Daily Readings for Thursday, December 12, 2013, Advent 2, Year II
Thursday, Amos 9:1-10; Psalm 126; Revelation 2:8-17; Matthew 23:13-26
Amos has absolutely no hope for the nation of Israel. They have not heeded the voice of the Lord or the prophecy that Amos has brought among them, but rejected him and it. Today he sees the Lord standing beside the altar in Bethel, the central shrine of the Northern Kingdom, demanding that the altar be totally destroyed and those around it with it. Those who escape the destruction at the altar, the Lord will kill with the sword. No matter where the Israelites flee, the Lord will seek them out for destruction, whether in Sheol, on the top of Mt. Carmel or the depths of the sea. All belong to him and he exercises his sovereignty in each of those places. The Lord announces his name and then asks are the Israelites any different than the Ethiopians, the Philistines or the Arameans to the Lord? In an astonishing image, the Lord neutralizes the covenant made with Moses. Egypt, Philistia and Aram all belong to the Lord, just as Israel does. However, there is no longer any special relationship between Israel and the Lord. They have abused it long enough with their sin. The eyes of the Lord are upon “the sinful kingdom,” and he will destroy it from the face of the earth. What follows: “except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”. seems not to be Amos’s words but those of a later editor. The Lord is going to shake the house of Israel among the nations, as one shakes a sieve. The notion of the pebble not falling to the ground is also probably a later editorial edition, attempting to save the Lord from the allegation of indiscriminant punishment, the pebbles being the righteous that might still be among the people. What follows in verses eleven through fifteen is a much later addition. The cataclysmic events Amos foretold did come to be. In 721 BCE Israel fell to Assyria, was scattered and would never again be, except as some of its tribes were incorporated into the reigns of kings in Judah. In all probability, this last section is a post-exilic writer in Judah, foretelling the Lord raising up “the booth of David,”—the Davidic dynasty—rebuilding it and reestablishing its restoration in glorious terms. Though not part of the original work of Amos, but of a later prophet attaching his words to those of Amos, this last oracle, raises again the theme of God’s faithfulness to even a disobedient people; a theme with abundant biblical roots.
This psalm of pilgrims, sung to the song of ascents, remembers the initial joy experienced by the people upon their return home to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. They were like those who dream: their mouths were filled with laughter, their tongues with shouts of joy. As the Lord had promised, the nations said among themselves, “The Lord has done great things for them.” In affirmation they declare it themselves: the Lord has done great things for them,” and in them they rejoiced. They have been saved. But now, home, there are new challenges. The second half of the psalm falls into a petition for God to bless them, to come and restore their fortunes, like water rushes through the watercourses in the Negeb. When the rain comes, those flat, dry riverbeds suddenly become awash with torrents of water. May the restoration come as suddenly so that those who sow in tears—planting season in the Ancient Near East was associated with sorrow for many reasons, not the least being that the summer drought was drawing near and threatened to destroy the seed—will reap with shouts of joy, because the crop has been abundant beyond belief.
Christ continues to speak to his churches, first to the one in Smyrna and then to Pergamum. It is an odd pairing because Smyrna is totally without rebuke while Pergamum is warned that it is infected with infidelity. Both were cities with large populations, Smyrna, a seaport about 40 miles north of Ephesus and Pergamum some 70 miles further inland, north-east of Smyrna. Both were centers of emperor worship. The reference to affliction and poverty have to do with the economic difficulties the believers in Smyrna were suffering because they would not sacrifice to the emperor. Remember, Jews had an exemption from such practice, but Christians did not. “The synagogue of Satan” may be those Jewish Christians who were using their Jewish identity to escape the suffering and hardship being inflicted on their non-Jewish brother and sister Christians. Or, it may be Jews who turned in Christians to Rome. Either way, they not only slander the church but are bringing suffering upon it. The devil is about to throw some of them in prison so that they may be tested. It will only last ten days (symbol of a short time). Those faithful unto death will be given the crown of life and not suffer the second death—the one at the final judgment. The church in Pergamum is also commended for its faithfulness under persecution, especially during the time when Antipas was martyred (the only martyr to be named in Revelation and who is otherwise anonymous.) But there are a few things that Christ has against them. They tolerate the Nicolaitans, and those among them who hold to the teaching of Balaam the deceiver, who tells them that they may eat meat sacrificed to idols and participate in the sexual practices taking place in those pagan temples. Though eating food sacrificed to idols was considered inconsequential in some parts of the church, in others, such as those to whom this book is written, it was seen as a form of idolatry and spiritual adultery—unfaithfulness to Christ. If the church does not repent, Christ will come and make war on them with the double-edged sword that proceeds from his mouth. Those in the church who listen and conquer will be given hidden manna to sustain them and a white stone (very positive color in the symbolism of Revelation) on which is written a new name known only to those who possess it.
Jesus now pronounces a series of seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees, four of which make up our lesson for today. The woes are far more than lament; they are actually curses. They serve two purposes: first they hold the religious leadership accountable for their corrupt and unfaithful behavior, and second, they make it clear what is not to be acceptable within the new community of faith that Jesus is drawing about himself with his disciples. The first and second woe focus on how the leader’s behavior is actually keeping people from entering the reign of God. And in their false, self-constructed religious regulations and their zeal for them, when they make a convert, the convert becomes twice as much a child of hell as the Pharisees and scribes themselves. They are blind guides who major in minors. Preoccupied with the miniscule details of their religious system they have not only stepped by God’s purposes in life, but actually become God’s adversary in it. Their hair-splitting over oaths and various other issues obscures the greater issues of justice, mercy and faithful living within God’s covenant. They specialize in tithing mint, dill and cumin—relatively inexpensive and inconsequential things—while ignoring the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. All of these they should have been practicing without neglecting the others. But instead, they are blind guides—the fourth time in these woes Jesus has described them as such. While straining out gnats, they are swallowing camels.
Daily Readings for Wednesday, December 11, 2013, Advent 2, Year II
Amos 8:1-14; Psalm 53; Revelation 1:17—2:7; Matthew 23:1-12
The Lord gives Amos another vision, one of a basket of summer fruit, and asks Amos what he sees. To understand what is going on here we need to know about a word-play in Hebrew which is impossible to carry over into English. The word for “Summer” can also mean “end.” And so the Lord uses precisely that word to describe what will be done to Israel. The end is coming on Israel and, again, the Lord says, “I will never again pass them by”—forgiveness and reconciliation are now completely out of the question. The temple songs will turn to wailing dirges. There will be dead bodies everywhere. And now the oracle is turned on the people as a means to explaining the judgment. They trample the needy, bring to ruin the poor, care only for their own commercial enterprise, and even falsify the weights and measures by which they sell, in order to cheat and skew the balance. They are buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the floor sweepings of their granary as choice wheat. The Lord makes it clear; the coming doom is unconditional and will be complete. All creation will participate as the sun is eclipsed and the earth is shaken, and people fall into deep mourning, lamentation, and signs of regret. But it will be too late. Famine and drought are coming on the land, but not scarcity of bread or water, but of the hearing of the word of the Lord. Prophecy shall cease to exist and the Lord will no longer communicate with them. They will wander to and fro, from sea to sea, seeking the word of the Lord but shall not find it. The beautiful young people shall faint of thirst and those who have sworn by other gods shall fall and never rise again.
This is a variation on psalm 14 and almost identical with it except that this psalm uses the more generic word Elohim for “God,” rather than the divine name Yahweh, traditionally rendered “The Lord.” It derides and names as “fool” those who deny God’s existence and behave in godless ways. Corruption and other abominable behaviors emerge from them, and none of them are able to do good. But God looks from heaven in search of the wise, defined as those who seek after him. The assessment is bitter: all have fallen away, all are perverse, no one does good, “no, not one.” Whereas psalm 14 identifies God on the side of the righteous and the poor, neither is mentioned here. Rather, the focus is on God’s judgment on the fools. God will scatter their bones and put them to shame. The psalm ends with the very same plea of psalm 14 that deliverance would come from Zion, with God restoring the fortunes of the people.
John sees the risen Christ and falls at his feet as though he were dead. Christ places his right hand on John and says those familiar biblical words, “Do not be afraid.” Again the image of first and last is used, but now the emphasis is upon Christ as “the living one.” He was dead, but he is now alive forever, and has the keys of Death and of Hades; he is Lord of them as well. John is told to write what he has seen and what is to take place after this. The mystery of the seven stars is explained as the angels assigned to guard the seven churches. And now we read the risen Lord’s words to each of the seven churches. To the angel of the church in Ephesus (the word “angel” also means messenger and can refer to human emissary), he is to write, “I know your works, your toil and patient endurance and the intolerance for the evildoers who have come among them.” They have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not. The Lord knows that the Ephesians are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of his name, refusing to grow weary. Then, after all of this affirmation, there comes, as will come in almost all seven of the letters, an admonition: “But I have this against you, you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Rooting out trouble within a congregation can quickly descend into name calling and factionalism. Christ calls them to repent of this and restore the love that was initially among them, lest he come and remove them as a church. However, their hatred of the Nicolaitans—the word “hatred” here having more to do with rejection than distain or spite—is highly commended for they are also rejected by Christ himself. The Nicolaitans seem to have been a party in the church that advocated accommodation to the pagan culture around them as a means of gaining converts, making becoming a follower of Christ easier, or simply to become more in tune with the thinking of the day. The letter ends, as each will, with “let anyone who has an ear, to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” And then, the letter ends with a promise: “To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.” This book, written to be circulated among the seven churches of central Asia, is both a warning against practices that are compromising the churches, but also an exhortation to “conquer” and receive the gift of life that brings.
Jesus has been at odds with the Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees throughout his entire journey to Jerusalem, and now here, it has come fully into the open, and so he now openly warns the crowds against them. Yes, they sit on the seat of Moses, and so, as they read Moses to the people, the people are to listen. However, when they begin to teach what Moses meant by that, the people are to reject them. Further, they do not even practice what they teach, but lay burdens on others, while unwilling to lift a finger to ease the burden. They do everything in public for the sake of appearances, loving their long robes, elaborate phylacteries, and long and broad fringe. They seek the places of greatest honor in the synagogues, the best places at table, and love to be called “Rabbi.” The word, of course, means “teacher.” But the people are to have only one teacher—Jesus—for all of them are his students and he alone knows how to interpret Moses. Nor are they to honor people by calling them “father,” for they have but one true Father—the one in heaven. They are not even to be called instructors, for there is only one, the Messiah. Again, Jesus calls for a reversal of hierarchy, with the greatest becoming so through their servanthood, ending this section by warning that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, while all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Daily Readings for Tuesday, December 10, 2013, Advent 2, Year II
Tuesday, Amos 7:10-17; Psalm 85; Revelation 1:9-16; Matthew 22:34-46
Amos’ words have reached the temple and court in Israel, and Amaziah, the priest in charge of the sanctuary at Bethel goes to king Jeroboam of Israel, telling him of Amos’s prophecy against the nation, words so hard that the people cannot bear them. Amos has even said that Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will go into exile. Amaziah leaves the king and goes to confront Amos, and tells him to leave the land of Israel and go back to his home in Judah and there do his work and earn his living as a prophet. Never again is Amos to set foot in Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the northern kingdom. Amos answers that he is no professional prophet (there were guilds of them in that day), not a prophet’s son. He is but a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees. But the Lord took him from following the flock and told him to go and prophesy against the Lord’s people in Israel. For Amaziah’s attempts to limit Amos and his work, Amos delivers another prophesy, this one against Amaziah and his entire house. His wife will become a prostitute, his children will fall by the sword and his land shall be parceled out, line by line, to others. Amaziah himself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel itself will go into exile.
This communal lament is preceded by reminding God of how he has been favorable to the people in the past, restoring the fortunes of Jacob, forgiving the people’s iniquity and pardoning all their sin, withdrawing his wrath and turning from his hot anger. And so the plea is now, “Restore us again.” Will you be angry forever? “Revive us again so that your people may rejoice in you. Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Whether the psalmist himself or a priest in the temple, one now speaks prophetically and says, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,” and then promises, “God will speak peace to his people, to his faithful ones, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” For these, salvation is at hand. The result of this is that steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss; faithfulness will spring up from the ground and righteousness will look down from the sky. These four cardinal and classic attributes of God will be upon those who turn to him as a sign of God’s favor. The land will yield its increase, and righteousness will go before the Lord, making a path for his steps.
John identifies himself as his readers’ brother in the faith who shares with them the persecutions, the kingdom and the patient endurance called for from them during this time. He has been exiled to the tiny island of Patmos because of his preaching and teaching the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. It is Sunday, the Lord’s day, and as John sits praying (in the Spirit), he hears a voice like a loud trumpet behind him, commanding him to write down in a book all that he is about to see, and then send it to the seven churches of Central Asia, which are named: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. As John turns to see whose voice it is, he sees seven golden lamp stands—source of light among the people and symbols of the seven churches. In the midst of the lampstands he sees, “one like the son of man,” the risen Christ. The churches are not left to themselves in this time of trouble. The risen Christ stands among them. John, well versed in his Hebrew scriptures, uses verse after verse to describe Christ in glorious composite, cosmological terms. He wears a long robe with a royal golden sash across his chest. His head and hair are white as snow, like the ancient of days. His eyes are flames of fire like those of the one who sits on the throne of God, and his feet refined, burnished bronze. His voice is like the sound of many waters. In his right hand are the seven stars (total sovereignty over creation), and from his mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword, which we recognize as the word of God. His face shines like the sun shining with its full force. John has drawn together biblical images from Judges 5:31, Ezekiel 1:24, 26; 9:2, 11; Daniel 7:9; 10:6 (the son of man texts) and Isaiah 49:2. It is an image that defies any attempt at portrayal, and for good reason—this is apocalyptic literature revealing the coming one—recognizable, but totally new in his otherworldly glory.
Jesus has silenced the Sadducees, but the Pharisees return, this time with what seems an impossible question; “which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus responds with Deuteronomy 6:5, making the point that all of one’s life must be oriented to God. This is the greatest, but there is a second like it. And now he quotes Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything written in the law and the prophets can be fulfilled with obedience to these two commands. Jesus now asks the Pharisees a question. What is it they think of the Messiah—whose son is he? They respond, “The son of David.” Jesus challenges that answer by asking them how then, when David was in the Spirit he called the Messiah “Lord?” Quoting the enthronement Psalm 110:1, he asks why it is that “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” If David calls the Messiah “My Lord,” how can he be David’s son? The Pharisees are silenced, once again, for no one is able to answer his questions and, henceforth, no one will dare to ask him more.
Daily Readings for Monday, December 9, 2013, Advent 2, Year II
Monday, Amos 7:1-9; Psalm 40; Revelation 1:1-8; Matthew 22:23-33
Amos recounts several autobiographical events in his prophetic work, each a vision of destruction against Israel. The first is a swarm of forming locusts at the time of the harvest of the last growth. Just as it sprouts, the locusts devour it and Amos, somewhat uncharacteristically laments, “O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! “How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” In response, the Lord relents. A second vision is a shower of fire that will devour the land. Again, Amos pleads that the Lord relent, using the same words, and the Lord relents. Finally, the Lord reveals himself standing beside a wall built with a plumb line—the line in his hand. The Lord asks Amos what he sees, and Amos responds, “a plumb line.” To that, the Lord responds that he is setting a plumb line in the midst of his people Israel—is it Amos himself who is announcing what it is the Lord expects to escape destruction? The line set in place, the Lord will never again pass by them with mercy. The high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste, and the Lord will rise against the house of Israel’s king with the sword.
This psalm falls into two sections: the first a song of praise for God’s deliverance in time of need, and second, a new plea for help and God’s intervention. Whereas many psalms begin describing the time and situation of need and then turn to an expression of thanksgiving for deliverance, this one begins confessing to God and in the midst of the great congregation God’s saving help and salvation. Waiting patiently for the Lord never brings disappointment; happy are those who place their trust in him. It is not sacrifice or offering that the Lord desires, but an obedient life that does entrust itself to God and God’s care. That said, it turns and seeks God’s steadfast love and faithfulness because it has been experienced before in similar times of trial. Confessing not only the evils that have encompassed him, but also his own iniquities beyond number, the psalmist asks for God’s mercy as well as protection—to be saved from those attempting to snatch life away from him; let them be put to shame. Finally, the psalm ends with a plea that all who seek the Lord may rejoice in God’s love and salvation. Though poor and needy, the Lord is his help, remembers and delivers, and so he concludes, “Do not delay, O my God. The last five verses appear as a singular prayer for deliverance from enemies in Psalm 70This psalm initially seems addressed to anyone who has come to the temple to offer sacrifice. It is an intercessory blessing: May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May God give you support from Zion, remembering your sacrifices and burnt offerings. May God grant you your heart’s desire, fulfill all your plans and give you victory when you set up your banner in God’s name. Only in verse six does it become clear that this is ultimately addressed to the king, the anointed of the Lord.” Where other monarchs take pride in their chariots and horses, the king is reminded that “our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. Others will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright. It ends with one final petition: Save us, O Lord! Deliver us, as it continues with its intercessions for the king. But it can also be read as, “Answer us, O King (a reference to God’s sovereignty), when we call.” Though originally a Royal Psalm, it may be prayed in confidence by all of God’s anointed ones.
We begin to read the opening section of the Revelation that was given to John—not the apostle John, nor even the evangelist John, but one who is a brother in the faith and a servant of Jesus Christ. It is a revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Jesus to show to his servants concerning what must take place. All of this is made known by God, sending his angel to his servant John who now testifies to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ. What follows is what John has seen and heard. That introduction is followed by a blessing upon the lector of the congregation who is reading the letter to the people in worship, along with a blessing on those who keep what is written in it; “for the time is short.” Scholars believe that the letter was to be read in worship at one sitting. John now addresses the seven churches that are in Asia with words of grace and peace from “him who is, who was and who is to come”—a frequently recurring phrase, not always in the same order, to speak of God who was, is and is to be. John mentions the seven spirits before God’s throne (seven being a symbolic number for completion), and from Jesus Christ, now named, “faithful witness, firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” With that short phrase John has encapsulated the sovereignty of Christ and his purpose. This is followed by a lovely ascription of praise to Jesus, “who loved us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom of priests, serving his God and Father, to whom be glory and dominion forever and ever. The ascription ends with an “Amen,” and quickly jumps to “Look, he is coming soon with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all of the tribes of the earth will wail.” So it is to be. And now God speaks the final word to this section, utilizing the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet to affirm his fullness: “the God who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
The Pharisee and Herodian’s attempt to trap Jesus in their question about paying taxes to Caesar has failed, but that same day, some Sadducees come to Jesus. Sadducees denied there was a resurrection because they could find no reference to it in Torah, and for Sadducees, only Torah was authoritative. They come to make their point with the reductio absurdum question about a woman married but childless, who is widowed, and in accordance with the law, remarries her dead husband’s brother to give her a child in the first husband’s name. Again, that brother dies, leaving her again childless, a sequence that takes place seven times. Finally, the woman dies. If there is a resurrection, whose wife will she be, for all of them had married her? Jesus tells them they are wrong because they know neither the scriptures, which they pride themselves on knowing, nor the power of God. He then goes on to say that life in the resurrection is such that marriage for the bearing of children is no longer necessary. Rather, those who live in the reality of the resurrection are “like angels in heaven.” Notice that he does not say that they become angels—a frequent misunderstanding—but rather “like them,” never again dying. As for the reality of the resurrection itself, Jesus again quotes Torah to them, When God speaks to Moses at the burning bush, the Lord identifies himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?” Each of those relationships is in the present tense—each is alive to God and God to them. For God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Again, the crowd is astonished at Jesus’ teaching and the Sadducees are silenced.
December 8, 2013, Advent 2, Year II
Amos 6:1-14; Psalm 25; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; Luke 1:57-68
Amos continues to pronounce the Lord’s judgment on Israel (Mt. Samaria), and even Judah, (if the word Zion is not a later insertion after the exile, see December 1 comments above). The point is this: they are no better than the other nations around them that have fallen to Assyria. What is it that makes them think they will remain secure? The Lord has already denounced their sacrifices and solemn assemblies and attacked their worship of other gods. The issue now is the lack of justice and disparity between the haves and the haves not—those who “lie on beds of Ivory”, eating and drinking sumptuously with no regard for the poor and how it is ruining the nation. The judgment will be a doom from which few if any will survive. The magnitude of the coming destruction is detailed with ten in a house dying, and none left—the name of that house being never again mentioned to the Lord—gone forever. The Lord will do this to both great and small houses, shattering them to pieces. Do they think they can resist by their own power? Do horses run on rocks or does one plow the sea with oxen? The people have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood. They may rejoice in an occasional victory over an enemy like Lodebar or Karnaim, but the Lord is raising up a nation that shall oppress, conquer and destroy them completely.
This acrostic psalm is a prayer in which the psalmist pleads for God’s protection, guidance mercy, instruction, pardon and grace. A wisdom psalm, it repeats the convictions that those who wait upon the Lord and who walk in God’s ways (Torah), will never be put to shame, while the wantonly treacherous will end in disgrace and defeat. Seeking for the wisdom ever to know God’s ways, the psalmist asks to be led in God’s truth and taught God’s ways. She pleads for God’s mercy and steadfast love and asks that the sins of her youth be forgotten. She blesses the Lord as good and upright, who instructs sinners and leads the humble in the paths of steadfast love and faithfulness. In the midst of many foes she asks that they not prevail or put her to shame, for she has taken refuge in the Lord. May that integrity and uprightness be a source of strength and preservation as she waits on God. Finally, the scope of this petition is expanded beyond personal concerns to pray that God will redeem Israel out of all its trouble.
Scholars have long wondered if 2 Thessalonians was written by Paul, or by one of Paul’s disciples a generation or two later. Without delving into the technical linguistic evidence for this assessment, it is important to realize that this second letter seems to follow the same general outline of 1 Thessalonians, concerned with the fact that Jesus has not yet returned, but more, that the faithful are bearing hardship and suffering because of their faith. When Jesus did not return during that first generation of believer’s lives, there was need to interpret to the church what it meant, just as we have seen in the letter of 2nd Peter. In this letter, Paul’s concept of the righteousness of God being revealed through faith for faith to create faith among sinners by grace alone (Romans 1:17) has taken a subtle but important shift and is now understood as God’s righteous judgment, intended to make the faithful worthy of the kingdom of God—therefore, they are suffering. From there, God’s righteousness is transformed into apocalyptic language of fire and judgment against all who have not believed and especially against all who have persecuted believers. The Lord’s coming is now portrayed as a dooms-day scenario, whereas it was an occasion of consummate joy in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18. God’s righteousness now means that those who do not “obey the gospel of or Lord Jesus Christ,” will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, when he comes to be glorified by his saints. This testimony is sent to the Thessalonians to encourage them, and to remind them that they are being prayed for with the plea that God will make them worthy of his call, and will fill them with good resolve and works of faith. Notice that the grace and mercy of the Lord have slipped into the background, as the more grim details of bearing suffering for his sake seem to have dominated the author’s thought. The Day of the Lord is now a day of destruction for all who do not believe, and salvation for those who do. The Paul who wrote the other lettess understood Jesus coming as the consummation of the new heaven and new earth.
As the time for Jesus’ incarnation and birth draw near, we hear a story about his mother’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. Both are now old and childless but deeply faithful people. Zechariah is a priest and, in the course of carrying out his official duties in the temple, burning incense to the Lord, the angel Gabriel appears and announces that Zechariah’s wife is going to bear him a son who will bring the two of them joy at its birth. They are to name the child John. He will return their people to the Lord, and the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedience to the wisdom of the righteous. He is coming “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17) In disbelief, Zechariah asks how he is to know this is so, given the fact that both he and Elizabeth are so old. For his questioning unbelief, Zechariah is struck mute until the child is born. Today’s lesson tells the story nine months later as the child is born. The neighbors and relatives rejoice with the parents and want to name the boy Zechariah, after his father, but Elizabeth knows better. Her husband seems to have communicated to her that the child is to be named John. On the eighth day, when the boy is to be circumcised and named, there is a bit of a ruckus in the community. After all, no one in their family has been named John. The crowd turns to the still silent Zechariah to find out what he wants to name the boy, and Zechariah scribbles on his writing tablet, “His name is John.” Immediately, Zechariah is able again to speak, and praises God for all of these things. Fear falls over the neighbors as they ask who is this child to become? It is clear that the hand of the Lord is with him. At that, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and blesses the Lord, the God of Israel, announcing, “…he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” The song that follows is known as the Benedictus, blessing God for his faithfulness and keeping the promise of his holy covenant. This child is to be the prophet of the Most High, who will go before the people to prepare his way.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.