Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Reflections for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year C
Sunday, 20 December, 2009

As we near the end of Advent time seems to be running away rather rapidly; this is perhaps appropriate at a time when we ponder the eschaton and the end of days. Whether my condition is as sublime as that might make it sound, the weekend has come and I am not even close to having digested my notes on the readings into a shape that might be useful for my few but faithful readers. Indeed, unless I am hit with some brilliant idea tha I need to broadcast, there will not be notes here for Christmas or the Sunday following. I am sorry, but I hope you will understand. The RCL notes are always available.

Nonetheless, here are two comments that might be helpful.

The Collect for today, in which we pray that we, like the Blessed Virgin, may embrace God’s will in all things, seems most fitted to Year B, when the Gospel of the Annunciation is read. It is not so far off from the words which the Epistle to the Hebrews takes from the Greek version of Psalm 40: See, I have come to do your will.

First Reading: Micah 5.2-5a

Zephaniah’s genealogy is given for four generations; not even Micah’s father in named. Little is known of his personal life, and he had no political role. Micah preached in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, that is 740-687 bc. These were bad days for Judah: the Assyrians conquered Damascus, Samaria; and Ashdod: by taking the coastal regions they had Judah in their grip and besieged Jerusalem in 701. Micah’s own home Moresheth in the lower country of south-west Judah was menaced by the invaders. The danger to Judah was not only from without: “Prophets, priests and judges accepted bribes; merchants cheated; Canaanite cults were used alongside the Yahwistic ones [NJBC]. Though Micah was more concerned with sin and punishment than with political or cultic matters, he, like Isaiah, used the fall of Samaria in 721 bc as an example for Jerusalem. His prophesies are organized on a pattern of oracles of doom followed by oracles of promise.
The reading this Sunday is an oracle of great promise: after a prophesy of destruction and exile (4.9-14) cmes the anouncement of a new David coming to restore his kingship. Matthew 2.5-6 shows hiw this text came to be interpreted [NJBC]. Like David this king will be shepherd of the people. The reference to Bethlehem does not necessarily mean that the Messiah will be born there, but that he will spring from the royal line of David. Textual criticism suggests, in fact that Bethlehem is a latter addition to the text (on this, please refer to a commentary such as the the NJBC)
If that is so, then we can see Bethlehem as an image deepen and gain power as it is used in the Scriptures. In the first instance, the prophet may have had in mind only that the promised Messiah would be born of the house of David, and expressed this by reference to Ephratha {see Gen 35.19; Ruth 4.11; 1 Sam 17.12]. But by the time the passage was used in the Gospel, there is a clear reference to Bethlehem, and it appears that the belief was current that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem [see Matthew 2.5, John 7.42]. In the preaching of the Gospel Christians have found even more in the name Bethlehem. To take one example from a sermon of Gregory the Great:
“Bethlehem is by interpretation the house of bread. For it is the Lord Himself who says, ‘I am the bread of life which came down from heaven.’ The place therefore where the Lord was born was before called the house of bread, because it was there that He was to appear in His fleshly nature who should refresh the souls of the elect with spiritual fullness.”
I hope I will have a chance to provide some reflections in theis space at Christmas, and think further about this meaning; for not only was the Bread of Heaven born in the House of Bread, he was laid in a manger. But for now I will leave you to ponder this.
This is the only reading from Micah in the 3-year cycle. In the Hebrew text it is 5.1-4a; the numbering of verses in our versions comes from the edition of the Vulgate in use in medieval and early modern times; the New Vulgate (1979) agrees with the Hebrew and Septuagint numbering.
I comment on the Gospel reading in the homily, which I might post on Sermonets if the respons is good. But I fear it is rather pedestrian.

1 comment:

Felicity Pickup said...

Thank you.

By the way, re "fear it is rather pedestrian":
What attracts my interest and stays with me, as a consumer of the Sunday homily, is not clever and original content, but the extent to which I sense that the preacher has lived experience of the message.