Scripture Introductions

Advent 3 December 13. 2009 Scripture Introductions by Stewart Clarke
Here are possible introductions [1] for the Scripture readings for the third Sunday of Advent. (There are bits in parentheses, plus footnotes, which you may, of course, overlook.) These are offered for your consideration, your correction, your amendment or adaptation, and possible use. The whole intent is to honour both the Bible and the intelligence and interest of our congregations. (BTW, if you get these directly and don't what them, let me know. If, OTOH, you get them through Midrash, I guess you just delete!) The themes for the Third Sunday, I am told, include fire, city and Israel, all of which can have positive and negative meanings. Israel, for that matter, can have a range of meanings, positive and negative, from an individual to a nation to a country and, as the "new Israel," to the Christian Church. This last reference may also have reminders of times when the church has promoted anti-Semitism! These references may simply remind us of the depth of meanings of Sunday's passages. The first reading is from the book of Zephaniah, which looks forward, in this passage, with a profound hope and sense of promise. (We may hear it against the background of threatened invasion by merciless hordes, in Zephaniah's own day, or the threat of terrorism, bombs, IEDs, global warming, droughts, floods, fire H1N1 and HIV/AIDS today.) (This passage is a breath of hope following a message of dire warning. Some have wondered if it is an addition! It is a time of threat, but also of disappointment. If Zephaniah wrote just after the reforms under King Josiah - 621 BC/BCE - the reforms had been shown to be superficial. And threats of invasion continued. [2] Zephaniah, a young member of a well-off Jerusalem family, writes of the Day of the Lord, now seen as a Day of Wrath, even an apocalyptic end of the age! Then comes this passage of encouragement, with a message from God, then a direct, first person affirmation!) Let's listen to the prophet's vision of promise, in: Zephaniah 3:14-20 You may wish to reserve your acclaim until after the Gospel reading, or use traditional words, or say something like, "Let us remember the hope in even the worst of circumstances, because of God's grace. Amen"
Instead of a Psalm, we have a reading from Isaiah of Jerusalem [3], who sings of God's Praise. Let's.... Isaiah 12:2-6 (VU 880) May we trust in God with joy and gladness. Amen.
In the Epistle reading, we find Paul, in prison awaiting execution, writing joyfully encouraging words to the Church folk in Philippi. His statement that The Lord is near is wonderfully close to the sense of "Emmanuel." His prayer for their Peace expresses his constant faith with awe and joy. Let's listen to Paul's message in: Philippians 4:4-7 And may we rejoice in God in all times and places. Amen.
The Gospel reading tells of the ministry of John the Baptist and his simple and direct message to his hearers. He sounds somewhat like a prophet of old (and may look like a caricature of one!). But he is still, he reminds his hearers, a fore-runner of someone far greater: good news to those who are open to it! This follows the tradition of the prophet speaking, not his own message, but a message on behalf of Adonai (YHWH [4]) God. (We may note that, when people came, genuinely interested in hearing God's word, and making changes in their lives, John did not ask them for the impossible, but called them back to God's vision of justice, mercy and shalom, where there is enough for all. And they could share by reasonable adjustments in their behaviour. [5] ) Let's rise to honour and be open to the Good News for us in: (Or: Let us listen closely for the Good News for us in:) Luke 3:7-18 May we, too, hear Good News in John's message. Amen. It is appropriate to follow the readings with thanks and praise.
  1. With thanks to CAM.
  2. The Scythians, from the area of the Black Sea, viciously overran much of the land, to the borders of Egypt, where they stopped after the payment of a huge sum by the Pharaoh!
  3. Isaiah of Jerusalem, responsible for Chapters 1 - 39, lived through the time of the Assyrian attack and sack of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. When he is talking not being afraid, such faith requires significant and disciplined trust!
  4. If you think of pronouncing YHWH, may I suggest the Hebrew, " Adonai," as a way of respecting the Hebrew tradition that God's Name is too holy to pronounce, and to demonstrate sensitivity to the respect shown by our Jewish spiritual cousins, who would not presume to say "Y-h-w-h!"
  5. I am tempted to compare John with prophets of global warming, today, with great visions, and dire warnings, but sometimes with practical suggestions for us.
(Comments to Stew at