1st Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5

bulletModern scholarship remains convinced that the book of Isaiah emerged over a period of two or three centuries, and that many texts including this one, are most difficult to date within that trajectory. In the last couple of decades, scholarship has deconstructed the neat lines between the three Isaiahs and recognized that not only are relatively late passages found in First Isaiah (traditionally 1-39), but that the present arrangement of the book shows an effort to create a unified reading, linking together its separate parts and anticipating the last chapters of Third Isaiah already in the first chapters of Isaiah of Jerusalem. There are many lexical ties between chapters 1 and 65-66. In addition, the first part of the book of Isaiah projects judgment on and subsequent restoration of Judah and Jerusalem, and the second part of the book announces that judgment has ended and restoration is beginning.
bulletChapter 1 deals with the punishment, purification, and redemption of Jerusalem, and then 2:2-5 announces Zion's role as the center for Yahweh's world rule. The temple mount, a hundred feet shorter than the Mount of Olives, will become "in days to come" the highest mountain in the world. Almost like a magnet, the temple mount will attract the nations of the world, who will make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to learn Yahweh's Torah or instruction, and they will express a desire to walk in Yahweh's ethical ways. Yahweh is depicted in this passage as the dispenser of binding arbitration--he will resolve all international disputes. As a result, war will become obsolete and irrelevant, and people will retool their swords into plows and their spears into hedge shears. With no cause for war, wars will not be fought nor will people find the history of military adventures interesting. The folk song echoes back this poem: "I Ain't Gonna Study War No More."
bulletThis passage also occurs in Isaiah's contemporary prophet Micah where an additional verse spells out the resulting domestic tranquility: each nation will sit under its own vine and own fig tree, and no one will intimidate them (Mic 4:4).
bulletHow are we to interpret this passage? Were Isaiah and Micah false prophets since their words did not come true? Are these passages to be taken metaphorically as pictures of heaven? Are they like other depictions of utopia, too impractical to implement and designed only to get the reader to dream about a new reality.  The old Soviet Union gave a statue to the United Nations exemplifying the ideals of this passage:

bulletI would suggest two other possibilities. First, both Isaiah and Micah contain what I would call liturgical responses to these promises:

                "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of Yahweh!" Isa 2:5

                "For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of Yahweh our God forever and ever."
                         Mic 4:5.

bulletThese liturgical responses to the divine promises concede that we live in a world of wars and rumors of wars, but they also promise that Israel itself will start living as if these promises were true. The people of God today might be encouraged and empowered by the gospel to practice peace-making at home, in the congregation, and in society. While others may still choose to fight, the people of God would resolve to walk in the light of the promises contained in these texts regardless of what others might choose to do.
bulletA second possibility builds on the implications of Christianity's heightened eschatology. Just as the early Christians saw the resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of the new age and saw initial fulfillments of the promise of the Spirit at Pentecost and of the ingathering of the nations in their witness to the Gentiles, so we might take these words as renewed promises or challenges addressed to the people of God today. What would it mean for Christian behavior if we took these promises seriously as our Advent future? What if we stood on tiptoe in anticipation of their imminent fulfillment? Would not the church become a powerful force for peace?

The psalm for the day is Psalm 122

An Advent Psalter: A Study of the Four Psalms for Advent (122, 72, 146, and 80) in the Revised Common Lectionary Series A

2nd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10

bulletThis messianic prophecy promises that a shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, and a branch will blossom from its roots. The stump results from Yahweh's act of judgment as woodsman in Isa 10:33-34 although it is unclear whether Israel and its kings have therefore been axed by the Assyrian or Babylonian invasions of the 8th to 6th centuries, or whether the stump results from Yahweh's own issuing of a threat against all that was proud in the land. In any case, Nathan's promise to David is still alive in Isaiah's opinion (2 Samuel 7//1 Chronicles 17), and a new king, or even a new David, is expected to appear soon.
bulletThis king will have a seven-fold gift of the spirit--the spirit of Yahweh, of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh. These gifts of the spirit will lead the king to just judicial decisions (wisdom and understanding, like Solomon), to effective military leadership (counsel and might are synonyms for military strategy), or to exemplary piety (acknowledgment of and reverence for Yahweh). Only Saul and David of Israel's kings had charismatic endowment (1 Sam 10:10-11; 16:13; 2 Sam 23:2). Solomon and his descendants profited by dynastic inertia--Solomon and all his successors became king because their father was king before them.
bulletThis future and ideal king will be a righteous administrator of justice, as was expected of all Israelite kings (Ps 72:12-14) and of all royalty in the Ancient Near East in general. He will not be influenced by bribes or by those of wealth or high station (v 3); he will have a preferential option for the poor (v 4a); and he will announce harsh verdicts on the arrogant wicked (v 4b).
bulletAnother paragraph (11:6-9) announces the paradisal conditions that will prevail during/because of the reign of this new king. Wild and domestic animals will become strange bedfellows and dinner companions--wolves with lambs, panthers with young goats, and cows and lions, with a young child tending this mongrel herd. Cow and bear will eat from the same pasture, and the carnivorous lion will become vegetarian. Human infants will play with horned vipers; yes, nursing babies will put their hand into the lairs of vipers with no harm resulting. The earth will be transformed into the Garden of Eden, that is, conditions of the end time will return to the conditions enjoyed by our first parents. The last verse in this paragraph attributes this transformation from a violent to a non-violent world to the universal acknowledgment of Yahweh's sovereignty, a picture not unlike Isaiah 2 and Micah 4.
bulletThe lectionary, somewhat inappropriately, includes v 10 in this pericope, even though scholarship is strongly inclined to say that Isa 11:10-16 comes from a much later time. In v 10 the "root of Jesse" has become a title for the expected king, who will attract the nations to himself like a beacon and they will voluntarily submit themselves to him. The reference to his resting place being glorious may be an allusion back, with some linguistic license, to his spirit endowment in v 2.
bulletA number of Advent themes suggest themselves as we reflect on the significance of Jesus and the community centered on his name. The messianic age is a time when God can bring life from death and victory from defeat. Followers of Christ, like their master, can be blessed by or endowed with the spirit. The messiah and the messianic community have a social conscience, with a passion for justice. Everything is changed by the advent of this messiah--the environment, even the "orders of creation." The messiah and the messianic community by their behavior attract and win over the curious outsiders. Talk about a challenge to our lifestyle and our efforts at evangelism!

The psalm for the day is Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19.


3rd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10

bulletWhile many commentators have seen a similarity between this pericope and parts of Second Isaiah, this chapter functions in the book of Isaiah as part of a diptych with Isaiah 34. Chapter 34 announces divine judgment on the nations, and chapter 35 promises the return of the redeemed to Zion. These pericopes "point both backward to the earlier Isaianic prophecies as well as forward to the ensuing chapters." The contrast between Edom, the enemy par excellence, and Judah is worked out in detail. Both chapters announce God's coming in judgment (34:1-4; 35:4); the thorns, nettles, and thistles in Edom contrast with the reeds and rushes in Israel (34:13; 35:7); Edom lacks fresh water and Judah abounds in it (34:9; 35:6-7); Judah will no longer be like Edom, the haunt of jackals and other dangerous animals (34:9, 13; 35:6-7); travel will be impossible in Edom but pilgrims travel on a paved road in Judah (34:10; 35:8).
bulletChapter 35 speaks of God's Advent or coming (35:4; 40:9-10). God will come with vengeance against his enemies, but he will come to save "you," the people of God (v 4). God's coming means the renewal of creation--the wilderness will rejoice and the desert will blossom (v 1). God's good news is always for our bad situations. Hence those who are physically challenged will recover their sight, their hearing, their ability to walk and to speak. The road on which God's people travel is a Holy Way, just as God promises to dwell with those who are repentant and humble in spirit (Isa 57:15, 18). Verse 10 is a quotation from Isa 51:11: "And the ransomed of Yahweh shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." The people experience not just deliverance from Babylon but they share in God's new creation: "For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth" (Isa 65:17).
bulletThis passage keeps the renewal of creation and human salvation together as a common goal of God's promises. It encourages the faithful in anticipation of God's coming (vv 3-4; 43:1-4). It admonishes us not to accept the status quo, even on physical disabilities--God is the one who heals all our infirmities (Ps 103:3). The result of God's coming is changed lives--God's people walk on a Holy Way on which not even fools can go astray. Finally, this passage sees the goal of the divine-human encounter to be our sheer joy in God's presence. This is an Advent text for all those whose God is too small or whose view of the regenerate life is crimped and cramped. The gospel renews and empowers the church in its goal to transform society.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 146:4-9.

4th Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 7:10-16

bulletThis Old Testament passage has a clear--but a rather complicated--relationship to the Gospel for the day, Matt 1:18-25. This gospel, for the 4th Sunday of Advent, reports the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary. All this took place, Matthew reports, to "fulfill" what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "'The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.'"
bulletMatthew seems to be using a first century Jewish style of exegesis, also known in the Dead Sea Scrolls, that asks not what the text meant in its original context, but what might its eschatological meaning be. The eschatological meaning of Isaiah 7:14 is found in the virgin birth and in the positive meaning of the name Emmanuel, "God [is] with us."
bulletThe meaning of Isa 7:10-16 in its original context is another story. That pericope reports events during the Syro-Ephraimite War, 734-732 BCE, when the Northern Kingdom under Pekah and Aram/Syria under Rezin tried to force Ahaz of Judah into an anti-Assyrian coalition. Accompanied by his son Shear-jashub, Isaiah warned Ahaz not to be afraid of these two invading kings but rather to trust in God's promises: "If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all" (Isa 7:9).
bulletIn a second episode, Ahaz received an oracle from Yahweh, directing him to ask for a sign as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven. This may refer to a sign announced by an earthquake or in lightning. With seeming piety, Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign lest it put Yahweh to a test. Isaiah, however, treats his answer as a refusal to trust God and announces that God will give him a sign anyway. We might translate v 14b as follows: "That young woman over there is pregnant and will bear a son, and she will call him Immanuel."
bulletAs recognized already by the translators of the RSV in 1952, the word המלע should be translated "young woman" and not "virgin." But who is this woman? Some say an anonymous woman, others say it is Ms. Ahaz, and still others think it is Ms. Isaiah. Isaiah already has two other children with names of significance, Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Immanuel might be a third. If the mother-to-be is Ms. Ahaz, the child might be Hezekiah. But if there is ambiguity about the identity of the mother-to-be, there is also uncertainty about the significance of the name Immanuel. Does it mean "God is with us" and everything will be ok, or does it mean "God is with us" and God will punish us?
bulletThe answer would seem to lie in vv 15-17, but an interpreter is faced with six difficult questions in trying to determine the meaning of this passage, which is shortened by one verse in the lectionary.
bulletAre curds and honey (v 15) the food of prosperity (A-1) or the food of affliction (A-2)?
bulletIs the infinitive in v 15 to be taken as temporal (by the time heB-1) or as final (so that heB-2)?
bulletIs the choice between good and evil a moral one (C-1) or does it only refer to the maturity needed to make decisions (C-2)?
bulletIs Ephraim's departure from Judah a reference to the prosperous days before the breakup of the United Monarchy (D-1), or to the times of hardship immediately thereafter (D-2)?
bulletIs the "king of Assyria" in v 17 a gloss (E-1) or is it authentic (E-2)?
bulletIs the connotation of the name Immanuel positive (F-1) or negative (F-2)?
bulletConsider this translation of vv 15-17 in the New English Bible (NEB): By the time that he has learnt to reject evil and choose good, he will be eating curds and honey; before that child has learnt to reject evil and choose good, desolation will come upon the land before whose two kings you cower now. The LORD will bring on you, your people, and your house, a time the like of which has not been since Ephraim broke away from Judah."
bulletIn all six cases, the translators of NEB chose the first option. Now consider another translation of the same verses: "He will eat (the sparse fare of) curds and honey so that he will know how to reject what is wrong and choose what is right. For before the boy learns how to reject what is wrong and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you now dread [Ephraim and Syria] will be abandoned. Yahweh will bring upon you, your people, and your father's house (bad) days, which have not existed since Ephraim left Judah. (That is, he will bring) the king of Assyria.
bulletThe two translations agree that Syria and Ephraim will soon be turned back, and they agree that the choice between good and evil is a moral one (C-1). But in the five other cases the second translation opts for the second option. We might paraphrase the meaning as follows. Little Immanuel will suffer through hard times, with insufficient food, and this privation will lead him to choose what is right over that which is wrong. By the time he reaches the age of discretion (3 years?), Syria and Ephraim and their threatening kings will be defeated. But this will be no reprieve. Rather, Yahweh will bring an invasion by a more serious enemy, which will lead to disastrously hard economic times. Yahweh will send the king of Assyria in judgment.
bulletWhile I favor the second interpretation, I know that there are many competent exegetes who would agree with the NEB. The wider context has similar ambivalence. Lack of faith will result in Assyria's invasion of Immanuel's land in Isa 8:5-8--hence God is with us means God is with us in judgment. But Isa 8:9-10 says that "God is with us" will mean defeat for the "far countries"--hence God is with us to save us.
bulletClearly, it would be hard to sort all this out in a standard twelve minute sermon even if you used Power Point, assigned homework on this text the week before, and spoke with human and angelic voice. But it might be worth exploring in a sermon how a slogan like "God is with us" can be good news or bad, depending on whether God comes in grace or in judgment. It is "the rest of the story" that makes all the difference. The boy born to Mary relived the career of Israel. He came out of Egypt with his parents, delivered a Sermon on the Mount like Moses, kept the law perfectly, offered up his own life on the cross, rose again from the dead, and then promised in the final sentence of the Great Commission: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." That "I am with you" is clearly grace and not judgment.
bulletAn Isaianic Advent allows for a rich observance of the beginning of Year A in the liturgical calendar. It promises peace that passes all understanding (Isa 2:2-5). It promises a spirit-endowed king who will be an advocate for social justice and whose reign will be marked by a transformation to non-violence in the animal kingdom and the ingathering of the nations (Isa 11:1-10). It announces a new age, in which the environment will be restored and disabilities will be undone, and in which the ransomed of Yahweh will experience God's nearer presence with great joy, as they practice conduct pleasing to God (Isa 35:1-10). And finally, it will remind us of the simplicity and profundity of the gospel, that can be expressed in the simple words "God is with us." And the best news of all is that we can share the reassuring promise, that God is with us in grace and not in judgment (Isa 7:10-16).

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

The Nativity of our Lord--Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:2-7

bulletThe original setting of this passage (9:1-7) is the birth of a Judean king, which thereby signals that the promise to David is still alive.  The northern kingdom (Zebulun and Naphtali) had been devastated by an invasion of Tiglath-pileser in 734-33, who carved out three Assyrian provinces that are here called "the way of the sea," "the land beyond the Jordan," and "Galilee of the nations."
bulletVerse 2 could be translated in the past tense, as in the NRSV, or the verbs could be taken as "prophetic perfects."  Light connotes victory, change of circumstances, or even theophany.
bulletThe joy of Yahweh's deliverance in v. 3 is compared to similar joy at harvest time or at military victory.  We might compare it to joy at winning the Super Bowl.
bullet Yahweh's victory is compared to that of Gideon, here referred to as "the day of Midian."
bulletThe Hebrew word for boot in v. 5 is a loanword from the Assyrian language.  The uniforms of the occupying forces will be burned up.
bulletWhat gives the prophet such hope?  The birth of a new member of the royal line.
bulletThe name in v. 6 is very problematic.  OT kings were not considered to be God, at least in orthodox circles.  Hence the series of titles, as in Handel's Messiah and the NRSV, does not make sense.  I would interpret the child's name as two sentences:

                    The warrior God is planning a marvel

                    The everlasting Father is planning to give us a Captain of peace or wholeness.

That is, the birth of the child in Jerusalem signals that God's plans for Israel are still operative!  That also might be one application we could draw from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem:  God's plans for God's people are still operative!

bulletVerse 7 spells out what is expected of the reign of the newly-born royal heir:  authority, wholeness, and a passion for justice and righteousness.
bulletIf the name in v. 6 points to God's promise as the ultimate source of our salvation, that interpretation is confirmed by v. 7:  The passion of Yahweh of the heavenly armies will see to it that this happens.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 96


The Nativity of our Lord--Christmas Day

Isaiah 52:7-10

bulletIsaiah of the exile exults over the prospect of a messenger running from Babylon to Jerusalem with the message that God reigns!  Three synonyms are worth noting in v. 7:  peace (shalom), good news, and salvation (or victory).  The prophet describes the sentinels on the city walls catching sight of this running messenger in v 8.  They are eye witnesses to Yahweh's return.
bulletThe word "comfort" in v. 9 connotes much more than sympathy; it also includes acts of deliverance (cf. 40:1; 49:13; 51:3).  Yahweh has redeemed Jerusalem.  In the Old Testament, "redeem" means fulfilling the obligations of a family relationship.  Hence Yahweh has been the best mother and father Israel has ever known.
bulletIn baring his arm, v. 10, Yahweh is playing the role of the divine warrior who wins deliverance and victory for his people.  The Hebrew word for victory is translated in the NRSV by salvation.
bulletAt Christmas we believe that God's rule is affirmed and confirmed in the birth of Jesus.  We should cultivate among ourselves the excitement and anticipation of the ancient prophet and the heralds on Jerusalem's walls.  The inclusion of Gentiles is clearly signaled in v. 10:  All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God!  We also might picture ourselves as the messenger, sharing with others the news of God's reign.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 98.

1st Sunday after Christmas

Isa 63:7-9

bulletThis pericope is part of a communal lament that runs from 63:7 to 64:12.  63:7-14 speak of Yahweh's acts of redemption in the past.  In 63:15-64:5a, we have an appeal for help, including references to the present pitiful state of those who are praying.  Next, in 64:5b-7 comes a confession of sins, and finally, in 64:8-12, we have a renewed appeal for help, which ties together earlier elements in this lament.
bulletIn v 7, the words "gracious deeds" and "steadfast love" refer to demonstrated acts of loyalty on Yahweh's part.  "His mercy" might be better rendered as "Yahweh's motherly mercies."
bulletVerse 9 indicates that Yahweh does not delegate acts of salvation for Israel.  It was no (second rate) messenger or angel that saved them, but God's own face or presence.  By love and pity Yahweh proved himself to be Israel's best father or mother--the word "redeem" refers to kinship relationships. 
bulletVerse 9 also refers to Yahweh's lifting up and carried Israel in all the days of old.  Isa 46:3 articulates what is meant here: Jacob/Israel has been carried by Yahweh from their birth, carried from the womb.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 148.

The Epiphany of our Lord

Isa 60:1-6

bulletThe imperatives in v 1 in Hebrew are in the 2fs and hence are addressed to Jerusalem.  What God is in Godself is "holy"; what we see of God is God's "glory."  This is the connotation of "glory" in vv 1-2.  The contrast in vv 1-3 is between light and darkness, good news and bad, with "light" also standing for God's presence.
bulletNations and kings will be drawn to the light (God) in Jerusalem, as if they were drawn by a magnet.  The mention of kings led to the association with the Magi and the day of Epiphany.  "Light" also seems appropriate for Epiphany.
bulletThese nations will bring back to Jerusalem its dispersed sons and daughters.
bulletThe nations will also bring tribute--goods brought by sea and the general wealth of nations.  This eschatological hope has been seen as one of the reasons Paul took up his famous collection.  Since for him the new day had dawned, he was trying to bring a down payment on this stream of money.
bulletCamel caravans will also bring goods to Jerusalem (V 6).  The Midianites lived in the north Arabian desert, east of the Gulf of Aqebah.  Ephah is considered a son of Midian in Gen 25:4.  It is not clear whether the Midianite camels will carry the wealth of Sheba or whether the Sabeans themselves will bring tribute to Jerusalem. The Sabeans were known as suppliers of gold, frankincense, and spices.  This verse also leads to an association with the magi, or, otherwise viewed, the story of the Magi in Matthew has been shaped by this eschatological hope.


The psalm for the day is Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14.


The Baptism of our Lord; 1st Sunday after the Epiphany

Isa 42:1-9

bulletThis is the first of the four servant poems from Second Isaiah (see also Isa 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12).  Some scholars limit this poem to vv 1-4.  The servant is thought to be Israel or the prophet as a representative Israelite.  Early Christians identified the servant with Jesus.
bullet Yahweh presents the servant as his chosen agent in v 1.  Gifted with the spirit, the servant will execute the divine plan for the world = bring forth justice to the nations.  The servant will do this apparently by maintaining trust in Yahweh despite the suffering the servant is experiencing.
bulletIn vv 2-3 the servant will not cry out like a warrior nor will the servant grow impatient with or harm those who are weak and frail.
bulletVerse 4 talks of the servant's perseverance.  The coastlands (the nations) await his Torah or teaching.
bulletIn v 5 Yahweh is identified and certified as the creator of the world and the one who empowers people.  On this basis (v 6) Yahweh calls and protects the servant and offers the servant as a witness to the nations.  This witness has social consequences:  opening blind eyes and liberating prisoners (v 7)
bulletVerse 8 is an affirmation of monotheism and a denunciation of idols.  This is a polemic against the other deities being presented to Israel during the Babylonian exile.
bulletIn v 9 Yahweh announces that the former things have already happened and new things are now being promised.  Are the former things earlier promises (like the promise of Cyrus)?  Or are the former things the words of First Isaiah?  Many scholars now believe that Second Isaiah never existed as an independent document, but only as a supplement to First Isaiah.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 29

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

Isa 49:1-7

bulletThis is the second of the Servant poems in Second Isaiah, in which the servant reports his divine call.  Like Samson, Samuel, and Jeremiah, the servant was called pre-natally.
bulletVerse 2 presents the servant, or specifically the message (word) of the servant, as God's secret weapon. 
bulletVerse 3 makes the identification of the servant with Israel explicit. 
bulletIn v 4 the servant expresses his frustration--he has labored in vain, his word has not bee heard.  Despite his setbacks, however, he lodges his trust in Yahweh.  This contradicts or corrects Israel's earlier complaint:  "My right is disregarded by my God."  (40:27)
bulletThe fact that the servant has a message to Israel in vv 5-6 has long perplexed scholars.  How can the servant who is Israel have a mission to Israel?  One might ask:  Does not the church also have a mission to the church? 
bulletThe servant's complaint about his mission to Israel is trumped by God giving him an even bigger mission.  If he has had difficulty getting Israel to listen, well then Yahweh will make him a light to the nations!
bulletThe nations that had despised Israel during its exile will come to recognize and honor her because of her God--the Holy One of Israel who has chosen her.
bulletSecond Isaiah is full of beautiful pictures of God's mercy and love.  A "Redeemer" is one who pays off her sister's debt, marries his brother's widow, or avenges the member of the family who has been killed.  To designate Yahweh as redeemer makes God the best brother or sister we ever had. 
bullet"Holy" in Hebrew means separate, transcendent, or something similar.  Buy Yahweh is called--paradoxically--the Separate One who belongs to Israel.  That note of special concern for Israel is also sounded at the end of v 7.


The psalm for the day is Psalm 40:1-12


3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

Isa 9:1-4

bulletThis selection from Isaiah finds its eschatological fulfillment in the Galilean ministry of Jesus (Matt 4:15-16).  The latter verses are part of the gospel reading for the day that extends from 4:12-23 (the call of Peter and Andrew and the proclamation of the good news and the curing of illnesses).  Isa 9:6 is the famous messianic passage:  For a child has been born for us, a son given to us....The verse numbers in Hebrew are one less = Isa 8:23-9:3.
bulletI follow a line of interpretation inaugurated by Albrecht Alt that understands 9:1 as referring to the invasion of the Northern Kingdom by Tiglath-pileser III in 733-32 and his creation of three Assyrian provinces:  Galilee (Galilee of the nations; Zebulun; Naphtali), Dor (the way of the sea), and Gilead (the land beyond the Jordan).
bullet"Light" in v 2 refers to a manifestation of God's power.  Should the verbs be translated as past tenses (the people have seen a great light), or are they prophetic perfects (will see a great light)?  In any case God's appearance brings a total change in he people's condition.
bulletTwo comparisons are used to demonstrate the people's joy:  harvest celebration and division of spoils in war.  We would probably talk about exuberance like the victors in the Super Bowl.
bulletVerse 4 spells out the present oppression concretely.  The first three lines speak of military cruelty:  the yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
bulletAt the end of v 4, God's recent or impending victory is compared to victories in the days of Gideon when God broke the Midianites.
bulletNote that vv 4, 5, and 6 begin with the word For.    The celebration is predicated on the reversal of oppression (v 4), the burning of the uniforms of the Assyrian soldiers (v 5), and the birth of a new king in Jerusalem (v 6), which is the sign that God's promise is still alive.
bulletChristians see the birth of Jesus as likewise confirming God's promise with the expectation of transformation in human society and individual lives.

The psalm for the day is Ps 27:1, 5-13.


4th Sunday after the Epiphany

Micah 6:1-8

bulletThis pericope begins as a lawsuit conducted by the prophet against the people.  The mountains and hills are witnesses to God's prior actions on behalf of the people.  The words "case" in v 1 and "controversy" in v 2 might better be translated "lawsuit."
bulletVerses 3-5 demonstrate the benefactions of Yahweh and the ingratitude of the people.  "Answer me" in v 3 is an invitation for the people to offer their defense in this lawsuit.
bulletVerse 4 recounts the Exodus.  Verse 5 tells of the scheme of Balak to hire Balaam to curse Israel although Balaam's "answer" was one of blessing on Israel.
bulletThe trip from Shittim to Gilgal (v 5b) is the first part of the conquest of Palestine--hence it refers to the gift of the land.
bulletIn view of the indictment in vv 1-5, vv 6-7 are a series of rhetorical questions that ask how the person/nation can make up for its sins.  With lavish sacrifices?  With abundant offerings of olive oil?  With the sacrifice of one's own child?
bulletRather than seeking superficial cultic activity, Yahweh wants true repentance.  Doing justice is the fruit of "loving kindness," which might better be rendered as loving loyalty to Yahweh.  "Walking humbly" may not refer to self-abasement, but rather it refers to walking shrewdly or appropriately in view of Yahweh's many benefactions.
bulletThe psalm for the day is an entrance liturgy performed when one entered the temple.  It too calls for obedience and social justice.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 15

The Transfiguration of our Lord; Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Exod 24:12-18

bulletThis passage describes God's giving Moses the tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments (Exod 20:1-17).    Joshua, who will succeed Moses as leader of Israel, accompanies Moses on this journey up Mount Sinai.  Hur and Aaron fulfill the judicial duties of Moses in his absence (cf. Exod 18:26).  Verses 12-15a are assigned to the J source.
bulletWith v 15b the priestly writer takes up his pen.  Note the reference to the glory of Yahweh and the appearance of Yahweh on the seventh day.  In the Old Testament, what God is in himself is called "holy"; what we see of God is called "glory."  Fire and cloud are also part of this theophany. 
bulletTwo items make this an appropriate text for Transfiguration.  First, there are the various descriptions of theophany--glory, cloud, fire.  Secondly, it is Moses who experiences this theophany, and he and Elijah--representing the law and the prophets--appear at the transfiguration of Jesus.  Moses and Elijah had unusual ways of departing this life.  Elijah went up to heaven in a chariot of fire; Moses died and was buried in a secret place by God (Deut 34:6).  By New Testament times they were both thought to be in heaven.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 2 or Psalm 99.