Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on December 20, 2009

Here are the passages for December 20th, 2009, the Fourth 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.)

Micah 5:2-5a
  • As Christians, it’s hard to hear the name of Bethlehem spoken without thinking of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Yet for the people to whom this prophecy was originally written, Bethlehem had a different connotation entirely.  Although a small, insignificant town, it was nonetheless well-known, but primarily as the hometown of King David.  How does this understanding affect our interpretation of this prophecy?
  • In verse 3, we read of a person in labor giving birth.  How might God’s people from before the time of Christ have understood this prophecy?  And how do we, who know of Jesus Christ, interpret the reference where “the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel”?
  • As this passage of prophecy draws to a close, a reference is made to the Assyrians.  Although the Assyrians were considered among the worst enemies the Israelites could imagine when this passage was written, the Assyrian Empire was long gone by the time of Jesus Christ.  Does this fact influence our interpretation of the passage in any way?
Luke 1:46b-55
Psalm 80:1-7
  • Throughout Advent, the version of the Revised Common Lectionary used in the PC(USA)'s Book of Common Worship has not had a reading from the Psalms on Sunday. However, this week gives two "responsive" readings, one of which is a Psalm. I expect that most churches will choose one or the other, if either at all....
Hebrews 10:5-10
  • Verses 5-7 of this passage come from Psalm 40:6-8, and the verses that follow expand upon this reference.  What does the author of Hebrews tell us about Jesus by attributing these words to him?
  • A few weeks ago, we spent several weeks following passages of Hebrews, and noted that a common theme throughout the book is the nature of sacrifice, and the superiority of Jesus' sacrifice over the animal sacrifices of the first century.  How do the words of this passage add to or affect that understanding?  Why do the framers of the Revised Common Lectionary use this reading on the Fourth Sunday of Advent?
Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)
  • The Revised Common Lectionary allows churches the option of reading--or not reading--the verses in parentheses. 
  • Churches who choose not to read the "optional" verses may be missing out, because these verses contain the text of Mary's song of praise. These words tell us much about the character of the mother of Jesus Christ. How does she see God? Why does she sing praise during this time?
  • The verses just before this song (the verses most churches will retain) may provide part of the answer. This is the famous passage where we learn that Elizabeth's baby, who we learn later in the gospel is John the Baptizer, “leaped for joy” when Mary came to visit. Why do you think the baby was so happy? And what about Elizabeth? In these days before mass communication, what had Elizabeth been told about Mary's pregnancy? Or do you think she knew about Mary's baby through God directly, apart from human communication? When verse 41 says that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, what does that suggest?
With the closing of Advent, I am also bringing to a close my time as the writer of "Lectionary Ruminations" here on the Presbyterian Bloggers site.  I'd like to thank Sarahlynn Lester for offering me this opportunity, as well as for already having done the legwork to see that this feature will continue with new contributors.  I'm taking on a few new challenges, both on and off of the blogosphere, including becoming a deacon in my local church and attempting a "through the New Testament in a year" project over at my own blog, Transforming Seminarian, in a couple of weeks.   In the meantime, I'd like to link to one more lectionary reflection, the one written for the passages to be used on Christmas Eve.  Since these passages are the same every year, it only seems appropriate to draw attention to them one more time as I head out reflecting yet again on the words of Linus: "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!"

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