent opens our eyes to the possibilities of the Reign of God as well as to the dangers of assuming God’s coming will be warm and fuzzy.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 51: Third Sunday of Advent, Year C.

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Isaiah 12:2-6
This song of thanksgiving and praise bears many resemblances to the Song of Moses at the deliverance of the people from the Pharaoh and his army (Exodus 15:1ff.). That early hymn immediately follows the announcement that “Thus the Lord saved Israel on that day” (Exod. 14:30). The song here in Isaiah 12 begins with the announcement “You will sing on that day” (12:1), but now “that day” and the event of salvation lie in the future. The call to thank and praise the “name” of God for that salvation yet to come pulls together the wording of several psalms (Ps. 119:82 in verse 1; Psalm 105:1 in verse 4) and uses words similar to Isaiah 52:7-10. The cause for joy and celebration among the people is the salvation of the Lord and the Lord’s presence among them (also in Zeph. 3:14-18a).

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Zephaniah 3:14-20
Having warned the people through the prophet about the judgment on the Day of the Lord, God promises to appear among them to conquer evil and establish the divine reign as one of joy and a homecoming celebration.

Context
The prophet Zephaniah was active during the reign of King Josiah, 640-609 B.C. During the early part of this reign, the people’s worship of Canaanite gods, especially Baal, was still prominent. The threat of the Lord to “cut off from this place the remnant of Baal” (1:4) seems to be consistent with the reform measures taken by Josiah in the 9th year of his reign. The attitude of some of the people during this period is that God is irrelevant, that nothing about him really matters, and so the people say that the Lord is ineffective (1:12). The leaders of the people seem to be of no help, and so officials, judges, prophets and priests all come under the judgment of the prophet (3:3-4).

Like the prophets since the time of Amos, it was necessary for Zephaniah also to correct the impression that the expected day of the Lord will be a bed of roses. Repeatedly he proclaims that the day of the Lord is near, and then he adds “a day of wrath is that day” (1:7, 14, 15). Nothing can deliver the people from the coming wrath except repentance (2:1-4), and although most will not respond to the invitation, a remnant will be saved (2:7, 9) from the worldwide judgment (2:12-15). The agent of the Lord’s judgment in these oracles is difficult to identify, although there are some clues that point to the Scythians. Escaping the onslaught, Jerusalem escapes the predicted doom. Over the humble and lowly remnant, God will reign, turning shame into praise (3:19).

Key Words
V. 15.  melek yisrā’ēl YHWH beqirbēk = “the King of Israel, YHWH, is in your midst”:  In the ancient world a god usually attained kingship by accomplishing a victory over his enemies. In order to accomplish that victory, it was necessary that YHWH be a mighty Warrior (v. 17) to fight in Israel’s midst against the foe. In the days Moses and of the judges, the understanding of YHWH as the Divine Warrior who fought on Israel’s behalf was particularly prominent (see, e.g., Exod. 14:14; Josh. 10:1-11). Among the many characteristics of the so-called Holy Wars of YHWH was the notion that he was present (see the role of the pillar of cloud and fire in Exod. 14; note also the announcement of God’s presence in Ps. 46:5).

V. 19.  wehôša‘tî ’et-hatstsōlē‘â wehanniddāchâ’ aqabbēts = “and I will save the lame and gather the outcast”:  See  Mic. 4:6-7 for the same understanding that the outcasts will be in. In other portrayals of the kingdom, the lame will be healed (see Isa. 35).

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Philippians 4:4-7
The nearness of the Lord brings cause for rejoicing and gentleness, diminishing cause for worry and enabling prayer to be accompanied by praise and thanksgiving.

Context
Paul begins to conclude his letter, having expressed longing to see them again and preparing for his thanks over their financial support.

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Luke 3:7-18
Through the preaching of the prophet John, God announced the “good news” of the imminent Day of the Lord and all the judgment that would take place in connection with that day.

Context
Luke identified all the players in 3:1-6 and gave us his explicit understanding of the identity of John:  he is the one who announces the forthcoming salvation event but is not himself that event.

Key Words
Vv. 7-15.  Note the list of players who come before John:  multitudes, tax collectors, soldiers, the people, all people. Compare the list of people in Zephaniah’s audience. The multitudes are called “brood of vipers” in v. 7, and the paragraph indicates they are Jewish people who claim to have Abraham as their father as though that makes them immune from the judgment to come. Of the list, the tax collectors are the only ones of whom it is said that they came to be baptized; they were the outcasts of the society who were now offered the invitation to come in (cf. the promise at Zeph. 3:19).

Vv. 10-14.  Note what is required to avoid the wrath to come:  share clothing and food with the poor, be honest in taxation, avoid robbing and violence and false accusation. None of these forms of repentance have anything to do with ritual or cult but with just relations with one another, especially with the poor. Recall the repentance Zephaniah called for in the face of the coming Day of Wrath: “seek righteousness, seek humility” (Zeph. 2:3)

V. 15.  The reference to the people who “were in expectation” indicates a debate in the first century about the actual role of John. Here his identity as the Messiah is clearly denied.

V. 18.  euēggelizeto ton laon = “he preached good news to the people”:  It is difficult to imagine how these many exhortations could be classified as “good news.” It is important to recognize that in Luke’s Gospel the noun euaggelion is never used, only the verb as here. In this sense Luke follows the use in the LXX. In the LXX the verb is used in two non-theological ways:  (1) to announce the victory from the field of battle (see 2 Sam. 18:19-31 for example); and (2) to announce the birth of a baby (Jer. 20:15). In both cases, what is announced is such good news that it brings about a new time. That new time of which John speaks is the Day of the Lord when the Reign of God will begin.

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