Advent 3 Study

ADVENT 3   12-13-2020

FIRST READING:  Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

For Biblical scholars who divide the book into two major divisions, we are in “The Book of Comfort” (Chapters 40-66); and for Biblical scholars who divide the book into three major divisions, we are in “Third Isaiah” (Chapters 56-66). The setting is the Judean community, just returned from exile, whose lament in Isaiah 64 – experiencing conflict, ruin, and famine after they had returned home – was our reading on ADVENT 1. In contrast to that desperate plea for God to act, this text lifts up encouraging news. A prophet – whose identity is not known but who has been “anointed”, empowered, and sent by God’s Spirit – proclaims good news to the poor, the afflicted, the imprisoned, and the brokenhearted… “the year of the Lord’s favor” [perhaps a reference to the Jubilee Year, see Leviticus 25:8-12]… deliverance and comfort… restoration and rebuilding… an everlasting covenant. Help is on the way! Restoration is on the way! New life is on the way! The future is always as bright as the promises of God! This reading suggests that the future is as joyous and promising as a wedding feast, as hopeful as a fertile garden just bursting forth with new growth.

Read Isaiah 61:1-3 one more time. Do any of these words – oppressed, brokenhearted, captive, mournful – apply to your life? If so, how? Describe your situation. Where have you turned, where will you turn, for healing?

Do you feel like you are currently “wearing ashes” or “trying on new clothes”? Why? Do you think that some circumstances of your life are impossible to change? If so, where does that leave you?

This lesson proclaims that things truly can be different. Remember a time when some individual shared God’s word with you in some way and helped change your despair into joy.

To what kinds of people does God seem to show special favor? Does that suggest anything about the mission of God’s people in every time and place?

Read Luke 4:16-21 to discover how Jesus used the opening verses of this text. How did he fulfill them? How can we fulfill them – as God’s people today?

SECOND READING:  1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Paul visited Thessalonica, an important city in Northern Greece, during his second missionary journey. He preached and taught there only three weeks, then was forced to leave because of mob violence stirred up against him by certain Jewish leaders who accused him of sedition against Caesar. So he moved on.

Paul’s first letter to the Christian community in Thessalonica is most likely the earliest of the New Testament letters that have come down to us. In this letter Paul answers various concerns that have arisen in the Thessalonian church, especially the issue of Christ’s return (4:13 – 5:11). Paul has already said that those who have no hope only have their grief in the face of death (4:13). Christians, however, who grieve over the loss of a loved one have more than human sorrow. They have hope, because Christ has broken through the dying and now waits for us on the other side. On this side, Christians wait for him, comforting and encouraging one another (4:18, 5:11), in joy, prayer, and thanksgiving (5:16-18). 

Paul encourages these Christians – and us! – to “give thanks in all circumstances” (5:18). When have you been able to do this in your life’s journey? Unable?

The closing blessing offered by Paul is grounded in the hope of Christ’s coming.

No matter the situation, the Spirit is with us. God is faithful. Even in the midst of some of the most trying of circumstances – suffering, oppression, death, or whatever – God has a way of offering peace and sanctification and grace. O LORD, CALM MY HEART, QUIET MY MIND, GUIDE MY FEET.

GOSPEL READING:  John 1:6-8, 19-28

John’s Gospel describes Jesus as “the Word made flesh” and “the light of the world”. The author interrupts his poetic description of the Word to make a prose comment about John the Baptist. We learn little in this Gospel about the Baptist’s parents, hometown, birth, or kinship to Jesus. We can forget about his lifestyle, his clothing, his diet, his cursing and yelling… that’s in other Gospels. We only are told that he was not the light… and also not the Messiah, not the prophet Elijah, not some other significant prophet anticipated in Israel’s future. The man came “to testify to the light”… he came as “a witness”. Unlike our formerly elected and recently rejected U.S. President, this John the Baptizer does not have a narcissistic issue, his ego is small, he does not play

games with people, and he is not full of self-destructive delusion, he does not whine and gripe and lie to try to have it his own way. His single-minded focus is to direct attention away from himself to Jesus, the true light. Nothing else really matters.

The language in this reading seems to belong to the courtroom. Indeed, the careers of both Jesus and John will spark controversies. People will ask Jesus, as John, by what authority he preaches and acts. Only God will provide the answer. In the meantime, the trial is already getting started because the Word is already being spoken, the Light is already being reflected. As the trial continues, the world will finally have to decide about Jesus – and in that decision its own fate will rest.

What does it mean to “bear witness to Christ”? In what ways are you a “witness”?

There are some Christian pastors, there are some Christian people, who lose their way – it’s not just politicians or social luminaries who seek to shine on themselves – and who use their Lord and Savior in self-serving ways. Can you think of a time when you might have pointed to yourself more than to Jesus, even when you called yourself “serving Christ”?

John the baptizer said, “Among you stands one whom you do not know.” Do you think that people still do not always “know” and recognize Jesus in our world and daily lives? On Christ the King Sunday we heard that great judgment parable from Matthew 25:31-46, when Jesus tells a story about the rewarded sheep and the condemned goats, heaven and hell, serving or not serving him in the least of our suffering brothers and sisters. In that story, both the sheep and the goats somehow failed to recognize the presence of Jesus in the least and lost and the lonely.

May the LIGHT OF CHRIST shine through John the Baptizer, and you and me, as we testify! And, even as we give our witness, may we not fail to recognize the presence of God’s love – the WORD MADE FLESH – among us and within us! 

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