Engaging the Word: Readings for 12/20/15 (The Fourth Sunday of Advent)

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By Barbara Klugh 

Micah 5:2-5a; Canticle 15; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week’s reading bring extraordinary messages of hope, and I feel challenged to respond by the way I live my life.

Prophet Micah. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prophet Micah. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Micah 5:2-5a: Micah was one of the 8th century prophets and declared God’s judgment on Samaria and Jerusalem for social injustice, exploitation of the helpless, and fraudulent religion.  Micah said that Zion would be destroyed, “plowed like a field” which happened 586 BC. But Micah also gave a message of hope.

In this week’s reading, Micah saw a glorious future, in which God would raise up a new ruler who, like King David, would come from the little hamlet of Bethlehem, “And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” As Christians, we believe that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus.

Mary writing the Magnificat by Marie Ellenrieder, 1833. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mary writing the Magnificat by Marie Ellenrieder, 1833. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Canticle 15: As we’ll read in the Gospel for today, Mary visits her relative Elizabeth, who speaks of Mary as blessed of God. After this encounter Luke shows Mary bursting into song with the words that have been come to be known as the “Magnificat,” a hymn of praise to God who has done great things for her, and who has acted for Israel in fulfillment of ancient promises. God acts for the poor and powerless against the rich and powerful.

These beautiful words are quite revolutionary, and we have been using them as our Statement of Faith during Advent. The Magnificat repeats “He has” seven times as it tells of the saving acts God is making in the world—turning it upside down—through Mary’s Son. God has mercy and  strength, casts down the mighty and lifts up the lowly, feeds the hungry, and helps his people because he has remembered “the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” This is good news indeed. Now it is up to us to align ourselves with God’s promises as revealed in Jesus.

Hebrews 10:5-10: We read six selections from the Letter to the Hebrews during October and November, so the substance of our reading probably will be familiar to you.

In this week’s reading, the author of  Hebrews concludes his argument that Christ, our Great High Priest,  has come, has sacrificed his life—and that this sacrifice is far superior to any other sacrifice that has been or ever will be offered.

The author has Jesus quoting words of Psalm 40 when “Christ came into the world” as a statement of his vocation and of the superiority of his sacrifice (his death on the cross) over the animal and food sacrifices offered under the law of Moses. Those sacrifices had to be repeated again and again. Only Christ’s sacrifice could forgive the world’s sins. Jesus’ sacrifice ushered in a changing of the guard from the Old Covenant, which is no longer needed, to the Spirit-filled New Covenant. Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father  can be summed up in the words of Psalm 40, “I have come to do your will, O God.”

Through Jesus’ offering of himself, not only are our sins forgiven, but we have been made holy—set apart for the Lord’s service. Christ offered his body, and now we serve as Christ’s body to bring salvation to the world.

The Visitation by Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1557). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Visitation by Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1557). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 1:39-45: This week’s reading narrates the story of the Visitation. Mary, having said “Yes” to God’s call for her to become the Mother of the Messiah, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.

Elizabeth’s baby, John, “leaped in her womb” to greet the mother of the Lord. (Mother Theresa once remarked that the first person to welcome Christ was John the Baptist.) Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, declares that Mary and her baby are indeed blessed.

Elizabeth recognized the superior status of Mary’s son and of Mary herself as the “the mother of my Lord….and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary’s “Yes” to God has brought the creation of the kingdom of God to the whole world. And, in Christ, we have the freedom to say “Yes” as well.

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