The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
Advent 4 - Year C
MICAH 5:2-5a This prophecy presents an overview of Israel's long and
tragic history from the time of King David onward. Following the return of
a remnant of the nation from exile, a new ruler was intended to bring peace
and prosperity because he would be strengthened by God. The early church
saw the promise of the Messiah in this passage.
LUKE 1:47-55 The psalm and the gospel lessons form a single reading
from Luke 1. Mary's Song, known for centuries by its Latin name The
Magnificat, was almost certainly modeled on Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel
2:1-10. It promises the social justice of the messianic age for which the
world is still waiting in hope.
HEBREWS 10:5-10 The message of this obscure passage indicates that
Christ was born to die as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. It
quotes Christ, but in reality it is a quotation from Psalm 40:6-8. That
psalm is a song of praise and petition seeking God's help. The point of
this unusual interpretation is to emphasize the sacrifice of Christ on the
cross which God willed as vastly superior to the repeated sacrifices in
Israel's temple ritual.
LUKE 1:39-45 The story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, John the
Baptist's mother, has an air of immediacy and intimacy about it. Some have
speculated that the story came from Mary herself. On the other hand, the
birth narratives of Luke are in the form of oral legend and poetry which
may have circulated as a separate collection long before the gospel was
written about 80 AD.
However they may have come into being, the stories were meant to convey the
faith of the church, then and still, that in Jesus, the God who loves the
world came to bring all who believe into a living relationship with God now
and for all eternity. This is still as good news to our age as it was to
the first Christians nearly two thousand years ago.
MICAH 5:2-5a Micah (or Micaiah, meaning "Who is like Yahweh?) Came from a
small village in the Judean foothills, Moresheth-Gath, about halfway
between Jerusalem and Gaza. He was contemporary of the better-known
Isaiah. Yet the two prophets had a markedly different outlook, perhaps
because of their different status in Judean society. Micah had the
viewpoint of the common people of the countryside; Isaiah, that of an
aristocrat and courtier. Micah could speak from harsh experience of the
suffering of ordinary folk in a time of intolerable injustice and political
turmoil, roughly 742-697 BCE. His village lay near the Judean stronghold
of Lachish and close to the cities of the Philistines, in the pathway of
every invading force. No "minor" prophet, he and Amos became the voices of
the rural people who suffered under almost constant oppression.
The late Bruce Vawter, of DePaul University, IL, described Micah's time in
these words: "His prophetic career may have begun about 725 BCE when it had
become evident that the northern kingdom of Israel - where prophecy had
begun and which had always been the 'elder sister' of the kingdom of Judah
- was now doomed to disappear into the voracious Assyrian empire. Judah,
by a combination of statecraft, collaborationism and religiously
unacceptable compromise, would still be able to hold off the inevitable for
a time; indeed, it outlasted the Assyrians only to become the prey to their
Neo-Babylonian successors. But this was done by the sacrifice of national
and religious integrity, and in the end the result was the same." (Oxford
Companion to the Bible, p.517)
In the book as it now stands, Micah's own prophecies have been considerably
adapted to changed conditions, added to and amplified by later editors.
Vawter thought that this excerpt came from the prophet himself. Rolland E.
Wolfe, formerly professor of Biblical Literature at Western Reserve
University, Cleveland, OH, thought that it was part of an appendix added in
postexilic times dealing with "the restoration of Israel by resorting to
militaristic means.... (which) breathes vengeance upon other nations."
(The Interpreter's Bible, vol.6, p.922)
This prophecy presents an overview of Israel's long and tragic history from
the time of King David onward. It marvels that a Davidic lineage that
lasted nearly half a millenium could come from such a small place as
Bethlehem. Following the return of a remnant of the nation from exile, a
new monarch of David's line would bring peace and prosperity because he
would be strengthened by God. This is distinctively different from the
post-exilic vision of Deutero-Isaiah in that here the deity will delegate
authority to the Davidic monarch in what will amount to a theocracy.
Deutero-Isaiah envisioned Yahweh being the shepherd of reconstructed
Israel. (Isa 40:10-11)
As Matthew 2:6 states, the early church saw in this passage the promise of
the Messiah and applied it to Jesus. The Matthean text is not taken from
either the Hebrew or the Greek LXX of this passage and may be an original
translation. Some scholars believe that the quotation is the sole source
of the tradition that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
LUKE 1:39-45 and LUKE 1:47-55 The psalm and the gospel lessons form a
single reading from Luke 1. Therefore we comment on them together. These
two passages are part of a series of Marian narratives from which the
doctrine of the Virgin Birth and other aspects of Christology developed.
Together they form a creative and poetic flowering of what the church
believed from its beginning: that God had come into human life for our
salvation through Jesus Christ. Like so much else in the gospel story, the
influence of the prophets of Israel, and especially their sense of divine
justice and messianic hopes, can be clearly seen. The birth narratives
read like an unfolding drama gradually introducing the central character of
the gospel, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah/Christ.
The story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother, has an
air of immediacy and intimacy about it. Some have speculated that the
story came from Mary herself. On the other hand, the birth narratives of
Luke 1 and 2 are more likely oral legend and poetry which may have
circulated as a separate collection long before the gospel was written
about 80 AD. Later extreme examples of this kind of story show that the
church needed to distinguish between what was valid revelation and what was
merely imaginative speculation. This task fell to the Church Fathers of
the late 2nd century when the New Testament canon was given its final form.
On the other hand, the story as it stands gives some very natural insight
into these two women's experience. They rejoiced in each other's
pregnancy. They needed each other's support. They realized how blessed
they were to be bearing God's miraculous gifts to humanity. What modern
mother who willingly and intentionally bears a child does not sense the
same joyful hope that they felt?
Mary's Song, known for centuries by its Latin name The Magnificat, was
almost certainly modeled on Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. But that
the circumstances of that source are more closely parallel to Elizabeth's,
who like Hannah, conceived late in life. Most likely Luke or his Jewish
source composed a typical hymn of praise based on Hannah's prayer and other
Old Testment references. (vv.49-50 cf. Ps. 103:17; 111:9) These were
adapted to fit this situation, a common NT practice. As it stands, the
psalm promised the social justice of the messianic age for which the world
is still waiting in hope.
However they may have come into being, these passages conveyed the faith of
the church, then and still, that in Jesus, God who loves the world came to
bring all creation into a living relationship with God now and for all
eternity. This is a relationship which extends to every human activity and
institution as well as to each individual. There can be no social justice
where people are not free or deprived of a fair share of the world's
resources. Some may see this as a basis for pre-emptive assaults against
powerful opponents of political democracy and a free market economy. This
would be a mistaken interpretation. The evidence of OT prophecy and NT
Christology is that God makes use of events manipulated by human agents to
redeem creation. The Incarnation and the Resurrection had but that one
purpose: the redemption of the world through the spiritual resources made
available through faith in Jesus Christ, born of Mary.
HEBREWS 10:5-10 The message of this obscure passage indicates that Christ
was born to die as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. In our modern
celebration of Christmas, we tend to neglect this all important aspect of
our faith: the Easter story begins at Christmas.
The passage quotes Christ, but in reality it is a quotation from Psalm
40:6-8. That psalm is a song of praise for God's help and has no messianic
connotations at all. However, this excerpt does echo the prophetic
messages of Micah 6:6-8 and Jeremiah 31: 31-34.
The point of this interpretation is to lift up the sacrifice of Christ on
the cross, which God willed, as vastly superior to the repeated sacrifices
of Israel's temple ritual. The Christian doctrine of sanctifying grace
which enables us to be obedient to God's law of love finds its simplest
The interweaving of the Old Testament and the Gospel also stands out in
this passage. Both testaments are essential elements of a mature Christian
faith. From time of Marcion in the middle of the second century CE
attempts have been made to exclude the OT from Christian scriptures.
This cannot be done because both parts tell the same story of God's
redemptive activity for the restoration of God's creation - and all of
humanity as part of creation - to its proper relationship to God.
This is what the author of Hebrews means by his use of the word
"sanctified." The Greek word is *hagiazo* (trans. "to make holy"). The
only way for us to be made holy is in relationship to God who alone is
holy. The claim of the author of Hebrews is that, according to divine
will, only through faith in the sacrifice of Christ is this possible.
There has been a widespread misunderstanding that evangelical Christians
emphasize only personal holiness. Such a limited view ignores the
significant leadership of many 19th and 20th century evangelicals as
William Wilberforce, Anthony Shaftesbury, Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhard
Niebuhr and numerous others that to be fully expressed holiness must
include the whole social order and all cultural systems. Even John Wesley
himself in the 18th century regarded sanctification as incomplete as long
as society remained unchanged by converted Christian men and women.
Accordingly, the celebration of Advent and Christmas must include not only
a genuine concern for the poor and disadvantaged, as in the original legend
of St. Nicholas, but also a witness to God's will that the reign of God be
established in all human relationships and social institutions.
WHO IS HE?
It was a stone manger,
That place where he lay;
Not a fine oaken cradle,
But a box filled with hay.
His mother sang to him
Suckling her breast,
While shepherds came kneeling
At angels behest.
Is this the Messiah?
Not a king, but a child?
Just like our children
In a world just as wild.
Does God really want us
To follow this boy?
Can he be the Saviour
Who has not one toy?
The hopes of the world,
Invested in pain,
Will not bring another;
There's nothing to gain
In pining and searching,
In warring and strife;
For God's gift of love
Came in that helpless life.
Rev. John Shearman
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.