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Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, December 23rd
The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Love | the Wise-Men
The past week has been dark. Somber and sad are adjectives I’ve heard frequently used to describe how various people have been feeling. Fiscal Cliff. Gun control. Mental illness. Fear. Global economic problems. We can struggle to see the light. Some this week have even asked where is God? How could God make this happen? How come God doesn’t stop such things? How can we – how can I – just one person even make a difference?
The passage from Micah: hope from the future in the gloom of the present
Biblical scholars are challenged to specifically date the writing of the later part of Micah, but it’s cleat that it’s about an invasion of Jerusalem either by Sennacherib in 701 BC of Nebuchadnezzar 50 to 100 years earlier. This is clear from 5:1 “Now you are walled around with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek.” A radically unexpected word of hope is spoken in a time of deep gloom and destruction. This good news is shared in a way as to capture the ironies of God’s most unexpected visitation. Insignificant Bethlehem will serve to unseat Israel’s mightiest enemy. The text points to a future deliverance, and yet is also intended to dispel the terror and darkness of the present moment. God’s future impacts not just the distant future but the here and now present.
The passage from Luke 1:39-45: unclear clarity
In Luke’s telling of the birth story, this is the episode following the angelic announcement to Mary that she will be a mother to the son of God, the God-bearer. Curiously her response to this message that nothing is impossible with God leads her to visit her aunt Elizabeth. We know about her condition – old and miraculously pregnant with a child whose destiny is tied to that of Mary’s – but little else. The text isn’t clear on dating and place… “in those days” “in a Judean town” “in Zechariah’s home” – yet we never see Zechariah, nor learn more of the town. In the midst of that unclear retelling we have the clarity of Elizabeth’s reinforcing response, which confirms what the angel Gabriel has said. Actually she comments more on Mary’s response as “here I am the servant of the Lord” than the specifics of the angelic revelation.
Again we see little description of Mary’s qualifications for such a paramount maternal role. There is no check-list of attributes to explain her being chosen. Rather the weight of her chosen favor rests upon her faith-full response to this message of good news (which might not have seemed exactly great to her) in a dark time. She responds faithfully to the clarity of an unclear invitation to join in with what God is doing in the world.
The passage from Luke 1:46-55:magnificient promises
This latter part of today’s selection is a poem, or song. Historically known as the Magnificat in Latin, one can wonder is it really what Mary said exactly?; a fabrication?; or a faithful recreation? The words are closely related to the song of praise, or prayer of gratitude offered by Hannah at the birth of Samuel in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. How are the two connected?
Inundated with our cultural assumptions, inherited traditions and consumer-driven images about Christmas, it’s all too easy to skip over the image that this prophetic song of gratitude and praise paints. The child to come will turn the world upside down, overthrowing the rich and powerful who abuse their position, lifting up the feeble and poor from their oppression, righting wrongs, building up the broken in body and heart. In the beauty of the verse is a radical warning: this child will come to turn the world right side up not with weapons but a birth.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in these texts? Why? How?
2. The theme of Advent is the announcement of the light in the darkness. These texts wrestle with a proclamation of good news in the gloom. How do you need to hear good news today? How is the birth of Christ a message of the future which changes the present?
3. We all struggle with discerning the will of God, of knowing what God is up to. These texts point out the unexpected irony and unclear clarity with which God invites us to join in. How do you struggle with that in your own life?; in how the world moves? How might there be more clarity in the unclearness you experience than you imagine?