Monday, December 3, 2018

Monday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, December 9th, 2018

On this second Sunday of Advent, our readings focus on John the Baptist.  Our first reading is the prophecy from Malachi that a messenger will come to prepare the way of the Lord.  Our psalm reading is replaced by the Song of Zechariah, John's father.  And our Gospel reading is the first portion of the Luke's first story of John's public ministry.

So, how does John help us prepare for the arrival of Christ?  That is a question to ponder this week as we prepare for worship on Sunday.

You can find my initial reactions to these readings in the italicized text below.  I invite you to share your insights, questions, and reactions in the comment section below so that we can continue to discuss these readings.

Malachi 3:1 - 4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight-- indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.  2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.  4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

- “Malachi” means “my messenger.”

- Malachi declares that a messenger is on the way.  This is not just any messenger, but a “messenger of the covenant.”  This messenger will have a connection to the promises the Lord has made to the people of Israel.

- This messenger will be a purifier of the Levites.  This makes it a bit awkward to read through a Christological lens.  After all, weren’t the Levites opposed to Jesus and his ministry?  But if we view Christ on the cross as a sacrifice for our atonement (meaning that which restores the relationship between the Lord and us), then the role of the Levites falls into place; they are purified to offer the one great sacrifice.

- That being said, how would this message make sense without Christ?  How was it understood by the first people to receive it?

Luke 1:68 - 79

 68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

- Luke 1 tells the story of the birth of John the Baptist.  An angel appears to Zechariah as he was in the Temple offering a sacrifice of incense.  The angel reveals that Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and they are to name the child John.  To this point, Zechariah and Elizabeth have not been able to have children, and they are getting older, likely older than most people would expect them to give birth to children.  So Zechariah asks how he may trust the message.  The angel responds by taking away Zechariah’s voice until the child is born.  Months later, Elizabeth gives birth to a son.  On the day of his naming, the people want to name the child Zechariah, but Elizabeth and Zechariah insist that his name is John.  At this moment, Zechariah regains his voice, and this song recorded in Luke 1:68 – 79 is what pours out of his mouth.

- When the song changes from a general blessing to a direct address to “you, child,” we can picture Zechariah holding John in his arms and sharing the proclamation Zechariah received from the angel.

Philippians 1:3 - 11

 3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.  6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.  9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

- One can read Philippians 1:3 – 11 and believe that this is a call to good works because the Lord will only save those who produce “the harvest of righteousness.”  However, this reading would ignore the earlier statement from Paul in which he expresses confidence “that the one who began a good work among you (ed. ~ “you” is plural) will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”  The harvest of righteousness comes not from our desire and effort to do good works; the harvest of righteousness comes from the Lord’s work within us, planting the seed of faith and helping that seed sprout and grow.

- The references to the “day of Christ” look ahead to the end of the age when Christ will arrive on the Earth, resurrect us from the dead, and bring us into the Kingdom of God.

Luke 3:1 - 6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
 5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

- In Luke 3, John is undertaking the calling that was given to him even before his birth.

- “…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  This is not in the original proclamation from Isaiah 40:3 – 5.  There, the proclamation concludes by saying “Then the glory of God shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Perhaps this includes another proclamation from Isaiah, this time 52:10: “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”  Either way, there is a connection between “the glory of the Lord” and “the salvation of God” who comes to Earth and gives his life for us.”

- Look at all these great names, and yet the word of the Lord comes to John son of Zechariah.  What does this tell us about who is worthy to be the messenger of God?

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