“Jesus is coming soon!” We’ve all seen these signs on street corners and along the road. But if you have been observing Advent, and pretending that the Christ Child comes on Christmas Day, it really is true. This Sunday is the 19th. Christmas Day is only 6 days away. Let us make our final preparations for his arrival.
Again this week, our hymn of praise is not from the book of Psalms. This Sunday’s hymn of praise comes from Mary’s lips; her Magnificat. We will study this in today’s Gospel reading.
The prophet Micah lived during the reign of Hezekiah around 700 B.C. The Assyrians were attacking from the north. The outlook appeared grim for the people of Judah. Micah presents a prophecy of hope for the hopeless inhabitants of Jerusalem.
- In the verse preceding today’s reading, it appears that the enemy has laid siege to Jerusalem. Furthermore, the king has been humiliated by being slapped on the cheek with a rod. The situation is dire.
- Next is a sweet and familiar prophecy for us Christians. But what did it mean to those in Jerusalem at the time of the siege? Micah, speaking for God, reassures His people that there is hope. A king will come forth from Bethlehem for His people, just like David did. Out of that tiny village, big things will occur once again. (v. 2)
- Bad times are indeed in store for God’s people, but after a time, they will return. (v. 3)
- The actions of this new king are now described. He will feed his flock, they shall live secure, and he shall be known throughout the world. (v. 5)
- Best of all, the king shall be “one of peace”. (v. 5a)
These words from God were a comfort to the people of Micah’s time. We Christians see the connection to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Matthew, Luke and John include references to Micah’s prophecy, so they saw it, too. Big things did indeed come forth from that little village. So, how does God plan to get a carpenter and his betrothed, expectant bride all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to make this prophecy come true? I wonder…
In several ways, the book of Hebrews is a strange book to me. I must keep in mind that it was written by a Jew for the Christian-Jewish church. It was written to explain the meaning of Jesus’ mission. This is all done from a Jewish-Christian perspective. Sometimes, it is difficult to follow. Let’s work our way through today’s passage.
Today’s passage consists mainly of quotations from the bible. To make matters confusing, they used the Septuagint. That was an Old Testament translated into Greek, the universal language of the time. Our Old Testament is a translation from the original Hebrew. Occasionally, like today, there are “slight” differences.
- The passage begins with them “quoting” Jesus. The passage is actually from Psalm 40:6-8. Jesus and David are both kings, and speak for God, so I guess they thought it was as good as Jesus saying these words, too. The main point the writer is making is that Jesus (God) is no longer interested in the old way of burnt offerings and sacrifices as an atonement for sin. In Psalm 40:6b, our bible reads “but you have given me an open ear”, but Hebrews 10:5b reads “a body you have prepared for me”. This is due to the use of the Septuagint. But the overall meaning is the same— a new way to atone for sin is replacing the old. (vv. 5-6)
- Let’s take verses 7 through 10 as one big chunk, broken into three bites.
- Jesus says “See, God, I have come to do your will…” (v. 7a)
- Jesus talks again about sacrifices aren’t the new way. (vv. 7b-8)
- Jesus says (again) “I have come to do your will”. The writer explains that Jesus abolishes the first, to establish the second. In other words, when Jesus did his Father’s will by dying on the cross, he abolished the need for repeated sacrifices. He himself was the sacrifice, ONCE, for ALL!
Jesus has done his Father’s will, and sacrificed himself for us. Our response as Jesus’ followers is to obey the Father’s will. We live our lives by loving one another, and giving ourselves just as Jesus so freely gave of himself.
You may recall from the previous weeks, that we have been following the life of John the Baptist. Last week, we saw the adult John preparing the way for the Messiah. This week we have a flashback. His mother Elizabeth is six months pregnant with John, when her cousin comes to visit.
- As soon as Mary greets her cousin Elizabeth, the fetus John leaps in her womb. I’m going out on a limb here to say that this was the first time that John proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. (vv. 39-41a)
- Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and proclaims a beautiful blessing to Mary. Note that verse 42b is a portion of the Roman Catholic prayer called the Hail Mary. (vv. 41b-44)
- Mary’s answer to Elizabeth is that beautiful hymn of praise that we have named The Magnificat. “Magnificat” is Latin for “magnifies”, the operative verb in the first line. Verses 46-49 are Mary’s song of thanksgiving. Verses 50-55 declare God’s intentions for the child she will bear. (vv. 45-55)
Biblical scholars like to point out the similarity between Mary’s Magnificat and Hannah’s song of praise in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Mary was, no doubt, well-versed in the scriptures, she was most likely familiar with this song. But her praise song differs in many ways from Hannah’s. Why not study them both to see how they are similar and different? The takeaway for us from this story comes in verses 50-55. God is about to turn things upside-down. Are you ready?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In some churches, Mary is called the “Mother of God”. Others find this offensive, and claim her to merely be an instrument of God’s plan. For sure, Mary must have been the one of the most righteous and worthy women on earth. God chose her for this special task. From her knowledge of the song of Hannah, it appears that she was familiar with scripture. She also appears to have done a pretty good job of raising Jesus, too, wouldn’t you say? What might God have thought of Mary, to give her this important task? What does Mary’s role in this story mean to you?