Readings for Fourth Sunday of Advent, 12/23/12:
Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:46b-55, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45
- “But you, O Bethlehem,” – Bethlehem is described as a little town (like the hymn!), making it special that a ruler would come from such a small place.
- Image of a woman in labor – this is a common Advent image, for obvious reasons of the expectation of the Christ-child, but also for other reasons. Pregnancy is indeed a time of expectation, but there is a sense of inevitability too. It’s not like expecting the unknown, wondering about an unsure future. Unless something goes tragically wrong, the result is a new child. Images of birth pangs are also common in biblical metaphors (like when Jesus speaks of signs of the times) to describe a time of distress/pain/confusion. But again, despite this pain, a new life follows.
- “And they shall live secure” – What does that mean? Today ‘security’ is a word we think about a great deal. There’s the financial security that we all seek that feels too hard to get in this economy – job security. There’s national security – in the midst of the war on terror, we walk a fine line between security/safety and taking away of human/constitutional rights. What’s the difference between that kind of security and the kind described here?
- “And he shall be the one of peace.” That’s just such a breath-taking, beautiful image. Our heart’s desire.
- “magnifies” – from the Greek megalunei, meaning, “to make great, to magnify, to exaggerate.” When we use a magnifying glass, we do it so the image is larger, easier to see, but also so we can see all the fine details of an image.
- Mary thanks God for God’s ability to switch the usual order of things, to make things opposite of how they usually are: the powerful are brought down, the lowly are lifted. The hungry are filled, the rich go away empty-handed. Ties in with Jesus’ teaching emphasis on the first being last, last being first. A change of the whole existing social order, everything turned upside-down and inside-out.
- Mary signifies that she believes the child she is carrying to be the fulfillment after a long time of a promise made by God to Abraham and his descendants Imagine the patience! We seem to want God to fulfill promises a lot more quickly – preferably within our own lifetime! What if we could know that God’s promises would reach to our great-great-great-great grandchildren? Would that satisfy us?
- Preceding this passage, the author is talking about how animal sacrifices made in the temple fail to fully atone for sins, since they must be repeated year after year, thus not really freeing people from the guilt they experience. Christ has come to be the one sacrifice we need, the only thing strong enough to really take away our sins, the author argues.
- Vs. 6 & 7 draw on language similar to Psalm 51, the one that contains the “Create in me a clean heart” verses, a favorite Psalm for those who feel guilt and seek forgiveness and repentance.
- Mary has just been visited by the angle Gabriel and accepted the news that she is carrying “the Son of the Most High.” She goes to be with her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also, even in her old age, carrying a child, John the Baptist.
- “Blessed are you” – The Greek word for blessed is eulogemene, root words meaning good and word. The same as the root of our word “eulogy”, good-speaking about somebody. To be spoken well-of, to be praised, to be blessed.
- “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” What makes Elizabeth ask this? Does she feel unworthy of this visit from Mary and the unborn Christ-child?
- “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” These are key words that speak to us today! God has spoken many things to us, many to me at least. But in doubt I wonder if God’s promises for me are as good as expected. Our blessing comes in our belief, our trust, our faith.