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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 21, 2014



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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2 Samuel

At one time, the first and second books of Samuel formed a single book. They were separated in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint (about 250 BC). 1 Samuel begins with the story of Samuel: hence the name. 2 Samuel tells the story of David's rule, first as he gradually gained control of the whole of Judah (the south), and then when he was king of both Judah and Israel (the north.)


2 Samuel 7:1-11,16

David is now installed as king in Jerusalem. A key to understanding this passage is that the word “house” (consistently bayith in Hebrew) has three different meanings here: palace (vv. 1, 2), temple (vv. 5-7), and dynasty (or royal house, v. 11). After various wars, most recently with the coastal people, the Philistines, David consults his court prophet, Nathan: since I now have a palace, I think the time has come to build a temple for the Ark. Nathan agrees.

But that night, God speaks to Nathan (v. 4); tell David that he is not the one to build a temple for me. Ever since the Exodus I have not had one (v. 6), and have never asked for one (v. 7). (“Cedar”, vv. 2, 7, was the best building material at the time.) God tells Nathan to give David a personal assurance (vv. 8-9): God has raised him from shepherd boy to king, has always been with him wherever he went (local gods were confined to one place on earth), and has defeated all his enemies. God will make him great. God will also (vv. 10-11) give the people of Israel, his people, a settled life, peace and security – which they lacked under the judges. He will make him founder of a dynasty, a “house”; both it and David’s kingdom will be God’s for ever (v. 16). In v. 17, Nathan duly tells King David all God has promised.


Symbol of St Luke

Luke

Three gospels in the New Testament offer similar portraits of the life of Jesus; Luke is the third of them. Its author, traditionally Luke the physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, draws on three sources: Mark (via Matthew), a collection of sayings (known as Q for Quelle, German for source) and his own source. It is a gospel that emphasizes God's love for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers. Women play a more prominent part than in the other gospels. Luke never uses Semitic words; this is one argument for thinking that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.


Luke 1:47-55

This is known as the Magnficat, from the first word of the Latin translation. Mary is visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah. God’s messenger, Gabriel, has told her that she will bear Jesus, “Son of God” (v. 35), successor to David and founder of an eternal kingdom. Now she thanks God. Speaking today, she might begin: I, from the depth of my heart, declare the Lord’s greatness and rejoice in God my Saviour. Vv. 48-50 extol the fruits of the earth and of lowly dependence on God’s mercy; vv. 51-53 speak of the great reversals God has, and will, achieve through all ages; vv. 54-55 recall that he has fulfilled, and continues to fulfill, his promises to the patriarchs. In choosing Mary, God goes against conventional wisdom: he chooses the poor and lowly over the “proud” (v. 51) and “powerful” (v. 52).


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 89:1-4,19-26

While this psalm ends with a king’s prayer that he and the nation be delivered from their enemies (possibly the Babylonians, who besieged Jerusalem in 597 BC), in these verses he recalls God’s promises to David. He remembers that God’s pact, based on “love” and absolutely “firm” (v. 2), is everlasting and one to which God is ever faithful; it extends to David’s “descendants” (v. 4). He recalls Nathan’s “vision” (v. 19). David became a warrior (“mighty”) under Saul. God chose him and set him apart as his representative on earth (v. 20); he will always support and protect him (v. 21), giving him victory over enemies and evil forces. (Blown as troops went into battle, “his horn”, v. 24, symbolizes strength and power.) His rule will extend from the Mediterranean (“the sea”, v. 25) to the Tigris and Euphrates (“the rivers”). God adopts him as his son (v. 26).


Romans

Romans is the first epistle in the New Testament, although not the first to be written. Paul wrote it to the church at Rome, which included both Jews and Gentiles. His primary theme is the basics of the good news of Christ, salvation for all people. The book was probably written in 57 AD, when Paul was near the end of his third missionary journey around the Eastern Mediterranean. It is unusual in that it was written to a church that Paul had not visited.


Romans 16:25-27

These are the closing words of Paul’s letter. I offer the following paraphrase of this grammatically complex passage: God has commanded my preaching of the good news, and the proclamation of Jesus Christ in order that the mystery that was long kept secret might be revealed to all people through the Scriptures, and that by this revelation God might strengthen you in faith and thus in obedience to him. To the only wise God be the glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen. God’s “command” (v. 26) to Paul is that he preach the good news. Jesus’ proclamation makes clear the “mystery” (v. 25) of who the Messiah is in the “prophetic writings” (v. 26), i.e. in the Old Testament and contemporary Jewish writings about the future.


Symbol of St Luke

Luke

Three gospels in the New Testament offer similar portraits of the life of Jesus; Luke is the third of them. Its author, traditionally Luke the physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, draws on three sources: Mark (via Matthew), a collection of sayings (known as Q for Quelle, German for source) and his own source. It is a gospel that emphasizes God's love for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers. Women play a more prominent part than in the other gospels. Luke never uses Semitic words; this is one argument for thinking that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.


Luke 1:26-38

In vv. 8-17, Luke has told us about Zechariah seeing an angel in the sanctuary of the Temple. The angel told him that his wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son, who will be named John. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit and “turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God ... to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Elizabeth is now in the “sixth month” (v. 26) of her pregnancy. God sends the angel Gabriel to Nazareth. (Angels have appeared at great moments in the story of salvation. Gabriel also appeared to Daniel in Babylon. In John 1:46, we read “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It was a town known for its jealous, materially minded people.) It is through Joseph (not Mary) that Jesus is of the lineage of David. Mary’s name in Hebrew is Miryam , meaning exalted one (“favoured one”).

The angel, speaking Aramaic, probably said shalom! Peace be with you! Mary is especially “favoured” (vv. 28, 30) with God’s love, and as such has long been part of God’s plan. “Perplexed” (v. 29), she reflects on this greeting (“pondered”, v. 29), drawing on her faith: in what way am I “favoured”? She might have panicked in the presence of God’s messenger: awe can easily turn into fear. Gabriel now tells her (vv. 30-33): she will bear a son, Son of God, a king. (God says “do not be afraid” to Abraham when he tells him he will have a son.) V. 31a recalls Isaiah 7:14: there Isaiah tells King Ahaz that “the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (meaning God with us .) Psalm 89:26-27 also speaks of the link between the dynasty of David and sonship of God. (“The Most High”, vv. 32, 35, is God.) The prophet Micah often speaks of the house of Israel as the “house of Jacob”; in his book ( 4:7), we read “the Lord will reign over them ... forevermore.” (Jacob is renamed Israel after his struggle with God at Peniel (Genesis 32:28), but we find both names used for the man and the people from that point on.)

While Mary does not doubt Gabriel’s message from God, she does wonder how can this be?. The last clause in v. 34 can be rendered since I have no husband. Mary is engaged to Joseph. Gabriel, in v. 35, answers Mary’s question by telling her that she will conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit (not through sexual union): a gift from God. The child will be filled with the Holy Spirit (“holy”), dedicated to the service of God, and “will be called Son of God” . V. 37 is like Genesis 18:14, where God says “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”. There (as with Elizabeth) in advanced years (“in her old age”, v. 36), after a normal gestation period, Sarah gives birth to a son. Jesus’ birth is even more exceptional than those of Isaac and John the Baptist. To be a “servant of the Lord” (v. 38) is special: David, in v. 8 of today’s first reading, is called a servant. Luke is doing more than telling the story of the Annunciation: he is placing Jesus in the context of Old Testament prophecies.

© 1996-2016 Chris Haslam



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