Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on December 13, 2009

Here are the passages for December 13th, 2009, the Third Sunday of Advent (Year C).  All lectionary links are to the NRSV via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead.  (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Zephaniah 3:14-20
  • Long-time readers of my reflections will no doubt have noticed that, when I reflect on prophetic readings (especially ones that have a certain meaning to those of us who know how the prophecies are fulfilled in Christ), I often like to consider how the people who heard this passage when it was originally written might have heard it.  In what time was this passage originally written?  What was happening to God’s people at that time?  How might that situation have influenced how they would hear this passage?  It is only after considering questions like these that we can begin to interpret how this passage speaks to God’s people today, in our situation.
  • In particular, I found a couple of sections interesting.  When I last wrote a reflection on this passage (three years ago, the last time "Year C" rolled around in the lectionary cycle), I was still using the TNIV for these reflections.  Verses 17-18 are translated rather differently in that version:

  • 17 "...(he) will rejoice over you with singing."
    18 "I will remove from you
    all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
    which is a burden and reproach for you...."
    Compare this to that same section from the NRSV, which reads:

    17 ...he will exult over you with loud singing
    18 as on a day of festival.
    I will remove disaster from you,
    so that you will not bear reproach for it.
    In the TNIV, the festivals were lost and mourned over by people to be removed (made not to mourn?).  In the NRSV, the festivals are an illustration of the fact that mourning has been removed.  Likewise, the object of "reproach" is changed.  The TNIV adds quotation marks, which the NRSV lacks.  Which is correct?  Does it matter?

  • Finally, at the end of this passage, after all the words of rejoicing at God’s work, we read that God will “restore your fortunes.”  Usually, to “restore” means to give something back that was once possessed.  What did God’s people once have, that they don’t any longer, that will be restored in God’s time?
Isaiah 12:2-6
  • The version of the Revised Common Lectionary used in the PC(USA)'s Book of Common Worship does not have a reading from the Psalms this week.  A rarity.  Rather, this passage, which seems to consist of a "Psalm" of praise from the book of Isaiah, is used in place of the weekly Psalm
Philippians 4:4-7
  • This is a short passage, but there are some aspects of it that bear thinking about.  When Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, he clearly intends that we should rejoice even when things are going wrong.  This is especially true if, as is commonly believed, Paul himself is writing this letter while imprisoned.  What should rejoicing in such hard times look like?  How can we move toward an attitude of rejoicing when we don't particularly feel like it?
  • When Paul writes about prayer in this passage, he makes clear that he knows that human beings have needs, and that he believes that God can handle them.  Yet he tells us to offer our requests with thanksgiving.  For some people, it may seem like a contradiction to give thanks while asking for more at the very same time.  If this is so, how do we deal with that?
  • When Paul tells us that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds, what will this feel like?  Or, can we even know?  After all, Paul says that it “surpasses all understanding.”  Should we even be asking these questions?
Luke 3:7-18
  • This passage comes immediately after the passage from Luke that we read last week, and it starts with an interesting difference from the parallel passage in Matthew.  Note that, in Luke 3:7, John addresses the crowds when he cries out “You brood of vipers!”  In the Matthew version, the text specifically cites the Pharisees and Sadducees as the targets of John’s verbal attack.  Although it’s probably too much to suggest that these variants contradict each other, they definitely each give a very different impression from the other.  So, who was John so upset with?  And how might we explain the difference in wording from one gospel to the other?
  • In any event, we see much more of the personality of John the Baptizer this week than we did last week.  What kind of a person is he?  How might we apply the advice that he gives to the crowds, including the tax collectors and the soldiers, to our own lives?
  • As the passage comes to a close, John makes references to the one who is coming, the Messiah.  Based on John’s words, what kind of a person will the Messiah be?  Does the Messiah sound like someone we might look forward to seeing, or would we be afraid of such a person?

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