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Thursday, December 03, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6

All of this week’s scriptures can be seen as addressing situations in which hope and encouragement are needed in the face of despair. That’s the spirit that prevails in Advent, what some have called hope against hope. We cry for peace when there is no peace, but we do not give up hope.

Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. The setting is probably after the exile when rebuilding has begun and people are still returning to the homeland from Babylon. Things certainly don’t seem to be what they used to be. In fact, they are a mess. It doesn’t even seem like God is there when one goes to worship, because, the people think, the temple is in pretty sad shape. Will things ever be the same? Malachi suggests that part of the problem is not the building but their own attitude. This one who is coming will prepare the way by refining the people like gold and silver is refined, all that is not glittering and shining burned away.

Some thought the “preparer” would be a resurrected Elijah, a belief that led some to think John the Baptist or Jesus might be Elijah. A “preparer” passage from Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament reading from Luke 3, used to describe John and his message. Both scriptures from Luke refer to John as one who prepares the way.

The point I want to highlight, though, is that the coming one does not just magically change everything from misery to bliss. People in all ages have often overlooked that the promise includes a cost. There is hope, but, for the hope to be realized, we may have to look inward and open ourselves to costly, maybe even sacrificial change. I’m not sure I’m ready for that, but God’s love, great comfort that it is to me, challenges me like a refiner’s fire, expecting more of me, and empowering more in me, than I ever thought was possible. Such staggering, mind and being stretching, possibilities in each one of us are part of the Advent hope.

Now, what about this “Baruch”? It is a “prophetic” writing included in Catholic Bibles but not in Hebrew or Protestant scriptures. It is written in the name of Baruch, secretary who took down the words of Jeremiah and read them to the people.

The “book” of “Baruch,” however, from which one of this week’s passages is taken, was probably not written until another time of destruction, the fall of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The writer wanted the despairing folk of that day to remember Jeremiah who helped the people of another day find hope when the symbols of hope seemed to be gone. “Take off the garment of you sorrow and affliction,” he begins, “and put on forever the beauty of the glory of God.” This passage and both readings about John the Baptist from Luke are full of hope. The promise is that there will be great leveling—no more highs and lows yanking at our sanity and stability. (See Baruch 5:7 and Luke 3:5) There will be light in the darkness and our feet will be guided into the way of peace (Luke 1:79).

The reality is that the promise is still in front of us. We live in the time between. God isn’t finished yet, with us or with the world or with history. The reading from Philippians contains one of my favorite verses. Paul’s ministry was among young churches facing persecution and struggle. Again and again, he spoke words of encouragement to them. In Philippians 1:6, he says, “ . . . the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion . . .” It is part of the promise associated with the power of Jesus at work in their midst.

All the good in us, a gift from God, is still developing and growing and coming to completion. In our reflection during Advent perhaps we could focus on what the good is that has been begun in us, what it is that we hope will be brought to completion in us. What is it that God is calling forth in us during this season and on into the future? What is the refining that is occurring, or needs to occur?

The reading from Philippians concludes with a prayer similar to the one last week from I Thessalonians. It is an Advent prayer that can undergird the good work that is waiting to spring forth in our being, in our relationships, in our church, in our community and world. “ . . . this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and insight, to help to determine what is best . . .,” assuming that the power of Christ at work in us will produce a “harvest of righteousness . . . for the glory and praise of God.”

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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