Bible Tuesday for Advent III, Rose Sunday, 2014
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me as a herald of joy to the humble, to bind up the wounded of heart, to proclaim release to the captives, liberation to the imprisoned; to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication by our God; to comfort all who mourn—to provide for the mourners in Zion—to give them a turban instead of ashes, the festive ointment instead of mourning, a garment of splendor instead of a drooping spirit. They shall be called terebinths of victory, planted by the Lord for His glory. And they shall build the ancient ruins, raise up the desolations of old, and renew the ruined cities, the desolations of many ages. For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery with a burnt offering. I will pay them their wages faithfully, and make a covenant with them for all time. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, their descendants in the midst of the peoples. All who see them shall recognize that they are a stock the Lord has blessed. I greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being exults in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of triumph, wrapped me in a robe of victory, like a bridegroom adorned with a turban, like a bride bedecked with her finery. For as the earth brings forth her growth and a garden makes the seed shoot up, so the Lord God will make victory and renown shoot up in the presence of all nations.
Here the school of prophets that scholars assume authored Isaiah speaks directly to the people of Israel. He/They proclaim their authority to speak; he/they have the spirit of the Lord upon them (speak with God’s voice) and he/they are anointed for this task. This first verse refers to the Year of the Lord’s Favor or the year of Jubilee. The concept of Jubilee is that when the Israelites, under Joshua, conquered the promised land and possessed it, the land was granted to the people by Tribe, Clan, and family. The tribe was given a “state” if you will, the clans were given “counties”, and the families were given large parcels. These were to stay in the family for perpetuity. However, in practical terms, people got into debt and the only real asset they had was this land so sometimes they sold it and indentured themselves to earn food, clothing, and shelter. The year of Jubilee was the year that all debts were forgiven and all returned to its rightful families. The year of Jubilee was supposed to happen every 50 years or every other generation. In the above passage, the prophet Isaiah is proclaiming Jubilee for all of Israel as they return from captivity in Babylon.
Terebinths are a type of tree seeming to be planted as a testimony of victory.
Luke 1:46-55 Magnificat
46 And Mary[a] said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Mary sings praises to God for the reversals God has, is, and will wrought. In the culture of Mary’s day, wealth and power were understood to be limited. If someone was rich, it meant wealth was usurped from others. If someone was powerful, it was because power was ripped away from others. A strong theme in this magnification of God through prose is that God has and continues to restore balance between wealthy and poor, powerful and powerless. This is not God forcing people to trade roles, but rather a reversal of the extremes of sin.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.20 Do not despise the words of prophets,[a] 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound[b] and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
When I read Paul, I tend to gloss over his lists, whether vices, admonishments, or gifts. Forcing myself to focus is not a wasted effort, especially not on this list.
“Rejoice always.” What a challenge Paul lays out for us! To rejoice when one is fired or is given a terrible diagnosis seems a choice for denial through a Polly Anna outlook. But, if we are able to open ourselves to God’s work and will in all things, then the fear, anger, and fetal position are eased with optimism and willingness to accept what is. Recently my son posted something on Facebook, “Just because you are given a cactus doesn’t mean you have to sit on it.” I would add, there might actually be something to learn from this cactus, something to appreciate about it, which we miss if all we do is complain about its prickliness.
“Pray without ceasing.” If we understand prayer to be a pretty one sided conversation with God, then this sounds preposterous. If prayer speaking to God and listening to God, then this sounds like great advice, but wow, it is hard! How does one know when God is speaking or acting and it isn’t just one’s own Jiminy Cricket? “But test everything!”
John 1:6-8, 19-24
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed. “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “No.” And are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 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. They had been sent from the Pharisees.
A main theme in the gospel of John is “Come and see. Now go and tell.” Be a witness! In these first verses of the gospel of John, we are introduced to the first witness to Jesus.
“Verse 6 [of chapter 1 of the gospel of John] introduces an actor from the human drama into the Prologue: John. John has a slightly different function in the fourth Gospel than in the other Gospels. He is never identified as ‘the Baptist,’ nor is he ever called the forerunner of Jesus. Instead, John has one function in this gospel: to witness to Jesus.” New Interpreter’s Bible.
There were, and still are, disciples of John the Baptist who did not leave John to follow Jesus. The gospel of John especially stresses that John is “not the light” to direct his disciples away from himself to Jesus. Later in the chapter, John sees Jesus and states, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
To witness, in Greek is to martyria, from which we get the English word, martyr. The word does not mean to die for the faith, but rather to witness to it. In the above passage, maryria is translated “testimony”.