For Dec. 23, 2012: 4 Advent, Year C

The Reading            Micah 5:2-5a

The eighth-century BC prophet Micah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem for its sins and the sins of its rulers. Like the later prophet Zephaniah in last week’s reading, here Micah offers comfort to the ordinary people and the downtrodden: from little Bethlehem will come a ruler who will gather God’s flock and “be the one of peace.” In Micah’s time this was the righteous king Hezekiah; we now read this as a prophecy of the Messiah.

The Response            Canticle 15, Luke 1:46-55: the Magnificat

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:5-10

On this final Sunday before Christmas, when we might expect more of Paul’s great good joy in the Thessalonians and Philippians, we and the Hebrews instead get a dose of theology: what God wants of us is not ritual sacrifices but right living. The point here is at the core of Christmas: it is Jesus coming to do the will of God that sanctifies us—and it gives us a model to follow.

The Gospel            Luke 1:39-45

 

Further thoughts

Two millennia on, we tend to figure we have a pretty good idea what to expect from this Advent thing: make the cider, wrap the presents, deal with the crowds and the office parties, light the candles, practice the carols… We know the drill, year by year.

Or do we? The year C readings for Advent, summed up in the readings for the fourth Sunday, however, remind us just how unexpected the whole thing is. The King of glory is about to be born—born? God?? This God made man chooses for his birthplace not a center of power like Rome nor an important religious place like Jerusalem but the has-been backwater town of Bethlehem, and not a palace scented with lavender water but a stable that smells of the sweat (and more) of working animals and working people as well. His mother, who by now is hugely and obviously pregnant, is no princess or empress: she is a teenage unwed mother, in a society that frowns mightily on that sort of thing. This God is bound for glory—what God wouldn’t be?—but by way of the most horrible, squalid, shameful death ever. The point of it all is to give hope to those who haven’t had hope.

What’s more, the God about to be born has already made out a Christmas list. Let’s see what’s on it: Piles of gold? No. Yokes of oxen split and burned as a sacrifice? Not even. Clouds of incense to make even the strongest of choirs sneeze? Nice, but optional. No: this God’s Christmas list consists of… me, and you, and the best of our love to be God’s hands and feet and hope-builders.

What kind of God asks for that? Well, I think it takes our whole lives to work out the answer.

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