Monday, December 09, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings for Third Sunday in Advent, 12/15/13: 
Isaiah 35:1-10, Luke 1:46b-55, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

Isaiah 35:1-10:
  • "the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly." Can you picture the way crocuses boldly shove up through the snow at the first hint of spring time? (I hope you live where there are crocuses!) It really is a vision of hope and life after a long, cold winter. Imagine, then, hope and life springing forth from the desert. That sharp contrast of color in the midst of a sea of uniformity, where it is not expected.
  • Opposites - did you ever have an 'opposite day' when you were young, where everything you said meant the exact opposite of the expected meaning? That is Isaiah's vision here: blind see. deaf here. lame leap. the desert streams. dry is wet. When God come, everything is completely changed, totally altered by the experience of God.
  • "Make firm the feeble knees . . . [God] will come and save you." God's strength puts our fears to rest.
Luke 1:46b-55
  • context: This is Mary's song of praise, the Magnificat, a response to her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who is also with child. This is a song, and can be set to music in worship, or read responsively like a Psalm.
  • We usually think of magnifying in the sense of making something bigger. Thinking of it this way, what would it mean if you soul, your spirit, made God appear larger to others?
  • Mary speaks as one who sees God's greatness already complete in the not-yet-complete actions of the birth of her baby, we see by the fact that she speaks about what God has done in the past tense. What trust, and what vision!
  • Mary's images of God are all about God who changes the usual order of things - a God who lifts up the lowly and removes the rich and powerful from their usual places. Obviously, as a young woman going through a strange ordeal, these concepts of God would be extremely meaningful to her, giving her hope.
James 5:7-10:
  • James seems at first a surprise choice for a text for Advent. Isn't James all about faith and works? But here is a most appropriate text.
  • "Be patient . . . until the coming of the Lord." Patience is not something we seem to value anymore. We value speed and efficiency. When have you had to be patient? When has patience brought you something better than what you could have gotten right away?
  • See how many times James uses the word patience? He mentions a farmer - what happens when crops are harvested too soon? When I was little and used to garden with my Grandpa Mudge, I remember pulling up onions to look at them, and carrots, way too early in the season, 'just to check'. It usually meant bad news even when they were ready to be picked, that I could be patient...
Matthew 11:2-11:
  • If you've seen The Matrix, think Morpheus to Neo for John the Baptist to Jesus. John wants to know if Jesus is the one he's been waiting for. If he is, John will invest himself in this Jesus, and prepare to direct people to Jesus. If he's not the one, fine, but John wants to know the truth up front.
  • Jesus responds by saying: don't ask for confirmation of who I am in words from me. The confirmation of who I am is in my actions and what I have done. We can say the same of ourselves, can't we?
  • What did you go out to see? Jesus repeats this question three times. What are you looking for? A spectacle? A circus side-show? Jesus suggests that whatever misguided notions people had in seeking John out, they would get more than they bargained for: "A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." Have you ever gotten more than you bargained for, in a good way? Done something without hope of much meaning, but found instead a life-changing experience? I went to the Central Park Zoo once during seminary and found great 'meaning' in watching the Polar Bears swim.
  • "yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Here's the puzzle Jesus lays out for us today. What does he mean by this? Well, if Jesus' message of good news is to announce that the kingdom of God is at hand, and John had been trying to prepare people for the coming, once the good news 'arrives', so to speak, John is - not irrelevant, exactly - but his task is done, his purpose has been served. We who live in the kingdom - our purpose is not yet served - we've more to do.
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