4 Advent (C) – 2012

Reflections at the end of Advent

December 23, 2012

Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

Don’t you love it when people ask you, “Are you ready for Christmas?” A good answer is, “No, but it’s coming anyway, so let’s all be joyful!”

This week we pay for that bridge week between Thanksgiving and Advent by having a truncated fourth week in Advent. It barely begins before we move to Christmas Eve, then Christmas itself. But, truly, we’re never ready. Advent is a deliberate escape from the frantic pulse of getting ready. It gives us breathing room; only, this year, almost a week less than usual.

In today’s readings we are taken to a very different space from preparation, a space of ancient prophecy in Micah, theology in Hebrews, and a docudrama of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke. You will not likely find any holiday arts or crafts for sale that help us reflect on these spaces, yet each of them contributes greatly to our end-of-Advent experience, and spills over into Christmas. Let’s look at them in turn.

Micah was an eighth-century prophet. He is one of a group whose prophecies are primarily designed to call the Kingdom back to its common core values of righteousness and justice, especially for the poor. This passage today should not be understood in any other context. It is not to be viewed as a prediction of the birth of Jesus, though Christians often interpret it that way. It is rather a vision of restoration, of righteousness with kingship that cares for the values of a nation that have been lost.

While the image “she who is in labor has brought forth” is often equated with Mary, the phrasing in its original Hebrew is ambiguous, and the “she” could refer to the nation or something else. Micah is concerned about political history and its future, and how God will deliver God’s people, but he is not necessarily prophesying a Messiah in the way many have chosen to interpret his prophecy.

The significant message of Micah is that in the midst of turmoil and in a nation that has lost its bearings, God’s plan will continue to be revealed and it will involve leadership that brings in a reign of peace. This is a message of hope we badly need to hear in our time.

“Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” The psalmist picks up this longing for restoration and is a great lead-in to the reading from Hebrews.

Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God’s plan involves a restoration not based on sacrifice and expensive offerings, but on God’s gracious action of sanctifying each of us as holy beings, worthy of being loved by our Savior and Redeemer. Now that’s a Christmas present!

You can feel the emotional movement from Micah to Hebrews, a faint hope now answered in the birth of Jesus, a resounding message of peace for all humanity; those who have gone before, the living and those yet to come.

Finally, we get to this wonderful drama in the Gospel of Luke, the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. It helps to recall that Mary is a very young girl, likely in her early teens, while Elizabeth is older, mature. They have the intimacy of being related; but did they talk only of domestic things? One doubts they did. Both of them had remarkable experiences surrounding their pregnancies, and they share the awareness of Divine involvement. Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, rings down through the centuries, a fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy, and the validation of a God who cares for all creation and loves it into redemption with justice and grace.

The early Christian church used this story of the Visitation in Luke as a foundation for the Incarnation. Luke includes it as part of the birth narrative because the church was seeking to explain and affirm that the birth of Jesus was not just another one of those “virgin births.” Many rulers had claimed similar origins to justify their deification. The forming church wanted to clarify the God incarnate, man divine, as an affirmation of humanity, and that is what begins to attract people to this remarkable gospel and to Jesus.

This last Sunday of Advent gives us a brief time to reflect upon and kindle within ourselves the light of the incarnate Lord. The foundation is laid for what we will find at the manger. Now let us prepare to join the shepherds and the angels in great joy over what God has done for us.

 

— The Rev. Ben Helmer is an Episcopal priest serving as vicar of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Eureka Springs, Ark.

Comments

  1. Rev. Dr. Adela Torchia says:

    Paul’s letter to the Hebrews? I was taught by many sources that Paul did not write that letter.

    • The Rev. JW Stephenson Vicar of St. Mary's Church Galena, KS says:

      Origen’s words regarding the authorship of Hebrews are as follows:
      “But as for myself, if I were to state my own opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle [Paul], but that the diction and phraseology are those of someone who wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher. Therefore, if any church holds that this epistle is by Paul, let it be commended for this. For not without reason have the ancients handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth, God knows.”

  2. Ben:

    Thank you for your thoughts and combining all the lessons and psalm of the the day,
    You have made a change in my thought process even though I’m closing out my 56th. year since ordination.

    I enjoy reading the works of others because it forces me to think out side the box in a reasonable and creative way!

    Merry Christmas. God BLESS!!!

  3. The Re. Dr. Mike Morrissey says:

    Yes Origen wrote, “the writer is known to God alone:” And, it is written that Jerome expressed the greatest doubts concerning its authorship. Origen’s doubts were also ex­pressed by Eusebius and by Augustine. But all still give inference to Paul. And then there is Tertullian “voting” for Barnabas. Yet Clement of Alexandria holds for Paul. Much later Eusibius “softly votes” with Clement. Another 100 yrs later Athanasius joins Eusibius,

    This not a settled matter. A significant problem is its overall construction. I think that if it is Pauline then either he authored it but did not write it,or he wrote it in Hebrew and it was translated to Greek. Just be careful as the arguments can get in the way of the message.

  4. The Re. Dr. Mike Morrissey says:

    While my previous post is stamped 12.40 AM. It’s actually 9.40 PST here. I’m not that into making comments.

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