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Advent 4, Cycle B

Our Savior is coming! The Sunday’s focus on Christology leads us better to appreciate God’s faithfulness to his promises and his love for us. God’s ways make more sense in this light. Providence and Justification by Grace are insights growing out of life in Christ.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
The Psalm is identified as a Maskil, an artful song composed with artful skill, composed by Ethan the Ezrahite. He was either a wise man of Solomon’s court (1 Kings 4:31) or a temple musician (1 Chronicles 15:17, 19). This is a hymn extolling God’s power and faithfulness; it has its origins as part of a king’s prayer for deliverance from his enemies. It is considered a Royal Psalm, for it portrays itself as a prayer of a king for deliverance, a national lament.

Having been defeated in battle (vv. 38-45), the psalmist promises to sing of Yahweh’s steadfast love [chesed, also translated "mercies"] and extols God’s faithfulness [emunah] (vv. 1-2, 24). (We are reminded again that Selah appearing at the end of v. 4 is a liturgical direction, which may indicate that there should be an instrumental interlude at this point in the singing of the Psalm.) The Lord’s unalterable covenant [berith] with David is remembered. It is God’s promise that David’s descendants be established forever (vv. 3-4, 19-26). The Davidic covenant is renewed at the Christmas event. David is said to be mighty [gibbor] only because God elected him (v. 19). In that sense predestination is affirmed.

God said to be the rock [tsur] of our salvation, the Father [ab].

Application: The Psalm calls for sermons on how the Davidic covenant is fulfilled in Christ (see the gospel), which is another way of endorsing that God is faithful and never fails. (Providence is stressed in this approach.) Predestination and the comfort it affords might also be considered.


Luke 1:46b-55
Last week, when dealing with this alternative Psalm of the Day which repeats this Sunday, we noted that this is one of the synoptic gospels, 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. Once again the alternative Psalm is taken from the Magnificat (so called from the first word of the Latin translation of the hymn), Mary’s hymn of praise in response to Elizabeth’s prophecy about the child in Mary’s womb (v. 46b).

We noted last week that the song is unique to Luke’s Gospel, based on Hannah’s song of praise in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 for God giving her Samuel as a son. After expressing joy in God, the song praises Him for His love and mercy/kindness [elos] (vv. 48, 50). He is proclaimed as holy [hagios] and mighty/powerful [dunatos] (v. 49). Reminiscent of God’s preferential option of the poor taught by Liberation Theology, God is said to scatter the proud, bring down the powerful from their thrones, but lift up [hupsoo, literally "raise high" or "elevate"] the poor [tapeinosis, literally "the humble" or those of low estate ] and feed the hungry (vv. 51-53). He will also help Israel according to promises made to Abraham and David (vv. 54-55; cf. Genesis 17:6-8; 18:18; 22:17; 2 Samuel 7:11-16).

Application: This selection for the Psalm of the Day also opens the way to sermons on God’s faithfulness to his promises. God’s work of caring for the poor may be associated with the work of Jesus who comes. Providence and Social Ethics are respectively the themes emphasized by these sermon possibilities. We see God as loving and kind when we know that Christ is coming (Christology). The text also invites sermons on Sanctification (the joy and praise that comes with knowing what God is doing in Christ).

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
This book’s origin as a distinct work derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings). In its final form it is probably the result of the Deuteronomistic (D) history (the result of sweeping religious reforms in Judah under King Josiah in the seventh century BC). This text may be an expression of the conflict in Israel that developed over the eventual erection of the temple in Jerusalem.

The lesson begins with the recounting of David wishing to build a temple/house [bayith]. This is a later theological commentary probably inserted into earlier material, based in part on the Psalm of the Day. But the prophet Nathan is commissioned by Yahweh to inform the king that this task will not be undertaken by him, but by his son [Solomon]. It is reported that for the present the Lord desires that the ark [aron] of the covenant remain in a tent (vv. 1-12). Instead the Lord would give David a great name [shem] (v. 9). The Davidic covenant, the promise that his kingdom would endure forever, is established (v. 16). With this covenant a father [ab] – son [ben] relationship is established between Yahweh and David (or his heir), and Yaheweh promises not to withdraw his mercy [chesed, also translated "loving kindness"] from the Son (vv. 13-15). These promises and the desire to build a temple have close parallels to ceremonial texts of the royal house in ancient Egypt. Parallel passages include Psalm 89:19-37 and 1 Chronicles 24:28-29. The latter text is more about Solomon as the one who implements David’s plans to build the temple. Historically the dynasty of David was not everlasting, for it fell in 587/586 BC. Of course Christians understand it fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Son of David and Messiah (Matthew 1:1; Luke 3:23-31).

Application: The lesson affords an opportunity to explain the Incarnation (how it fulfills the Davidic covenant, makes salvation possible and makes us confident in his love), but also how the Incarnation and God’s promises happen in unexpected ways. Justification by Grace and Providence (including the hiddenness of God’s ways) are the primary themes.

Romans 16:25-27
This letter of introduction was written by Paul between 54 AD and 58 AD to a church which to date he had never visited. The lesson is the epistle’s concluding benediction, reflecting a liturgical style not clearly Pauline, and so may be a later appendage. Romans and 2 Peter are the only books of the Bible to end with such a liturgical doxology. The mystery [musterion] of the incarnation is said to have long been kept secret/quiet [sigao], but has now been disclosed to all the nations [ethnos] through prophetic [profetikown] writings (vv. 25-26). Reference is made to the only wise [sophos] God through Jesus Christ, to whom should be all the glory (v. 27).

Application: The lesson’s appreciation that the incarnation is a mystery makes this a text for coming to terms with the incarnation despite doubts. It makes sense when we surrender our own assumptions and focus on Christ and God’s wisdom, appreciating the Old Testament witness as prophecy. Christology is the main emphasis of this text.

Luke 1:26-38
Once again we note that this synoptic gospel is 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). This lesson is the story of the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary by the angel Gabriel, an account unique to this gospel. Jesus’ Davidic lineage in noted (v. 27). Mary is hailed as “favored one” [eulegeo or "blessed"] (v. 28). The child’s name is to be Jesus (v. 31). This is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua ["Jahweh saves"]. His greatness [megas], status as Son [huios] of God, and his reign over the house of Jacob is revealed (vv. 32-33). The mode of birth through the work of the Holy Spirit is indicated. Mary expresses incredulity since she is a virgin [parthenos, which may also be translated "one put aside"]. The Holy Spirit overshadowing [episkiazo] Mary in the pregnancy is a phrase used in the Old Testament to explain how God’s light is hidden (vv. 34-35; cf. Exodus 16:10; 24:15-18; 40:34-35). It is revealed that Mary’s kin Elizabeth is pregnant in old age; it is added that nothing is impossible for God (vv. 36-37). Mary expresses obedience to God’s will (v. 38).

Application: This is another text to highlight that nothing is impossible for God, even if his ways seem hidden or mysterious (Providence). In this connection, when combined with the Psalm of the Day and First Lesson, this lesson affords occasion for preaching on the Davidic covenant. The idea that “virgin” can be translated “one put aside” affords a way of making sense of the virgin birth (for Mary is merely the one God put aside as Jesus’ mother). Also realizing Jesus is great and reigns may occasion sermons on how the world is changed since Christ’s birth, for he reigns (Christ’s way prevails in the universe, thanks to Christmas).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen