By Dr. Richard H. Lowery, Ph.D.
This course takes an in-depth look at this year's lectionary texts for Advent from the Hebrew Bible and asks how they relate to the gospel texts from Luke. Lectures provide an overview of the historical context of the biblical passages and some of the cultural and economic influences that shaped them. Conversations explore sermon ideas and how the biblical texts relate to the weekly themes of advent. Rick Lowery provides social-historical, literary, and theological commentary and talks with experienced Indianapolis pastor Linda McRae about how these texts speak to the church as it engages its mission of justice, healing, and reconciliation today.
This session introduces the dual emphases of Advent: preparation for the birth of Jesus and for the “end of the world as we know it” because the “reign of God” is dawning in our midst. We look at the idea of the “reign of God” in Jesus’s teaching and place it in its ancient cultural context. Roman imperial ideology was the air that everyone breathed in the ancient Mediterranean world. It said that peace and security came through military victory and strength. But Jesus taught that an alternative “kingdom” or “reign” is erupting in our very midst. In this “reign of God,” justice and equality lead to community and peace.
Through most of the book, Jeremiah offers a relentlessly negative assessment of Jerusalem’s behavior and its chances of survival. Its leaders have sinned, failing to support the vulnerable poor. God’s judgment, the prophet thought, came in the form of an invasion by Babylonian imperial forces in 597 BCE and the deportation of the Judean royal house. The mood of the book shifts radically in chapter 30, after Jerusalem is finally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Today’s lectionary passage continues the word of hope, promising a restored Davidic monarchy. In a word play on the name of Zedekiah (“YHWH is my righteousness”), the last Davidic king to occupy the throne, Jeremiah envisions a restored Jerusalem that will be called “YHWH is our righteousness.”
The discussion between Rick and Pastor Linda McRae emphasizes the importance of truth telling as a prerequisite to the word of hope in today’s passage.
Malachi is a priest and prophet, upset about people refusing to care for the poor. In today’s passage, Malachi describes a “messenger of the covenant” who will come to purify the priests and the people. The lectionary cuts off verse 5 -- which should be included for preaching because it describes the corruption Malachi condemns: people worshiping the “gods” of economic-political imperialism, employers keeping their workers’ wages low, the well-to-do refusing to help the economically vulnerable, religious leaders failing to challenge the political and economic elites to care for the poor.
Rick and Linda discuss the importance of telling the truth about economic injustice. This text calls us to honestly examine our own complicity and to critique ideologies that tell us that we alone are the authors of our success or failure.
Zephaniah prophesied during the time of King Josiah (640-609 BCE) who carried out a massive religious-political-economic reform. In the temple, people worshiped the gods of other nations, including the Assyrian empire. Josiah purged the temple and instituted an anti-imperialist YHWH-alone policy. Zephaniah supports this part of Josiah’s program. After a series of judgment oracles, the prophet calls for a new song of joy. God will now save the “lame” and embrace the “outcast” in a new day of justice for all.
Rick and Linda focus on beneficial things we turn into “idols,” false gods. Advent calls us to enjoy the good things of life without becoming addicted and enslaved by them, a particular challenge at the height of Christmas shopping season.
Micah is from a village outside Jerusalem in the last decades of the 700s BCE. Families face the devastating effects of Judah’s first encounter with foreign imperialism. The rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. Micah condemns this growing inequality. The book shifts tone and timeframe in chapter 5, from late 700s to mid 500s. Jerusalem is now destroyed by a new imperial lord Babylon. The Davidic monarchy is crushed. Our passage dreams of a day when Jerusalem will be restored, free from the oppressive demands of empire. The bleak days of the present are like labor pangs that precede birth, “pain with a purpose.” By God’s power, a just and peaceful world is being born.
Rick and Linda discuss Micah’s word of hope in light of the gospel text, a meeting of two marginal women whose miraculous pregnancies are signs of a new world being born. Mary sings of a transformed world where the poor become rich, the powerless gain power, and peace and justice reign.
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