Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Second Sunday in Advent
6 December ad 2009
Compare the Collect in the BAS to the Prayer Book Collect for Advent III (page 99)
The Gospels for the Second and Third Sundays in Advent tell us of St John Baptist, the Forerunner (ὁ Πρόδρομος). Today, not only the Gospel reading but all the lections say something about John. For an introductory article on John with some rererences to further reading, see
First Reading
Malachi 3.1-4
Nothing is known of the person of the prophet Malachi. In Hebrew Malachi means ‘my messenger’, and it is widely thought that the book takes its name from the reference in 3.1. It dates from the period after the return from Babylon and the rebuilding of the temple (500-450 BC). Malachi devoted to the temple and had a high view of the responsibilities of the priesthood and the demands of the covenant. For this reason he pronounced judgement on corrupt priests (1.6-2.4) and looked to the Lord’s messenger who would prepare for the coming of the Lord.
The Book of Malachi ends with the prophecy that God wuld send Elijah before the day of the Lord comes (4.5). Some commentaries, such as the HarperCollins Study Bible, make much of the fact that Malachi is the final book of the Old Testament, and that its prophecies are followed by their fulfillment in the coming of Jesus Christ. It should perhaps be pointed out that this is only certainly true in the arrangement of the Bible followed by Protestants since the Reformation. It is not the case in the Vulgate or Roman Catholic Bibles or the Bibles used iN Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The present passage is one of the great Advent scriptures
A note on My messenger. In Greek the word for messenger is ἄγγελος, angelos; some versions, such as the Judaica Press Complete Tanakh, render 3.1 as “Behold I send My angel, and he will clear a way before Me. And suddenly, the Lord Whom you seek will come to His Temple. And behold! The angel of the covenant, whom you desire, is coming, says the Lord of Hosts.” It might be a healthy correction to some of the New Age guff about angels to remember that the word simply means ‘messenger’. In Matthew 11.10 Jesus himself applies this verse to John Baptist.
Alternative First Reading
Baruch 5.1-9
Baruch the son of Neraiah was the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah (see Jer 36). This book claims to be his work, written at Babylon in the fifth year after the fall of Jerusalem (1.1-2). On the internal evidence, however, this identification is not convincing. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary describes it as “a collection of several distinct pieces, grouped together because all are too short to stand alone and all are set against the backdrop of the fall of Jerusalem in 587 and the exile.” Although at least some of the book seems to have been composed in Hebrew, the earliest extant texts are in Greek. Jerome knew of no Hebrew text.
The present passage is a promise of the return from exile. It bears a close resemblance to passages in Isaiah: a good Study Bible (or any edition with cross references) will point this out) Of particular interest today is verse 7, a prophecy of a highway in the desert that is strikingly similar to Isaiah 40.3-4, which in turn is quoted in the Gospel in reference to St John the Baptist.
The Canticle Luke 1.68-79
The Song of Zechariah, known as the Benedictus from its opening word in the Latin version, is the traditional Gospel Canticle for Morning Prayer. It is widely considered to be a composite of more than one song. One suggestion is that Luke has adopted and joined together two Jewish Christian hymns (vv. 68-75; 76-79). The latter material stresses John’s role as forerunner of Jesus. For comments on the text. see the extensive comments in the RCL “Clippings” [ ] These notes call for one further comment.
On “the dawn from on high” (oriens ex alto) in verse 78, RCL comments, “We are familiar with various names for Jesus, but not this one. It seems that it did not catch on in the early Church.” The fifth of the great Advent Antiphons, however, is “O Oriens”
O Rising Dawn (or Dayspring), Brightness of the light eternal and Sun of Righteousness: Come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
The Epistle: Philippians 1.3-11
Philippi was an important city of Macedonia, a hub on one of the main roads of the Roman Empire. the first Christian community established by Paul in Europe was at Philippi (Acts 16.11-13). Paul’s relationship to the Philippians seems to have been a happy one (4.15-16). The occasion of this letter was that Epaphroditus, who had been sent by the Philippian church with gifts for Paul (4.18), and who had been seriously ill while staying with Paul, was noe returning home (2.25-30). Paul sent with him his thanks and certain necessary instructions.
As usual, St Paul follows his opening salutation with a prayer of thanksgiving This prayer is appropriate for reading in Advent because of the references to the day of Jesus Christ. In verse 6 Paul prays that God who began a good work in the Philippians “will bring it to completion at the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In v.10 he hopes that the Philippians “may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”. Compare this verse to last week’s reading from 1 Thessalonians “that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
The day of the Lord Jesus would be a fruitful topic for a brief Bible Study. That day is when Christ will return and the present age end (1Cor 1.8; compare 2 Thess 2.3 and 2 Pet 3.10; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The concept does not originate with the apostles, hiwever: the study should begin with the many words of the prophets about the day of the LORD (to start with, Amos 5.18-20; Zephaniah 1.15-16; Lamentations 1.21, 2.22; Ezekiel 30.3-4; Joel 1.15, 2.10-11; 2.28-32, 3.18) and note the “little apocalypse” (Mark 13 and parallels). For this study a good commentary or two would be needed.

The Holy Gospel acording to St Luke 3.1-6
The Preaching of John the Baptist
Year C of the RCL is centred on the third of the synoptic Gospels, which is attributed to St Luke. There is perhaps more strength to this ascription than the others, for Luke the physician was a relatively minor character, mentioned once or twice by St Paul, and it seems unlikely that his name would be adopted to lend authority to an anonymous Gospel (a practice that was less frowned upon in ancient times than it would be today). One of the features of Luke’s writing is that he was concerned to write in the most appropriate style and to follow the best practices of the historians of his day. Alone among the evangelists, he takes some care to provide the dates of the events he describes. That he perhaps got some of them wrong does not affect the case. Besides, since neither a single calendar nor a common era in use at the time, we should not be too hard on him for getting muddled. For all their advantages, modern historians sometimes make astounding errors.
In addition to the helpful notes over at the RCL Commentary (see link above), we should note that in verses 4-6 the quotation from the prophet Isaiah differs from the Hebrew text. Where Luke has
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: /'Prepare the way of the Lord, / make his paths straight."
The Hebrew text of Isaiah 40.3 has
A voice calls, "In the desert, clear the way of the Lord, straighten out in the wilderness, a highway for our God." [Judaica Press translation]
Isaiah was describing the return from the Babylonian exile as a new Exodus, leading across another Sinai desert to a new and more glorious promised land [see also the passage from Baruch noted above].
Note too, that though all the Evangelists identify this prophecy of Isaiah with John Baptist, only Luke completes the quotation with words of promise to all the world “all flesh shall see the salvation of God”. Let us keep this in mind when we come to Christmas and hear that the Good News of the angels is for all people.

Now the call to prepare the way of the Lord and proclaiming a level highway adds a nuance to the title of the Messenger of the Lord from Malachi and the Crying Voice from Isaiah; and that is the title Forerunner, or to use a less familiar English word, “Harbinger”. When a monarch would go progress throughout his kingdom, to see and be seen, he woud send a servant ahead to arrange lodging and in effect, prepare the way. This servant was known as the harbinger, from the Middle English herberger, literally, "innkeeper" in itself from herber a form of “harbour” (the –n- strayed in sometime in the 15th century). Compare the modern French auberge. So John Baptist might well be called the Harbinger of the Lord. We mght then recall that our Lord was born in an inn … but we probably have enough food for thought already.

1 comment:

Felicity Pickup said...

Thank you for your contributions to our Advent reflections.