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Advent 4, Cycle C (2015)

The difference the coming baby will make. This is a Sunday for focusing on Christ, his work (Atonement), and the difference he makes in our lives (Sanctification and Social Ethics). Construing Christ as fulfillment of God’s plans also invites an emphasis on Providence.

Luke 1:47-55
See the analysis of the gospel for background information on this book. This Psalm option is 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. The psalm is unique to Luther’s gospel. The hymn is based on Hannah’s song of praise in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 for God giving her Samuel as a son. A song praising God for his love and mercy follows (vv. 48-50). God is said to scatter the proud, bring down the powerful/potentates [dunastas], but lift the lowly/humble [tapeinous] and feed the hungry (vv. 51-53). Something like preferential option for the poor is posited. God is said to have helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy [eleous] according to the promise he made to Abraham and other ancestors (vv. 54-55).

Application: Sermons on The Magnificat invite attention to God’s Providential activity, especially his concern about the poor and those in need (Social Ethics).


Psalm 80:1-7
This is a lament and prayer (especially for Northern Israel [as evidenced by the tribes that are mentioned in v. 2]) for deliverance from national enemies. Liturgical directions are given to the leader [presumably the leader of stringed instruments in the Jerusalem Temple] prior to the Psalm’s outset. Reference to the lilies is uncertain, though it may be the designation of the tune to be used. The Psalm is said to be a covenant, or testimony, though that term does not appear in the Hebrew text. Regarding the directive to Asaph, this suggests that the Psalm was attributed to one of David’s chief musicians by that name (1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17; 16:5-7).

The shepherd of Israel [probably a reference to a king or ruler] who leads Joseph like a flock is urged to listen (v. 1a). Mention of his being enthroned on the cherubim may be a reference to the Ark of the Covenant. The call to “shine forth” [yapha] is a way of speaking of God appearing in might in order to do battle (v. 1b; cf. 1 Samuel 4:4). A strong doctrine of Providence is next affirmed; God is said to be the one who sent affliction (vv. 4-6). An emphasis on restoration and the theme that when God’s favor [panim, literally “face”] is shown salvation transpires (probably a hymn refrain [vv. 3, 7, 19]) is affirmed. This is a reminder that God’s new ways are in continuity with God’s former manner of dealing with his people (redemption does not contradict the original/created order).

Application: Sermons on this Psalm could emerge from a prophetic reading of references to the shepherd of Israel as referring to the coming Christ Child (Christology). We are reminded that he is worthy of glorification (Sanctification). More in line with the Theme of the Day would be to focus on Christ’s work as restoration that God’s new ways in Christ are in harmony with God’s previous way of dealing with us (Providence and Atonement).

Micah 5:2-5a
The superscript of the book indicates that Micah was a younger contemporary of Isaiah, ministering in Judah (after the North-South split) following the prosperity of Jeroboam II’s reign and in fact of the rising power of the Assyrian empire leaving Judah little more than an Assyrian vassal (730 BC-710 BC). As a rural commoner (1:4), Micah was appalled by the sins of Jerusalem. The first three chapters of the book are universally agreed to be genuine, but the last four (including this lesson) may be later expansions.

This lesson is an oracle on the shepherd king who is to be ruler of Israel. The king will be born in Bethlehem (vv. 2-3). Reference to Ephrathah may be an ancient name for Bethlehem or a town absorbed by Bethlehem in the eighth century BC. It is stated that the king shall feed the flock in the strength of the Lord. As a result the flock will live in the strength [maoz] of the Lord. Consequently the flock will live secure, for the king shall be great and the one of peace [shalom] (vv. 4-5a). Peace [shalom] in this Jewish context refers not just to a state in which there is no combat, but to a state of well-being and thriving, to social justice (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 130). After the lesson ends the chapter proceeds to prophecy a conquest of the Assyrians (vv. 5bff).

Application: Sermons on this lesson, interpreted prophetically as pointing to Christ, will proclaim the confidence, certainty, and sense of well-being (peace) we gain from recognizing how much of the Old Testament is pointing to Christ. God always follows through on promises (Providence). Justification by Grace and its implications for Social Ethics (peace) might also be subjects of attention.

Hebrews 10:5-10
This book is an anonymous treatise which, given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice to those of Levitical priests, was likely written prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Remarks in 2:3-4 suggest it was written by a member of a generation of Christians after the apostles. Modern scholars are inclined to regard the book as a sermon, perhaps modified after it was delivered to include travel plans, greetings, and a closing (13:20-25). The Christians addressed are thought to have been in danger of falling away from their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). They had endured persecution (10:32-36).

This lesson is a continuing discussion of the sacrifice of Christ. Quoting the Septuagint (the ancient Greek version of the Hebrew Bible), its version of Psalm 40:6-8, Christ is said to have proclaimed that the Lord does not desire sacrifices and burnt offerings, but simply a body [soma] prepared for him (vv. 5-6). Continuing the quotation of the Psalm, the author claims that Christ asserted that he has come to do God’s will [thelema] (v. 7). Further quoting 1 Samuel 15:22 and Psalm 50:8-15, Isaiah 1:10-17, and Jeremiah 7:21-26, the writer reiterates that God does not desire sacrifices [thusia] and burnt offerings (offered according to the Law) (v. 8). Christ is said to have added that he has come to do God’s will, abolishing one in order to establish another (v. 9). It is noted that we have been sanctified [hagiazo] through the offering Christ’s body once for all (v. 10).

Application: This is a text for sermons proclaiming that Christ has saved us (Atonement and Justification by Grace), while examining the implications of this Good News for Christian life (Sanctification).

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

This lesson, unique to this gospel, is a report of Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth (vv. 39-44) and Mary’s famed psalmic prayer, The Magnificat (analyzed above), which follows (vv. 45-55). It is reported that Mary visited her kin in a Judean town in the hill country, to the house of Zechariah where Elizabeth his wife lived (vv. 39-40). When hearing Mary’s greeting the fetus in Elizabeth’s womb leaped. Elizabeth is said to be filled with the Holy Spirit [pneuma hagion] (v. 41). She then joyfully explains loudly that Mary is blessed [eulogeo] among women as well as the fetus in Mary’s womb (v. 42). Elizabeth identifies Mary as the mother of her Lord [kurios] (v. 43), reporting that the fetus/child in her womb had leaped for joy when hearing Mary’s voice (v. 44). Elizabeth proceeds to declare Mary’s blessedness [makarios, literally happiness] for believing the Lord’s announcement of his aims with the virgin (v. 45). Experiencing the presence of God in this encounter, since Elizabeth is speaking by the Holy Spirit, Mary begins her famed prayer (addressing God, not Elizabeth) (v. 46). See the First Alternative for the Psalm of the Day for its analysis (vv. 47-55).

Application: One option for sermons is to help parishioners to praise God with Mary (drawing on the insights of the analysis of the First Version of the Psalm of the Day). Or focus could be on the great things God does (Providence and Justification by Grace) along with exhorting the practice of spiritual humility and submission, as Mary exhibited (Sanctification).

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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