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These background notes cover every assigned text in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday and major observance throughout the year.


Writer Mark Ellingsen

Mark Ellingsen, Pastor, Theologian, AuthorMark Ellingsen, author of Lectionary Scripture Notes, is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and a professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated magna cum laude from Gettysburg College and has received four degrees from Yale University. He has authored many titles, most recently Lectionary Preaching Workbook for CSS Publishing Company….read more


Advent 2, Cycle C

We knew it all along: But it takes good messengers to hear it. This is a Sunday of preparedness for Christ’s coming, focusing on John the Baptist and his qualities (and other qualities) along with the core message of Christian faith that we all know needed to point others to Jesus (Ministry, Sanctification, Justification by Grace).

Luke 1:69-78
See the analysis of the gospel for background information on this book. This Psalm is called The Benedictus (so named for the first word of the Psalm’s Latin translation, meaning “blessed.”) It appears only in Luke’s gospel. It is a prophecy uttered by Zechariah after the circumcision of his son John the Baptist. He is said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit (vv. 59ff). The Lord God is to be blessed [eulogeo], it is proclaimed, for he has looked favorably on his people and worked redemption [lutrosin], raising up a mighty Savior (horn of salvation [keras sotererion], perhaps referring to a Davidic ruler, see Psalm 172:17) in the house of David (vv. 68-69). This was in fulfillment of a prophecy, a prophet to save us from our enemies (vv. 70-71). In so doing, the Lord is said to show mercy [eleos] promised to the ancestors and to remember his covenant [diatheke] with Abraham as he rescues us from our enemies so we might serve him without fear in holiness [hosiotes] and righteousness [dikaiosune] (vv. 72-75). Speaking to his son John he prophesies that the child will be called prophet [prophetes] to the most high, preparing the Lord’s way and giving knowledge [gnosis] of salvation [soteria] (vv. 76-77). Zechariah then speaks of God’s tender mercy [eleos], a dawn when God fulfills his promise, giving light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death, to have their feet guided on the way of peace [eirene] (vv. 78-70; cf. Isaiah 9:2).

Application: Options for a sermon on this text include focusing on the ministry of John the Baptist, calling us like him to point others to Christ (Christology, Evangelism, Sanctification), or to focus on how God uses his messengers to tenderly give light and peace (Justification by Grace).

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Malachi 3:1-4
Little is known about the author of this book. His name means “My Messenger.” He probably lived between 500 BC and 450 BC, after the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem under Persian domination. Employing question-and-answer rhetorical style, the book is devoted to the temple and reflects a high view of the priesthood. Covenant is a central theme (2:4-5, 9-10,14; 3:1). Other interests include sin, repentance, the love of God, and an eschatological preoccupation with the Day of the Lord (3:1-5, 7; 4:1-3, 6).

The lesson begins with the Lord promising to send his messenger to prepare the way before him. Yahweh will suddenly enter his temple (v. 1a). The messenger [malak] of the covenant [berith] is said to be coming (v. 1b). None can endure the Day [yom] of the Lord’s coming [bo] and stand when he appears, it is proclaimed (v. 2). He comes to refine and purify the people until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness [tsedaqah] (v. 3). This term does not just connote legal, judgmental actions, but when applied to God they concern loyalty in one’s relationship to him (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff). When that happens and they [perhaps an allusion to the temple priests] are cleansed, the offering [minchah] of Judah will be pleasing to Yahweh, as it once was (v. 4).

Application: Sermons on this text will deal with what it takes to get ready for Jesus in our lives. Sanctification (being in right relationship with God) made possible by God (Justification by Grace) is a crucial theme.

Philippians 1:3-11
This Epistle is a letter written by Paul while a prisoner to Christians in a province of Macedonia.

There is some debate about whether the book in its present form might be a combination of three separate letters (as early theologian Polycarp, Philippians, 2.3, spoke of Paul’s letters to this church). Its immediate occasion was to thank the Philippians for their gifts, by way of the return of Epaphroditus to Philippi (2:25-30) who had brought these gifts to Paul. Paul’s main purpose is to urge persistence in face of opposition, using himself as an example. Following the mind of Christ gets one less concerned with one’s fate and more concerned on proclaiming Christ along with the joy that goes with it. The letter in its final canonical form serves as Paul’s last will and testament, offering the Church a witness on how to respond faithfully even when he is no longer present.

In this lesson Paul opens the Epistle with a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the congregation in Philippi (vv. 3-4). He expresses confidence that the good work [ergon agathon] begun among the flock by God will be brought to completion when Christ returns [the day of Jesus Christ] (v. 6). Paul then notes that his regard for the Philippians is appropriate, for they hold him dear and they are sharers [sugkoinonous] in God’s grace [charis] with him in his imprisonment and in defense of the gospel [euaggelion] (v. 7). Paul next refers to his compassion of the Philippians (v. 8). He offers prayer that their love may overflow/abound with full knowledge [epignosis] to help them determine what is best, so they may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ’s return (vv. 9-10). He refers to a harvest of righteousness [dikaiosune] through Christ Jesus (v. 11).

Application: This is a sermon for proclaiming and thanking God for how the gospel given to all (Justification by Grace) changes us (Sanctification).

Luke 3:1-6
We continue this week considering the first installment of a two-part history of the church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the Church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for a Roman official from whom the Church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful.

This lesson is a description of the ministry of John the Baptist and his preaching. It is reported in all the gospels, but Luke’s version provides a lot more details regarding the historical context and concerning the content of John’s preaching. (And unlike John’s version [1:20], in Luke he is not reported to have denied he was the Messiah.) The account begins with an identification of the year (probably sometime between 26 and 29 AD) when John received a revelation with reference to who was ruling in the Roman empire, the regional rulers in Palestine, and the high priest at the time (vv. 1-2). Receiving the word in the wilderness (v. 2), John goes to the region around the Jordan River proclaiming a baptism of repentance [baptisma metanoias] for the forgiveness of sin [apheis hamartion] (v. 3). Luke sees this as fulfillment of the words of Isaiah (40:3-5) (vv. 4-6). The text speaks of a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the Lord’s way, making his paths straight. At that time all the valleys will be made low, the crooked straight, rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see salvation [soterion] (referring, it seems, to the inclusion of Gentiles). Moral and spiritual renewal is coming.

Application: This lesson invites sermons on how the Word bringing us to Jesus is sometimes lonely and misunderstood (like John the Baptist), but it is a Word of hope for all that can make life better (Ministry; Justification by Grace; Sanctification). . . . .Click here for future days.

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Author of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

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