Archives for December 2011

Bible Study: 4 Advent (B)

December 18, 2011

Carol Morehead, Seminary of the Southwest

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 3 or Canticle 15; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

In today’s Old Testament reading, we find David trying to take care of God. In response, God firmly reminds David that, in fact, it is God who is in charge, who will make a house for David. So often we, like David, allow our own anxiety to propel us into action. We fail to recognize God’s abundant care in our lives. Rather than slowing down to listen to God, we race to control our lives: our churches, our families, our bank accounts. We often squander so much energy taking care of the details of our lives that there is no room left for God. We don’t actually turn to God, rely on God. Yet God tells David, and with him all of Israel, that God is ever with him, every moment of every day. So for David to want to build a house of cedar for God’s presence is to fundamentally misunderstand who God is and how God works in the world and in human lives. We don’t take care of God; God takes care of us.

What are you anxious about that God may be waiting to provide for you this Advent?

Canticle 3 / Canticle 15 (Luke 1:46-55) The Song of Mary Magnificat

This is a familiar song, yet I am struck each time I come to it by the depth of the transformation it presents. Mary’s words here are part of a broader conversation. Just prior to this, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth honors Mary as the mother of God. Mary, though, turns the praise back toward God, honoring the way God uses the lowly and insignificant, the poor and unimportant, who will receive the deliverance of God. The rich and powerful, though, will reject it and walk away empty. God’s mercy transforms lives, turns things upside down, liberates us so that we can see with new eyes the changes that God brings into the world.

In what aspects of your life do you feel lowly and poor?

In what ways might God be using these to transform and liberate you?

Romans 16:25-27

Romans ends as it began: in praise of God, whose story is given through the prophets and revealed in Jesus Christ so that believers can be faithfully obedient. In these closing verses of chapter 16 (which is one long sentence), the author is giving a doxology – a saying about God’s glory. In it we find again that God works throughout the ages to be revealed. What was once mystery has been revealed: Jesus’ coming is how God’s glory is disclosed. God breaks into history for all humanity – Jew and Gentile. And as we approach the culmination of Advent, this passage points us to anticipate the ways in which God’s glory is revealed – in our lives, in our churches, in our world, in all history.

What does Jesus’ coming disclose about God?

How is God’s glory shown in lives today?

Luke 1:26-38

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord” (Luke 1:37-38).

We live in a modern world, based on scientific hypotheses and observations. Even the most unscientifically minded of us is a product of the scientific revolution. So we come to this passage full of questions, seeking explanations, demanding that things make sense. Yet this is a story of faith. Gabriel, here for the second time in this first chapter of Luke, gives a birth announcement, much like that of Samson or John the Baptist. Only this birth is special, miraculous. Mary is confused at first, but Gabriel’s words reassure her: with God nothing is impossible. By accepting God’s initiation, Mary becomes part of the in-breaking of God into the world through the incarnation in Jesus. Mary accepts the unexplainable and offers herself to God’s service.

What are the unexplainable things in your world today about which you seek answers from God?

In what way may God be calling you to bring to birth some part of God’s kingdom?

Bible Study: 3 Advent (B)

December 11, 2011

Rae Hadley; Episcopal Theology School, Claremont, Calif.

“He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said.’” (John 1:23)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Isaiah is the first book of the Latter Prophets, which are mostly made up of prophecies written in a poetic style. Isaiah is closely linked with the books of Kings, which together address the destiny of Jerusalem. The books of Kings end with the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, and the resulting exile of her people. Isaiah picks up the story and speaks to the destiny of Jerusalem into the ravages of its exile and through the promise of future redemption. The first part of Isaiah speaks to the destruction of Jerusalem, the second part anticipates Jerusalem’s restoration, and the third part deals with the shaping of the Jerusalem to come. Isaiah 61 speaks to hope, the promise of a better future, and anticipation of a “new age” when YHWH’s rule is fully established. Jesus, read some of the prophecy of Isaiah 61 while in the synagogue, in Luke 4:18-19, then declared that this scripture had been fulfilled in the hearing of those present. Isaiah demonstrated that YHWH is the God of all, who both judged and punished Jerusalem, and in turn restored her to a new age of prosperity.

Advent is a time that we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ, as Jerusalem anticipated the coming of the end of her exile and the return of her people to prosperity. As you reflect on your life, what does the anticipation of the coming of Christ during this season draw you to long for?

What do you see in your life and community of faith that you could help with to make our world reflect a little more of the promise of a new age? What is one thing you can do for your family, community or church to encourage justice?

Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is a Song of Ascents, which is a collection of songs sung by pilgrims as they made their way into Jerusalem or into the Temple precincts. This particular song begins as thanksgiving from those who are no longer captive, and moves into a community prayer for all those still exiled to return from Babylon, and for the restoration of Israel. Exile can take many forms. Time, distance, an old argument, differing values can all drive us away from others and press us to drive others from us.

When have you experienced the being exiled? Whom have you exiled from your life? In what way?

When have you had the experience of going through a time of great difficulty? How did your faith support you through that hardship?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

First Thessalonians is accepted as being Paul’s first pastoral letter, written to provide encouragement and guidance. Paul had and expressed in this letter, fond parental affection and pastoral concern for the converts in this city, who had suffered persecution but remained strong in their faith. Remember that the apostles believed that Jesus would come again in their lifetimes. This belief caused some anxiety regarding those Christians who died before the expected return of Christ, and Paul’s teachings about the coming of the Lord and salvation for all believers, both living and dead, have been very influential in development of Christian hope. The last chapter of the letter addresses practicalities of living in a Christian community—the good, the bad, the joyous, and conflicted. We see these aspects of community in our daily lives at home, in school, at work, in social organizations, and in our churches.

What do you struggle with about faith? What causes you to doubt?

What is helpful to you during those times, and how can you share that with someone else who may be struggling?

John 1:6-8, 19-28

These sections of John talk about John the Baptist as a prophet, sent to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ. People didn’t understand who John was, and suspected that he might be the prophet Elijah, who the Jews believed would return to earth before the Messiah came. Some even suspected that John was the Messiah. John knew that his role was to prepare the way for the coming of Christ, and clearly denied being Elijah or the Messiah. The religious authorities questioning John were not interested in actually getting information from him, but wanted to discredit him. This same sort of tactic would be used to try to trip-up Jesus as well. John was not deceived by their questioning and remained clear about who he was and was not, and what his purpose was.

How do these passages speak to you and your own role in your community of faith?

Who are the “Pharisees” in your life? How do they challenge your faith?

Bible Study: 2 Advent (B) – 2011

December 4, 2011

Kerlin Richter, General Theological Seminary

“I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

Isaiah 40:1-11

The chapel of the Good Shepherd here at General Theological Seminary has a really sweet-looking Jesus with a lamb in his arms behind the altar. He is gazing into its little lamby face with gentle love. On the outside of the chapel, however, is another image of Jesus the Good Shepherd; in that one he is down on his knees pulling a lamb out of thorns. As much as I want to be that lamb safely in the arms of Jesus, I have felt so much more often like the lamb in the thorns. The good news of Isaiah that John the Baptist gets to “shout from the mountains” is that Jesus is coming and will get down on his knees and reach into the thorny places and pull us out.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).

Do you think that having mercy and being right are somehow at odds with each other?

Is it “realistic” to offer mercy?

What kind of world has mercy as an equal value with justice?

2 Peter 3:8-15a

“Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

When my son was a very small baby, people would tell us “Oh, savor these times, they go so quickly,” and I would scream silently in my head while trying really hard to look like a good mom. Because the days would drag by, and sometimes an afternoon could last a lifetime. Now my son is seven and I am starting to understand. Not just with my intellect, which can easily grasp that children are precious and their development can be astoundingly fast, but to really get it in my bones that these days will never come again. That his whole life up until now fits in one hand of my memory.

This is how life is with God. Our little grain-of-sand lives are infinitely precious to the one who spoke time into being. …. Beloved, do not forget this.

Mark 1:1-8

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:2-3).

Advent is a time of good tidings, but sometimes what God considers good news and what we consider good news can seem very different. The good news of God will change us and challenge us, and we are called to join in with the work of lifting our voices.

Where in the world most needs to hear “good tidings”?

What is holding you back from lifting your voice with strength?

Are we ready to hear that God is coming? Are we able to imagine an in-breaking of love that can transform the world?

I think sometimes we look forward to Christmas as a time when everything will be warm and safe, but the incarnation is as wild and terrifying as our locust-eating friend John the Baptist.