Bible Study: 4 Advent (C)

December 23, 2012

Lea Colvill, Sewanee

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

Micah 5:2-5

Micah was from a rural area that the King of Assyria razed in Micah’s youth. Micah criticized the urban elite from Jerusalem for corruption in morals and business. He warned that the Temple would be destroyed if the nation did not repent; and the Temple was destroyed about 150 years later.

Micah was longing for moral courage in this passage. If his people would repent and demonstrate moral courage, then God might grant them the military might to cast off invaders, such as the Assyrians, and restore national unity through a Messiah. The title “Messiah” invokes an idea of militarily strong and extraordinarily moral leadership selected by God.

Bethlehem stands for rural values, and for King David because he was from Bethlehem, the youngest son of a shepherding family. King David became a great warrior and symbol of Israel’s golden age of national unity and military might. This passage reminds us of Micah’s criticism of corruption, his longing for national restoration to moral courage and that the long-awaited Messiah would come from Bethlehem.

How do you imagine a nation of moral courage?

What has God allowed to be destroyed in your own life to call you to repentance?

Psalm 80

The people who need to be restored in this prayer are the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh – the tribes of the north. For Christians, this family is a symbol of the world. Joseph stands for those who are enslaved or in prison. Benjamin stands for the young and orphaned because he was the youngest and his mother died in childbirth. Ephraim and Manasseh are brothers born in refugee status but welcomed as heirs back into their families. They are the people who do not know the customs and yet belong to us. Ephraim and Manasseh are also two boys who have their birth order reversed when they are blessed, so one gets more than he expects and the other gets less. These lost tribes are the people who have tears instead of bread and are scorned by those who do not care.

“Restore all of us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (v. 19).

When have you felt laughed to scorn?

Who is left out in your family, school or workplace, neighborhood, or community? Who might partner with you in imagining restoration?

Hebrews 10:5-10

This passage assumes that the reader knows the rites for purification in the Temple and the psalms well enough to fill in the blanks and create a medley that will say more than what is written.

The phrase “a body prepared” (v. 5) reminds us of the offerings for every sin recorded in Leviticus 4:1-5:13. The size of the offering (grain, pigeons, doves, sheep, goats and bulls) was based on the station of the sinner, not the severity of the sin. The body God prepared was his own son because he desired to be reconciled to us.

The phrase “in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings” (v. 6) comes from Psalm 40:7. The implied refrain is, “I love to do your will, O my God, your law is deep within my heart.”

The phrase “You have neither desired … sin-offerings” (v. 8) refers to Psalm 51:17-18: “I would have offered sacrifice, but you take no delight in burnt offerings. The Sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart.” Offerings for sin treated the symptoms, but an obedient heart turned to God can be cured. The end of the old way makes way for the new.

Are there verses in this reading that echo through your imagination?

Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

In this passage, Mary visits her relative Elizabeth, who is also carrying a miraculous child. Elizabeth’s son in her old age will be John the Baptist, and even in utero, he is filled with the Holy Spirit announcing Jesus. Later in Luke, Jesus said, “What has been hidden from the wise will be revealed to infants” (Luke 10:21). Elizabeth’s greeting is the cry of the Holy Spirit and an external validation of Mary’s internal experience. Her annunciation story has the form of the call of a prophet. This form would have been as clear to first-century listeners as the form of a knock-knock joke is to us. Mary’s prophecy is the passage we call the Magnificat. It is similar to the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel, Chapter 2. It is not a future wish but is already fulfilled. The couplets in her song amplify each other, as is common in Hebrew poetry. You can nearly hear Elizabeth nodding in agreement to encourage her to say more. Mary and Elizabeth invite even women, young and old, into the unfolding salvation story.

What is being made new around you?

How can you partner with God and others in this?

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