“And he shall be the one of peace”

File:Bicci di Lorenzo - The Nativity - WGA2160.jpgWatching for the Morning of December 23, 2018

Year C

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

This word from a prophet of Israel’s God some 2,700 years ago shapes our gathering on Sunday. It is not a prediction; that’s never what prophecy was. It is a message, a sermon, a warning, a promise.

The words are old, very old, spoken in an ancient tongue and an alien culture. And yet it was spoken in this world, to humans very much like us, warring, greedy, loving, bitter, doubtful, hopeful, kind, cruel.

We are not much changed since then; only our technology has changed: bullets kill faster and better than swords. But war’s desolation we know. We see the rubble, even if we don’t have to live in it. We see the broken bodies, the mass graves, the fiery explosions, the children gasping for breath or searching for bread. And we know the hope for peace: peace in our world, peace in our homes, peace in our hearts.

Sunday we will sing the words of the prophet Isaiah about swords beaten into plowshares. We will hear Paul encourage us to set our minds on what is true, honorable and just, knowing that “the God of peace will be with you.” And we will hear the words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary about the child to be born who “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” In that promise we will find the fulfillment of the prophet Micah: a divine and royal presence come to breathe a new governance into the human heart – “and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:5)

These aren’t the appointed texts for this final Sunday of Advent this year, but they are ones that bear the Advent promise of a world made new, and prepare us to ponder again the child of the manger and the peace he brings.

The Prayer for December 23, 2018

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Fill our hearts with your Spirit,
and guide our steps in the way of that day
when Christ shall reign in every heart
and all creation shall dwell in your peace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 23, 2018

(We rearranged the readings in Advent to accommodate our children’s Christmas program. As a result, we read the story of the visitation last week and have added the story of the annunciation to our Advent this year.)

First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.”
– Amidst the words of judgment in the 8th century BCE are also words that promise a new future for the nation. This is the famous passage, quoted by Matthew, promising a king from the royal line of David who will “be the one of peace.”

Psalmody: Isaiah 2:2-5
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” – As Assyrian power rises in the 8th century BCE, the prophet reverses the call to arms, and summons the nation to walk in God’s way of peace.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:8-9
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure … think about these things.” – Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in all that is true and honorable.

Gospel: Luke 1:26-33
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” – Following the announcement to Zechariah that Elizabeth would bear a child who would be the forerunner of God’s anointed, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary.

The texts as appointed for 4 Advent C

First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary, the Magnificat (alternate: Psalm 80:1-7)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In response to her encounter with Elizabeth, Mary sings with joy of God’s coming to set right the world.

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.’” – In the midst of the author’s gathering of the scriptural witness to the superiority of Christ, he points to this passage and the words “I have come to do your will, O God” to speak of the new work of God in Christ Jesus that replaces the pattern of temple sacrifices.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
“As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” –Having heard from the angel Gabriel that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, is also wondrously with child, Mary comes to greet her. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, and the child in her womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bicci_di_Lorenzo_-_The_Nativity_-_WGA2160.jpg Bicci di Lorenzo [Public domain]

All the ends of the earth


Psalm 22:23-31


Josef Elter, Auferstehung (Resurrection), 1978

24He did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

(I have also written about this verse at Jacob Limping, a site named for the one who was wounded by his encounter with God and entered the promised land limping.)

Psalm 22 is the Good Friday psalm, the one found on the lips of Jesus as he hung from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It contains those pregnant and prophetic words “All who see me mock at me” and “they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

But here, at the end of the psalm, we have only the last hints of the poet’s suffering. Here we have moved on to the poet’s joy that his prayer has been answered. God has not turned away from him. God has heard his cry. And in the poet’s joy and thanksgiving we hear echoes of resurrection and Christ proclaimed to the nations:

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

His healing will become legendary, proclaims the poet. God’s deliverance will be told to all.

30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the LORD,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

The psalm is rooted in one man’s prayer, a man lost in the ages. But his prayer endures. It endures because the words are universal. They can be spoken by people in every generation who endure trial and affliction. There have been moments for all of us when we would cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And there are moments when we each would cry out in praise that our lives have turned away from death’s door and into the light of day.

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

It is common for us to refer to these words of Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel as a passion prediction. And we should not miss that shocking element of the narrative. It is what causes Peter to rebuke Jesus. But it is not just a passion prediction; it is a resurrection prediction. Jesus will be rejected and killed – but God will vindicate him.

No doubt Peter hears only that Jesus will one day rise at the resurrection of the just, but God’s work is more stunning than this. The resurrection to come is dawning already on the third day. The day of the earth’s redemption, when all things are gathered under God’s reign – the first fruits of that day are already at hand. They are at hand in the words and deeds of Jesus. They are at hand where the powers that oppress are cast out. They are at hand where the sick are healed. They are at hand where the human community is reconciled. They are at hand where bread is shared, where compassion and faithfulness flourish. The first fruits of the kingdom are at hand, for God has not turned away from the suffering of the afflicted: God comes in mercy and grace. As the poet was raised, Jesus will be raised – and all creation will hear. They may count all his bones and cast lots for his clothing, but “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.”


Image: By Josef Elter [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons