Advent 3

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December 15, 2002

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you once called John the Baptist to give witness to the coming of your Son and to prepare his way. Grant us, your people, the wisdom to see your purpose today and the openness to hear your will, that we may witness to Christ’s coming and so prepare his way; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Lord, hear our prayers and come to us, bringing light into the darkness of our hearts; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
(1) The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; {2} to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; {3} to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. {4} They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations…. {8} For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. {9} Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed. {10} I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. {11} For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

    The passage is part of Third Isaiah, composed about 450 b.c., which reflects the hopes and concerns of the period of the restoration. Third Isaiah shows "…a tendency to soften and spiritualize the message of Second Isaiah. In the place of realistic and eschatological language, closely tied to events in history, one perceived a growing abstraction from historical reality which was characteristic of pious convention…. From a canonical perspective of the final form and function, there is no real tension between these two sections and they both perform a similar function in relation to First Isaiah." 1
    "In the first lesson the prophet concluded that the Spirit of the Lord had equipped him to interpret this edict [of Cyrus in 538 b.c.; recorded in Ezra 1] for the people. They had been captives in Babylon, and many had been in prison. This edict became for them a proclamation of liberty and the opening of the prison where they had been bound. They had tasted the day of vengeance. What awaited them as they returned to Jerusalem was a year of jubilee." 2
1. the Lord has anointed me: Cf. 1 Kings 19:6 for the anointing of a prophet with oil. This is an act of consecration that embodies the Spirit, and makes the Spirit’s presence with the prophet permanent.
2. the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God: The same time and event can be seen quite differently depending on one’s circumstances and point of view.

Psalm 126
{1} When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. {2} Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." {3} The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. {4} Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb. {5} May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. {6} Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

    "The people of God look back to Yahweh’s great deeds and recall the glorious good fortune of a former time…. The change to the new state of all things…takes place in history in the constantly new retrospects, petitions, and hopeful strides of the chosen people," 3 and finally, in the Gospel.
2. then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them": See also Psalms 44:14 and 79:10 for derogatory statements by the nations about Israel.
4. the watercourses in the Negeb: These are dry for most of the year, filling with water only during the rainy season. Here they are a sign pointing to the favor of Yahweh.
5-6: "…sowing, with its tearing open the soil and inserting the seed into the ground, was alike burying the deceased deity and was therefore a time of mourning…. …the history-of-religions parallels…no longer have any relevance for the understanding of the psalm; but they do form the background for the statements now metaphorically introduced." 4 I have referred to them for that purpose only.
Luke 1:47-55
{47} My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, {48} for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; {49} for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. {50} His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. {51} He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. {52} He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; {53} he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. {54} He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, {55} according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

    The Song of Mary celebrates the reversals that God has promised. He will turn the order of human society on its head. We might ask the question, "If the church seeks to succeed according to the methods and values of the world, does it jeopardize God’s intentions and plans, or does it jeopardize only its participation in the fulfillment of those intentions and plans?"
55. to Abraham and to his descendants: Abraham was blessed by Yahweh and was determined to be a blessing not only to the chosen people but also to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
{16} Rejoice always, {17} pray without ceasing, {18} give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. {19} Do not quench the Spirit. {20} Do not despise the words of prophets, {21} but test everything; hold fast to what is good; {22} abstain from every form of evil. {23} May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. {24} The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

    Thessalonica was founded by Cassander, a general in Alexander’s army in 316 b.c., and named it for his wife. It became the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia in 146 b.c. In the first century there was both a Jewish and a Samaritan synagogue in Thessalonica.
    Paul’s experiences in Thessalonica (ca. 49/50 ad) are recounted in Acts 17:1-10. Trouble occurred soon after Paul arrived, probably over the inclusion of non-Jewish believers. In 1 Thessalonians 2:2 Paul said that he declared "…to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition…." From the tone of the letter the situation had continued to be difficult and Paul wrote to encourage the faithful to rejoice, pray, give thanks, abstain from evil, test and hold fast to the good, not quench the Spirit, nor despise the words of Christian prophets. Paul prays that God, is faithful to his promises, will sanctify and preserve them.
    "The Revised Common Lectionary offers 5:16-24 as an Advent lesson (Year B, Advent 3), which raises several problems. As is often the case with lectionary readings, the lesson begins in the middle of a sense unit. In addition, the connection of the text with Advent is tenuous, since the ‘coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" refers to his second Advent at the parousia rather than to the first Advent. The tradition of interpreting the Advent season eschatologically is theologically sound, but it may tax the preacher’s skill to make that connection in this passage.
    "On the other hand, the reading of the ethical exhortations in verses 16-22 in the context of the third Sunday of Advent may prompt some sharp responses. By that advanced stage of December craziness, may will desperately need to hear the words, "Rejoice always" and ‘give thanks in all circumstances.’ The promise that God remains faithful despite our frazzled celebration of everything but the birth of the infant son of God could prove to be particularly timely." It might be especially appropriate to use the second Prayer of the Day, if it is desired to emphasize this lesson. 5

John 1:6-8, 19-28
{6} There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. {7} He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. {8} He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light…. {19} This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" {20} He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." {21} And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." {22} Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" {23} He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said. {24} Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. {25} They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" {26} John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, {27} the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." {28} This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

6-8: These verses provide an account of John the Baptist prior to the appearance of Jesus, and subordinate John to Jesus.
    "The first gospels began with the description of the work of the Baptist…. The Fourth Gospel leaves the other three far behind in a single super leap by starting its account in the time before creation…. It combined two primordial experiences of man. The first is: this world in which we now live was created by divine Wisdom…. At this point the second primordial experience comes into play: man shuts himself up against the divine Wisdom…. Then God undertook to redeem his own by the foolishness of the proclamation of the crucified Christ, who was nevertheless the Wisdom of God. The hymns thereby discovered the way he had to go: he needed only to substitute the masculine Logos for the feminine Wisdom [sophia] in order to create a coherent poem." 6
7, 8. light: Jesus calls John a lamp in 5:35, but Jesus, himself, is the light: 3:19; 8:12; 9:5. Light is used throughout the Gospel as a figure of revelation, and of the Revealer. "Jesus is not just light in a figurative way, nor is he just a light or illuminator. He is the true light." 7 John was not the light but a witness to it.
19: Cf. 24. Those who sent priests and Levites are identified in verse 19 as Jews. In verse 24 the Jews who sent the priests and Levites from Jerusalem are identified as Pharisees. Pharisees as laypersons had no authority to direct the activities of the priests and Levites. In John "the Jews" are unbelievers of the house of Israel. Other unbelieving groups are "the world," and some of the disciples of John. John is under the scrutiny of Temple personnel because his baptism is understood as a washing of purification for which they were responsible.
20. I am not the Messiah…Elijah…the prophet: John denied that he was any of the eschatological visitors promised by Yahweh and expected by the people of Israel.
23: John claims authority like that of Isaiah, who led the people back to their heritage. His task is to prepare for the coming of one whom is among them, but whom they do not know.
26-27: The people of Jerusalem have demonstrated their incompetence because they do not know the one who stands in their midst, who is greater than John. Three times in 16 verses John identifies the one of whom he speaks as greater than himself (1:15; 1:26; 1:30).
28. Bethany across the Jordan: "Origen…on his travels in Palestine…was unable to find a Bethany by the Jordan…. John’s first geographical statement is incapable of verification, and was already so…not more than a hundred years after the probable date of the gospel."8

   As John was subordinate to Jesus, so are we. Our wishes, needs, desires, plans, purposes and intentions are secondary to those of God in Christ. Jim Jones, David Koresh and others should not be faulted for their zeal, but for seeking first place before Jesus. Mother Theresa should not be praised for her humility, but because she points to another whom her humility honors.
    When we seek to impose our wisdom or wishes upon the church, the members of the church may, like John, refuse. If they do not, God may. If leaders do not withstand the temptation to lead by their own wisdom they will fall, though the church will be preserved. We must be careful that our enthusiasms do not challenge the Lordship of Jesus. Like John we must refuse to claim status for ourselves, and receiving honor from him be seen in his reflected light. We must resist the temptation to glory in that honor, and be ready to sacrifice our intentions for those of our master.

Hymns 9
With One Voice (e.g. 762v), Hymnal Supplement 1991 (e.g. 725s) and LBW (e.g. 32).
E=Entrance; D=Hymn of the Day; I=First Lesson, P=Psalm; II=Second Lesson; G=Gospel

723s --E--Arise, Your Light
(652v)198 --D--Let All Mortal
36 --D--On Jordan's Banks
180 --I--My Soul Now
312 --I--Once He Came
818s --P--Tell Out, My
6 --P--My Soul Proclaims
730v --P--My Soul Proclaims
634v --P--Sing of Mary (756s)
257 --II--Holy Spirit, Truth
            283, 49

Prayers of the People 10
A: Christ comes at the right time to make full our joy. That we may be prepared for his coming, we pray "Lord, in your mercy" and respond, C: Hear our prayer.
A: For the Church, yet unwed to the grandness of kingdom purpose, we ask that it may awake and be born to new wonder. Lord, in your mercy. C: Hear our prayer.
A: For first ministers of state and for our own premier ___________________, that with enlightened decisions they may become instruments of righteousness in the land. Lord, in your mercy. C: Hear our prayer.
A: For those who long for a cheerful heart within and adequate provision without. Lord, in your mercy. C: Hear our prayer.
A: For those who mourn the death of a loved one, for singles and those who form new families, and for all children and learning ones, that heaven in love come down. Lord, in your mercy. C: Hear our prayer.
A: For those who would know life in Christ and receive baptism, that Advent be a rich preparation. Lord, in your mercy. C: Hear our prayer.
A: For those who come to the High Table of Holy Communion, that doubt fall away and pardon be assured. Lord, in your mercy. C: Hear our prayer.
P: The season abounds with the prospect of a grand return. The brightness of the Coming One offers no shadows. All hail! C: Amen.
                                                                                Or 11
Presider or deacon
As we wait with joy for Jesus Christ, the one who is to come, let us offer prayers to God who sent his Son as the true light into the world.
Deacon or other leader
For the coming of Jesus Christ in power and glory. For the coming of Wisdom to teach and guide us. For the coming of Emmanuel, the hope of all the peoples. For the peace of the world, and for our unity in Christ. For N our bishop and all bishops, for the presbyters, for the deacons and all who minister in Christ, and for all the holy people of God. For the church throughout the world and the faithful in every place. For the leaders of the nations and all in authority. For justice, peace, and freedom among peoples of the earth. For travelers, for the sick and the suffering, for the hungry and the oppressed, and for those in prison. For the dying and the dead. For our deliverance from all affliction, strife, and need. Joining our voices with the blessed Virgin Mary and with all the saints and angels of God, let us offer ourselves and one another to the living God through Christ. To you, O Lord .
O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, desire of all nations and Savior of all peoples, come and save us, O Lord our God. Glory to you for ever.

1 Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979, p. 333f.
2 John V. Halvorson, A Word for this Year: A Study of the Lessons for Series B. Decorah, IA: Amundsen Publishing Co., 1990, p. 8.
3 Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-160: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989, p. 451.
4 Loc. cit.
5 Beverly Roberts Gaventa, First and Second Thessalonians. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1998, p.86.
6 Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John: Chapters 1-6. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984, pp. 101-102
7 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, IX:350.
8 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, London: S.P.K., 1962, p. 146.