Engaging the Word: Readings for 12/6/15 (The Second Sunday of Advent)

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By Barbara Klugh                                   

Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week, all of our readings are about preparing for the coming of Christ.

Baruch statue, Servite Church, Vienna. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Baruch statue, Servite Church, Vienna. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Baruch 5:1-9: The Book of Baruch is part of the Apocrypha (a Greek word meaning “hidden”) which is a selection of books  between the Old and New Testaments found in some editions of the Bible. Anglicans regard the Apocrypha as semi-canonical—useful for teaching and learning, but not for establishing doctrine.

The book is written as if by Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, during the Babylonian exile, but most scholars date the writing of the book to the second or first century BC. The book is a combination of prose and poetry and moves suffering to guilt, repentance, devotion, and hope for God’s intervention.

This week’s reading is a wonderful example of  how ancient writing can inform our reflections as we prepare for the coming of Christ. It’s the final chapter of Baruch and is a poem of hope and consolation. The author anticipates the future salvation of God’s people, and calls on Jerusalem to prepare for the homecoming of the exiled Jews:  “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction” and “put on the robe of righteousness.” God will rename Jerusalem “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.”

The narrator tells Jerusalem to watch the rejoicing exiles return from the east and the west because God has remembered them. Although the enemies led them away on foot, they will return in glory. God will make the way smooth; mountains will be made low, and valleys will be filled so the ground will be level and safe. There will be fragrant trees in the desert to shade them and God will be with them “with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.”

The Birth of John the Baptist by Bartolomé Murillo c. 1655. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Birth of John the Baptist by Bartolomé Murillo c. 1655. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Canticle 16: The Song of Zechariah is from vv. 1:68-79 of Luke’s Gospel and is well-known to those who begin their day with Morning Prayer. The backstory is that Zechariah, the old priest,  was visited by the angel Gabriel who said, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” Among other things, Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah was struck mute when he did not believe the angel Gabriel’s announcement, and did not regain his speech until it was time for the baby to be named and circumcised.

When he was asked, “What then will this child become?”  Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, sang this hymn of praise, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free….You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”

Philippians 1:3-11: Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi while he was in prison between 55 and 63 AD. The Christians at Philippi had heard of Paul’s imprisonment and sent him a gift to express their love and support. Paul responds with this affectionate and grateful letter.

In this week’s reading Paul thanks God for the Christians at Philippi, “praying with joy” because they share the gospel. Paul has confidence because “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” He prays that their love will “overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless.”

In this time between the two Advents of Christ, this is our prayer as well.

John the Baptist by Bartolomeo Veneto (1470-1531). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

John the Baptist by Bartolomeo Veneto (1470-1531). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 3:1-6: Luke is specific about the details of his narrative, and sets this week’s reading in time and space. It takes place in the fifteenth year of the Roman emperor Tiberius and Luke gives a “who’s who” of the names of various political and religious officials. The word of God came to John in the wilderness and John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke then includes a quotation from the prophet Isaiah (40:3-5), which originally referred to the expected end of the Babylonian exile. As we read in Canticle 16, John the Baptist also has been called to go before the Lord to prepare his way. Luke presents John’s preaching as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

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;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

 “All flesh shall see the salvation of God” highlights the universal significance of Jesus—that all people will have the opportunity to be rescued from sin.

Repentance is our job. It’s more than just feeling sorry for our sins. Repentance means to “turn,” to “change one’s mind,” in the sense turning from sin and dedicating ourselves to the amendment of our lives. We need to mend our crooked ways and straighten our paths. Forgiveness is God’s job. God always responds to our repentance with forgiveness because his mercy is everpresent and everlasting. Thanks be to God.

 

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