Year D: Advent 2

Advent Week 2: Love

Leader: This second week of Advent we reflect on the call to Love.

People: Love is neither a reaction nor a transaction that depends upon the action of another

Leader: It is a choice to bestow value and significance on another without condition

People: Love’s strength is in it’s willingness to risk itself for another’s sake.

Leader: With compassion towards all people which reflects Christ’s love for us let us answer the call to love our neighbors.

Reader: The writer of 1 John challenges us saying:  16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (1 John 3:16)

That is the advent litany that the interim senior pastor at Third Church provided.  I would add to the scripture reading verses 17 and 18:  17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

I like the idea that love is an action; it can be words, but it also needs to be an action.

Mr. Rogers is quoted as saying, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now – and to go on caring even through times that may bring us pain.”[1]

I think love and prayers work similarly.  I know there is a lot of “thoughts and prayers” that seem empty because they are not backed by action, but I believe that words are powerful, and that prayer is an action.  Alexandra Kuykendall talks about prayer in her book “Loving my actual Christmas”, here are her words, “Yes, love is an action.  It is also a prayer.  It is the heart crying out to the one who holds the whole world in his hands.  It is asking him for the next step of provision for someone else.  And perhaps the two are not to be separated, categorized in different camps: action vs. prayer.  Perhaps action is prayer: through what we do is evidence what we hope and want God to do in this world.  And perhaps prayer is action, because we know that God considers the hopes and desires of his people, and therefore it’s our most powerful avenue of change.  Yes, maybe to love is both action and prayer.”[2]

Year D

The Second Sunday of Advent
Numbers 12 OR 20:1-13 (14-21) 22-29
Psalm 106:(1) 7-18, 24-28 (43-48) (OR Psalm 95)
Luke 1:(57) 58-67 (68-79) 80
Hebrews 3:1-19

I love year D, sometimes.  These are strange passages that left me wondering why they were put together.  I know that Zachariah is a priest in the line of Aaron but connecting these passages seemed strange until I dug a little more deeply into how the people in Numbers are connected to the people in Luke. 

Elizabeth and Aaron

Elizabeth (in Hebrew, Elisheva) is the wife of Aaron.  Elizabeth (married to Zachariah) is also from a priestly line of Aaron just like her husband.[3] 

Miriam and Mariamme and Mary

In Luke’s text (chapter 1), the mother of Jesus is better translated “Miriam” like Moses’ sister, “the leader of the women, who rejoices by singing praises at the salvation of Israel at the Red Sea.  ….  [In chapter 2] Luke spells the name as “Maria”.  Echoes, perhaps fainter, might be heard of Herod Archelaus’ stepmother and Herod the Great’s Hasmonean wife, Mariamme, before the Romans gained control in 63 BCE.  Jesus’ mother is associated, by name, with two other women who represented self-determination and freedom from oppression.”[4]  And because Mary is related to Elizabeth, she may also be from a priestly line.  When I imagine Mary as a strong woman (not meek and mild) and in a priestly tradition, the Magnificat makes so much more sense.

Ok, so these people are connected, at least by name. So why this passage about how Miriam and Aaron being less-than-perfect?  Maybe because Elizabeth and Zachariah are less-than-perfect; aren’t we all less-than-perfect?  Elizabeth and Zachariah are said to be blameless, but “what blameless means does not mean is perfect; it simply means someone who keeps Torah.”[5]  And “This blamelessness means that Elizabeth’s inability to conceive a child (vs.7) was not a punishment.”[6] (more on that later).  The punishment is for John, he is rendered mute, when he doesn’t believe the angel Gabriel who tells him about John’s birth.  John can’t share the good news that is bringing him so much joy.  This joy is not just for a couple who is having a child, but it the good news for the people of Israel.  This might be a little bit of a stretch, but John and Miriam were not punished permanently, it was only for a time and both of them were restored to their place in leadership and worship after the time of their punishment was over. 

While I love Zachariah’s song (Luke 1:68-79) as much as the Magnificat, there is a lot that happens between John becoming mute and his song…. I feel like year D missed a few things that I feel are important by chopping up the chapter like this, but it would be difficult to talk about all of those things in one sermon so perhaps its ok…. and that’s why pastors have blogs… you know to hold all of this extra stuff. 

There is a lack of love story (and a love story) to be heard.  Lack of love: infertile women are being punished (absolutely untrue), women who are virgins are more pure or better than other women (untrue), and women who are found to be pregnant before wedlock are impure (also untrue).  You can insert your favorite feminist rant about women being shamed for sexual activity or lack of it or not being believed when they tell the truth about their sexual activity or rape or their choices on childbearing… there are a lot of tangents to take here and a serious lack of compassion, support, and love. 

I wonder if Elizabeth thought she wouldn’t be believed if she told people immediately that she was pregnant.  I wonder if she worried about losing the pregnancy.  I wonder if it was easier to be alone than to answer unloving questions. 

Elisabeth’s reaction to becoming pregnant “rings true in at least two practical ways.  First, the pregnancy would not be obvious to everyone until around the sixth month, so her announcement will come with the proof shown by her body.  Second, by the sixth month she will have passed the time of the likelihood of miscarriage. Luke’s phrasing also indicated that women normally were not in seclusion: Elizabeth’s remining hidden is her own choice, not one imposed upon her.  In terms of the plot, the seclusion has a third motivation: Mary will be the first person explicitly to recognize her cousin’s pregnancy just as Elizabeth will be the first to remark upon Mary’s own pregnancy.”[7]

I wonder if Mary was facing similar struggles.  I wonder if the announcement from Gabriel, “36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” gave Mary the courage to take on her role as well.  38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  We don’t have any details about how Mary traveled or if she traveled with someone to get to Elizabeth… maybe she only took courage.

Now I’m going to string together a huge number of things without putting them in my own words… If I was preaching it would be better to put my own words in here (but I’m not), I’m finding interesting things to think about for advent week 2, so here it is:

Mary arrives at Zachariah’s home and is greeted by Elizabeth.  “Elizabeth feels herself full not only with a sixth-month-old-fetus, but also with the Holy Spirit (vs. 41). …. Elizabeth’s cry is both exultation and prophecy: “Blessed are you among women” (vs. 42).  Before she mentions the child Mary carries, she blesses Mary.  Mary thus takes her place alongside other women proclaimed blessed: Jael (Judg 5.24) and Judith (Jtd 13.18).  The connection anticipates Mary’s hymn, which, like those of Deborah and Judith, celebrates God’s redemption of Israel.  ….  According to Elizabeth, Mary is blessed not simply because she conceived, but because she “believed” – she trusted – that the ancient prophesies would be fulfilled (vs. 45).  ….  The song is Mary’s, but it could be sung by anyone who can celebrate redemption.  It might particularly speak to, or be sung by, women, since the biblical tradition places songs of victory on women’s lips.  ….  Women do not merely sing of God’s victory; they are active agents in bringing it about.”[8] 

I’m really loving the Luke Commentary by Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III and wishing I had purchased Amy-Jill Levine’s advent devotional.  I didn’t see it until after I had already picked out something for adult education so maybe next advent.  So, I’ll try to summarize why I think this is important for the advent week “love”.

Love, prayer, singing are all actions of blessed women.  Their words are joyful, hope-filled, loving, powerful, and prophetical.  As active agents of God, Elizabeth and Mary and not competitors but instead, share joys and struggles.  They are the women who believed; they are the women to believe.  In each other they find, courage, support, and most importantly, love. 

Other Advent Pieces:

Advent Year D

Year D: Advent 1

[1] Source: Rogers’ Thoughts for all Ages

[2] Alexandra Kuykendall, “Loving my Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season”, 2017 page 46

[3] The Gospel of Luke: Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III

[4] The Gospel of Luke: Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III page 34

[5] The Gospel of Luke: Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III page 26

[6] The Gospel of Luke: Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III page 27

[7] The Gospel of Luke: Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III page 32

[8] The Gospel of Luke: Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III pages 38-40

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