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Thursday, December 06, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Baruch 5:1-9 OR Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-4

When I introduced this week’s lectionary texts at our Kairos-Milwaukie Tuesday morning breakfast, I thought we might give our attention to such things as “preparation” and “completion,” both at a personal and societal/political level. As sometimes happens, the discussion took an unexpected turn.

Before getting into that, let’s look a little bit at “preparation” and “completion.” In life there is always something ahead, something we are waiting for or hoping for, something we anticipate. Advent calls us to be particularly aware of that anticipation. It can be seen as a time of preparation. The thing toward which we are moving can also be seen as a point of completion. Life is moving toward something. Some purpose drives our living. We are seeking a sense of completion, a time when that purpose is fully realized. Both “preparation” and looking ahead to “completion” are part of the Advent experience. This week’s lectionary readings touch on both.

Now—let me tell you where the discussion went. The night before, the Portland Blazers NBA basketball team came from 18 points behind with 5 min. 17 sec. remaining to win the game 118-112 in overtime. It was the greatest comeback in Blazer history and most of us had watched it. Many of us are passionate fans and couldn’t keep the amazing game out of our discussion.. We made a little effort, not much, to try to tie it in with the lectionary readings—talking about what it takes to prepare for games like that, what it means to never give up hope, what it means to play “on the road” (in exile?) for seven games, etc. Mostly we just wanted to talk about the incredibly exciting game and victory.

Earlier the lectionary texts had stirred some reflections in my mind on lesser names in scripture and the supporting role they play. There are lots of such people in the Bible. There is Barnabas, known as “The Encourager.” One of my favorites is Tertius, who pops up at the end of Paul’s letter to Romans and says, “I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.” (Romans 16:22) Many of these helpers are unnamed, but each made an important contribution. After the basketball discussion, I thought about the importance of “assists” in that sport, important enough that “assists” are counted and kept as statistics which measure the contribution of each player to the game. The Blazers (and most teams) are at their best when there are lots of “assists.” The Blazers have a number of players who are pretty good at “assisting.”

Christmas, and living into the reality of the Good News, doesn’t happen alone. Even Jesus needed a few “assists.” If the hope of peace and justice is to come to “completion” it will take lots of people—some just a passing name in one verse of life, some unnamed, some widely known, even famous. That’s the connection I finally made—sometime after breakfast—between the texts and the table discussion this morning.

(There’s yet another direction discussion could have taken—a focus on the leveling of mountains and valleys. What is the significance of that image in the journey from beginning to middle to end? As I take a quick look at the various texts, I leave it to you to reflect on any or all of the above themes, or find another that speaks to you.)

Baruch (not in the Hebrew or Protestant scriptures) is included in the Catholic Bible. Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe and, at times, spokesperson, one of those who provided an “assist” to someone more well-known. In Jeremiah 36:4-8, we read, “Then Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, ‘I am prevented from entering the house of the Lord; so you go yourself, and on a fast day in the hearing of the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation . . .’ And Baruch son of Neriah did all that the prophet Jeremiah ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the Lord in the Lord’s house.” Although the book of Baruch bears his name, it is generally thought that it was not written until about 100 years before Christ. The portion in this week’s lectionary is another vision of the hoped for restoration God would bring to people who were in exile or battling powerful enemies. It includes this statement:“God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,” an image that has come to be applied to preparation (and a sign of) the coming of the Messiah (Christ).

Malachi is the last book of what we call The Old Testament, a prophetic writing mainly addressing the importance of giving God what God is due in the form of sacrifices and tithes. Just a few verses beyond this week’s reading, we find these words; “Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, 'How are we robbing you?' In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse . . .” (Malachi 3:8-10) Even in the short reading from the lectionary we find reference to an “offering” that “will be pleasing to the Lord . . .” (vs. 4) It is the first verse that is commonly read in Advent, a verse of preparation. God says, “See I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me . . .” They are to be prepared for judgment upon those who are robbing God. It will be a time of refinement and purification when justice is restored. (Vss. 2, 3, & 5)

We have two readings from Luke this week. The first is Zechariah’s ecstatic utterance upon the circumcision of his son, whom we know as John the Baptist or John, the Baptizer. John is another of those who “assists,” a figure overshadowed by the dazzling light of a star player. Zechariah articulates the vision of a reign in which “those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” will see light and be guided “into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79) Zechariah speaks to his son, saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” (vs. 76) Here is the one who prepares the way of the Lord. Indeed, in the other reading, when John begins his ministry, Luke writes, “He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’” (Luke 3:3-6)

Finally we have the reading from Philippians. Paul had a profound sense of connection with those who “assisted” in the work of the Gospel, never forgetting to thank them. “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5) In terms of an Advent focus, I see verse six as central. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion . . .” (vs. 6) Advent is a time for confident hope that the purposes of God will be fulfilled in us and in the world, that God’s will will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” I would also note that this reading moves on to a prayer which expresses the attitude that works in the heart of all who would truly give “assists” in the ball game of life. “ . . . this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best . . .” (vs. 9-10) It goes on to speak of a “harvest of righteousness” when all things come to completion.

May it be so, and may all of us recognize the importance of the “assists” of every player as we prepare and play and move to completion—even if the game goes into overtime.

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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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