Sunday, December 11, 2016 The Third Sunday of Advent
The text of the readings follows after the comments.
A new week begins! Week three of Advent! But I warn you, it’s a short one today.
The editors of the Daily Office Lectionary are recycling prophecy by having us read this extract today. It sounds very similar to what Paul in the two Letters to the Thessalonians was saying about the Day of the Lord. Only, we don’t have the first five verses of the chapter, in which it is explicitly stated that this is an Oracle against Babylon. A reference to the Medes in verse 17 suggests that they will wreak God’s punishment on the Babylonians; which, in a sense, is what happened when the Persians (who absorbed their close relatives the Medes) conquered Babylon. However, by carefully not including these passages, the editors of the lectionary seem to be wanting us to read this not a a prophecy that in time was fulfilled, but something we might connect with the Second Coming of Jesus.
I find the passage from Hebrews to be rather complex. The author is comparing Sinai to the Heavenly Jerusalem. I could, I suppose, if I worked at it, get a better understanding, but the hermeneutics are so convoluted that I just want to pass over it in silence. We can do that, you know.
I like the passage from John. It’s the only indication in the New Testament that Jesus himself baptised people. What’s challenging is that we have no good sense of what those baptisms were like, or what their purpose was. Did it result in the filling of the candidates with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1.8)? Or was it more like the baptism of John, one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1.4)? Or was it both?
Whatever Jesus was up to, baptism became the rite of initiation for followers of Jesus. I was baptised in late December of 1962, when I was not even six moths old and yet already had had two major surgeries. My ordination vows are grounded in my baptism, and I continue to seek how it is to live as a Christian. In some ways my role is like that of John the Baptist – one who points to Jesus, and says, “Let the celebrations begin.”
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty!
Therefore all hands will be feeble,
and every human heart will fail,
and they will be dismayed.
Pangs and agony will seize them;
they will be in anguish like a woman in labour.
They will look aghast at one another;
their faces will be aflame.
See, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the earth a desolation,
and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant,
and lay low the insolence of tyrants.
I will make mortals more rare than fine gold,
and humans than the gold of Ophir.
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
on the day of his fierce anger.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.’ This phrase ‘Yet once more’ indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized— John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.’