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Advent 2, Cycle C

In each of the texts selected for this day, those who are addressed are urged to look forward in anticipation of good things that will occur when God will act decisively in behalf of people who are in need. Each of the situations differs from each other, and our situation differs from each of these. Nevertheless, in each situation someone speaks as a representative of God. In our own situations, each of us is being called to be that representative of God next Sunday. What are we being called to proclaim as God’s representative where we are next Sunday? What message of judgment and of hope shall be spoken through us? Let us look more closely at the situations depicted in each of these texts. Then let us look more closely at our own situations.

Baruch 5:1-9

In this final portion of the beautiful call for courage and hope in view of the imminent saving intervention of God that extends from Baruch 4:5–5:9, Jerusalem is commanded to dress appropriately for this great occasion of salvation. She is told to remove her tattered garments of mourning and affliction and to put on the everlasting robe of righteousness that is a gift from God and the diadem of the glory of the Holy One, so that her beauty will be seen everywhere on the earth.

It is also said that Jerusalem will soon see her children gathered together from the east and the west to return to her. All of nature will cooperate in this glorious restoration.

This final portion of Baruch could easily be a segment of the Isaiah tradition from the late exilic and early restoration periods upon which it is heavily dependent. For us as Christians on Advent 2, this reading can become an expression of our solidarity with the Jewish people as together with them we look forward to saving acts of God.

Malachi 3:1-4

According to this text, good and needed actions will occur at any moment, for “Behold, I am sending Malachi (‘my messenger’) to prepare the way in front of me” (v. 1a). Many in the early Church disregarded the original context of this prophetic word of assurance and identified John the Baptist as “my messenger” and Jesus as the Lord. Leaders in the early Church had every right to do so, even though in its context and “life situation” Malachi 3:1-4 refers to a series of conditions that prevailed in restoration Jerusalem somewhere between 515 and 445 BCE, not to first century CE. When Malachi 3:1-4 is read next Sunday, it would be appropriate to provide a brief explanation of the Malachi tradition’s concern for sincere, carefully guided cultic actions. Within our proclamation of the message for our time we would help the people in our situation if we would point out that early Christian leaders saw in this Malachi text a reference to John the Baptist as the Lord’s messenger and to Jesus as the Lord, even though that was not the intention of this text in its original setting. The Malachi 3:1-4 text, therefore, comes to us in the Jewish tradition in which it continues to be a call for sincere, carefully guided cultic actions and in the Christian tradition in which it continues to function as a prediction of the work of John the Baptist as the Lord’s messenger and of Jesus as the Lord. Within our sincere, carefully guided cultic actions we now function as John the Baptist to prepare our people for the Lord.

Philippians 1:3-11

The “day of Jesus Christ” about which the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians is obviously the point of contact with the other texts chosen for use on Advent 2. That “day of Jesus Christ” was an important day for the Apostle Paul, and it is an important day for us. It is a day for which we also should be filled with the “fruits of righteousness,” to the “glory and praise of God.” That day, for us as for Paul, is a day when God will act decisively. That day is not merely the Christmas Day of incarnation of God in the past. It is also a day in our future and in the future of the world.

Luke 1:68-79

Liturgically, this “Benedictus” of Zechariah provided by the inspired Lukan writer, following in the Older Testament tradition of songs and canticles, has a prominent place in the Morning Prayer (Matins) Service for many of us. In it there is a confident expectation that the Lord God of Israel will soon deliver us from the heavy hand of our oppressors to serve God without fear, guiding our feet on the path of peace. In what ways do we suffer under the heavy hand of our oppressors? How do we expect that the Lord God will deliver us from our oppression? How do we proclaim and expect the Lord God to act in our future? How must we change so that we do not oppress others; so that we will turn back to God instead of turning our backs to God?

Luke 3:1-6

Since this is the major text for Advent 2, let us take the time for a somewhat extended exegetical study of it before we consider its application in our own situations.

Exegetical study:

1. An analysis of the literary genre of the text
It is an introduction of a religious precursor. (Compare this pericope with Luke 3:21–4:30, in which Jesus is introduced.)

2. Themes in the text
a. The word of God comes upon a person selected by God (v. 2b).
b. That word of God results in the proclamation of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the preparation of the way of the Lord to bring God’s saving action to all people (vv. 3-6).

3. Structure of the text
a. External structure
1) Parentage, conception, pre-natal development, birth, circumcision, growth and development of Jesus’ accounts precede this pericope.
2) The message of John and an introduction of Jesus as the beloved Son of God follow this text.
b. Internal structure
1) The time and place setting that “Luke” supplies for the beginning of the public appearance of John (3:1-2a)
2) The call of John (3:2b)
3) The work of John as a “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (3:3-6)
4. Matrices (Life-situations) in which the text probably developed

All four Gospels and Acts associate the work of John the Baptizer with the beginning of Jesus’ public actions. In Mark this is done almost immediately. In Luke, as Mark’s gospel genre is recast more along the lines of a “drama” genre, the Lukan playwright provides a time and place setting for the beginning of the public appearance of John. Only Luke provides this time and place setting, because only Luke uses a modified “drama” genre. Neither Matthew nor Luke adopts Mark’s identification of both Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 as “written in Isaiah the prophet” without modification. Matthew utilizes the Malachi concept in Matthew 11:10 as words of Jesus, and Luke uses it in Luke 1:76 in Zechariah’s “Benedictus” considered above. Only Luke includes Isaiah 40:4-5, apparently in order to include a reference to a universal witness that Luke has changed from the “glory” of the Lord to the “salvation” of God. All four Gospel accounts omit the parallelism “our God” in their quotation of Isaiah 40:3, thereby making John the messenger of Jesus as Lord rather than the messenger of God. The extensive Lukan account concerning John the Baptist combines Markan material, possible “Q” materials, and Lukan composition. Because of the apparent tendency within the Gospels and Acts to subject the John the Baptist traditions to the Jesus traditions, it is not possible for us to uncover with certainty what the historical Jesus said and did. Therefore, we shall concentrate on the Lukan level here and not attempt to reconstruct the Jesus of history level.

5. Purposes and meanings of the text
a. to show that God was speaking and acting in a powerful manner through John the Baptist to open the way for the Lord (Jesus) to come to offer the salvation of God to all people who wish to receive it.
b. to indicate that the Isaiah 40:3-5 portion of the Isaiah tradition had its most significant application in the person and work of John the Baptist, the most important precursor of Jesus as Lord.

6. Usage of this text from the first century CE until the present time

Most Christian commentators, teachers, and preachers have followed “Luke” quite closely in seeing the person and work of John the Baptist as the fulfillment of the Isaiah 40:3-5 text. They have considered Isaiah 40:3-5 to have been a long-range prediction and have read Luke 3:1-6 as its historical fulfillment. More objective biblical studies during the past bicentennial put more emphasis upon the original matrix and purposes of the Isaiah 40:3-5 tradition during the latter years of the Babylonian exile period and upon the tendency within the Gospels and Acts to subject the John the Baptist traditions to the Jesus traditions.

Applications now
We are now in the precursor role, the role of John the Baptist, the role of the messenger of the Lord, today! It is for us next Sunday to proclaim that God will act decisively in behalf of the people of the world in our present and in our future. We may be inspired to proclaim that action of God in continuity with our present, or in discontinuity with our present, or partially in both. Since our situations differ and are always dynamic, the specific content of that inspired, revealed, and authoritative word that we proclaim cannot be depicted here, except in general terms. Since we believe in God and believe that God does act decisively in Jesus the Christ, we shall certainly proclaim decisive acts of God on behalf of people who desire such action. We will look forward in joyful anticipation to the good things that will occur when God acts and when we by faith see those actions as God’s actions for the people of the world. In each specific situation, that is, in each congregation at a specific time and place, our proclamation as inspired, revealed, and authoritative word of God should address the needs of people for economic opportunity, political freedom, education, and civil rights. Nothing less than that will be adequate. Anything less than that is likely to be merely repetition of messages that the people have heard many times before on Advent 2. Then most of them will lose interest in the message.

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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