jump to navigation

Wrestling with the Word, episode 52: Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C (December 20, 2009) December 10, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Advent season draws toward its close. Its departure deprives us of the reminder that the present is not simply what awaits us under the tree but the time in which we wait in hope for God’s future gifts. It is no secret that the present time is not always filled with the presence of God, and so we would do well to join those of the biblical days in their hopeful petition that God will intervene. According to the laments in the Book of Psalms, God’s absence sometimes seems interminable, and so the question “how long?” occurred repeatedly. Deprived of God’s presence, the poor and oppressed—individuals and community–called on God in laments to “remember” the promises about being with them in difficult times to come. Losing the identification with those of ancient times who offered their laments can separate us as well from the poor and oppressed in our present time to whom God promises a full stocking.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 52: Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C.


Psalm 80:1-7
The psalm begins by acknowledging the Lord as the Shepherd of Israel. The title is common in the ancient world for those who “are enthroned,” that is, kings. The confession provides the basis for the lament that follows immediately. “How long” will YHWH be angry with their prayers? Only God’s anger at them could explain why they eat and drink tears and have become a laughingstock to the other nations. The people languished over the destruction of their walls. The refrain “Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we might be saved” occurs three times in the psalm (vss. 3, 7, and 19). Their call upon God their Shepherd to “shine forth” is the same as their plea to “save us” from their distress.


Micah 5:2-4
Out of the judgment of exile, the Lord will provide a Davidic ruler who will feed the returned exiles as a capable shepherd and establish shalom.

The superscription of the book provides all the information we have regarding the prophet Micah. His home town was Moresheth, located about 25 miles south of Jerusalem, and his prophetic ministry occurred during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. This dating would place him in the final decades of the 8th century B.C. and mark him as a contemporary of Isaiah. Strikingly, both those prophets did most of their preaching in Jerusalem, not always with the same message regarding the city.

The book contains material that seems to belong to someone other than our 8th century Micah. Both style and content demonstrate another hand or two at work, particularly hands from the Babylonian or even the Persian periods (6th cent. B.C.). In regard to our pericope, the mention “the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel” might refer to the exile of the northern kingdom Israel by the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. or to the Babylonian exile of the 6th century B.C. If there is any connection between our pericope and the previous chapter, Babylon might be the choice since exile to Babylon is specifically mentioned in 4:10. “You shall go to Babylon.” However, it is possible that those words are an addition. Even without those words, however, the repeated mention of the “daughter of Zion” and to “Zion in 4:10, 11, 13 place the context of the section in Jerusalem.

Key Words
V. 2.  tsā‘îr lihyôt bealphê yehûdâ = “little to be among the clans of Judah”:  A similar expression is used by Gideon to describe his own clan as “the weakest in Manasseh” and himself as the “least” (tsā‘îr; Judg. 6:15). Likewise Saul says of himself that he is of the smallest of the tribes of Israel and his family is the “least significant (tsā‘îr) of the tribe of Benjamin” (1 Sam. 19:21). The expressions in these two passages occur as part of an objection to a call from God.

V. 2.  mimmekâ lî yētsē’ = “from you shall come forth for me”:  The verb “come forth” is used of a Davidic descendant also at Isa. 11:1.

V. 3.  yôlēdâ yālādâ = “she who is bearing will bear”:  In 4:9-10 the daughter of Zion who will go to Babylon is compared to “a woman in travail”; perhaps the labor pains of exile are now over and so the mother can bear the child.

V. 4.  we‘ā_mad werā‘â = “and he shall stand and shepherd”:  A common image of a king in the ancient world was that of shepherd, that is, nurturing and protecting the flock. Note  the synonymous parallelism in v. 5.

V. 4.  yigdal ‘ad-’asphê-’ārets = he shall be great to the ends of the earth”:  The same universal reign is used of the Davidic ruler at Ps. 2:8 and 72:8 (= Zech. 9:10). In addition, the expression describes the limitless reign of God at 1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 59:13; 67:7; Isa. 45:22; 52:10 (= Ps. 98:3). The use of the expression means the Davidic ruler reigns on God’s behalf.


Hebrews 10:5-10
The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ eliminates the need for the sacrifice of animals that the Jewish law prescribed, and in so doing establishes a new order, that of God’s promised and expected Reign.

All but the final verse is a quotation from Psalm 40:6-8. The original meaning is obscured somewhat because of the author’s message that the sacrifice of Christ renders obsolete the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. The verses quoted here are part of the thanksgiving the psalmist uttered after the Lord had responded to a cry for help in the past. The psalmist learned that the God does not desire sacrifice and offering but a penitent petitioner who commits to the Torah of God. As the psalm continues, the psalmist seems once again to be in a lamentable situation and uses what he learned the last time around.


Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)
Having heard and believed the word of the Lord, Mary receives God’s blessing that she will experience what the Lord has promised.

After an introduction that describes the gospel as a letter Luke is writing to a certain Theophilus, the Gospel proper begins with an announcement from the angel Gabriel to a priest named Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son in their old age, and his name would be John. As Gabriel had said, Elizabeth conceived and was pregnant for six months when the same angel returned to a young woman named Mary. He announced to her the birth of a baby. The miracle is that he will be born of the Holy Spirit. He “will be holy ; he will be called Son of God.” Mary believed the announcement and declared her openness to the angel’s word that, though she was a virgin, she would bear a child and call him Jesus.

Key Words
V. 41.  kai eplēsthē  pneumatos hagiou hē Elisabet = “and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit”:  The author of Luke-Acts writes frequently that various persons received and were filled with the Spirit:  see also 1:15 (John), 67 (Zechariah); Acts 2:2; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9.  For the similar expression “full of the Holy Spirit” see 4:1 (Jesus); Acts 7:55; 11:24.

V. 45.  kai makaria hē pisteusasa hoti … = “and blessed is she who believed that/because …”:  The Greek words can read either way, and so the question remains for the interpreter:  Is she blessed because she believed “that” the promise from God is true? Or is she blessed “because” the word of promise from God would be accomplished? Note the similar expression attributed to the widow of Zarephath at 1 Kings 17:24: “Now I know that you are man of God and that the word of the Lord is your mouth I truth.”

Vv. 46-55.  The song called the Magnificat is similar to the Song of Hannah at 1 Samuel 2:1-10 because of its celebration of a miraculous conception and birth and because of the content. Of particular interest about the content of both is the reversal of fortunes for the poor. The author of Luke-Acts sets as opposites the poor and the rich (like the Epistle of James) and describes their eschatological futures in a way similar to Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-26) and his Parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31). The entire salvation event to come derives from the promise of God to Israel’s ancestors (v. 55) and serves as God’s response to the laments of Israel like the one at Psalm 80.