4th Sunday of Advent, Year C

1ST READING2ND READINGR&A VOCALSCOMMENTARYBIBLE STUDY

Micah 5:1-4a

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Lector and trainer Lisa Bellecci-St. Romaine gives meaningful insights into the reading while conversing with the viewer throughout her proclamation. (View Archive)
INTRODUCTION

Israel’s great king David had come from the minor town Bethlehem. So every king in the line of David was said to come from there. At a time when corrupt leaders had let Jerusalem fall prey to invasion, and its people to exile, Micah prophesies that God will use a new king to turn things back to the good. —Greg Warnusz

LECTOR PREP (GREG WARNUSZ)
The Historical Situation
The Historical Situation: Among the targets of the prophet Micah were the corrupt leaders of Judah in Jerusalem. He prophesies their doom in chapters 1, 2 and 3. Chapter 4 optimistically predicts the restoration of the people there to a godly state. Furthermore, in Chapter 5 Micah says they’ll be led by a new king, from the town of the great historic king David, Bethlehem-Ephrathah.

To hear “Ephrathah” pronounced, click the link:

(For a moderately satisfying explanation of why the place has two names, click here for the Wikipedia article).

Proclaiming the Passage
The lector should emphasize this contrast: “one who is to be ruler” is to come from the “too small” town of Bethlehem. And this contrast: the simple, godly people, downtrodden and driven away by the corrupt, shall “return to the children of Israel” … “and they shall remain.”
SOURCE: LectorPrep.org — Used with permission.
LECTOR WORKS (PAUL SCHLACHTER)
CENTRAL POINT

A leader is coming to deliver Israel, who shall stand firm and shepherd his flock.

Objectives

lector preparation

  • Message for Assembly: The glorious meaning behind these disheartening events is there if we only bother to look in hope. 
  • Challenge: To fasten my eyes on the leader promised by God through the prophet, and center my reading on him.
Reading Guide/Reflection

Well, Christmas is finally coming tomorrow!  Every homily I have heard in Advent has to do with Christmas, not with Christ.  But now Christmas will be on all our minds.  How then do we pay attention to this reading?

You, Bethlehem-Ephrata. 

  • The prophet is one of the early prophets, and we know how his words influenced the Gospel of Matthew.
  • I hear the drama in this sentence (too small), and I repeat it.  It is meant to be ironic, and I will make it sound ironic by suggesting a question: too small?

From you – shall come forth for me – one who is to be ruler in Israel.

  • The first verse we hear today will be repeated on Epiphany Day.  The English translation makes the meaning more obscure, especially if I do not rehearse it.
  • I will start softly, pausing as I go, and build to a climax:  From you – shall come forth for me – one who is to be ruler in Israel.

Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.

  • All the words are short, laden with age and meaning, and I will give each one its weight.  In fact, what I say could apply to the entire passage, itself nearly three millennia old.

Therefore the Lord will give them up … They shall remain.

  • It sounds obscure at first hearing.  I know that these refer to the Exile and the Return, and the homilist may clarify this later.  If I read them as if they make sense to me, my listeners will find sense in them as well.
  • Micah is a true prophet because he calls the people to trust in God, because he sees the hand of God in the people’s terror and suffering, and because he dares to say it aloud.

By the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name.

  • We began with a birth in a small town, David’s home town but still very small for all that.  We continue through the deliverance of a people, and end with God’s glory.

His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth.

  • I can lift the intensity of my voice in a similar way, from the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ to the God of all towns and cities who has special care for this people.
SOURCE: Lectorworks.org — Used with permission.
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Hebrews 10:5-10

YouTube player
Lector and trainer Lisa Bellecci-St. Romaine gives meaningful insights into the reading while conversing with the viewer throughout her proclamation. (View Archive)

INTRODUCTION

Early Jewish converts to Christ were cut off from institutions and religious practices that had comforted them. The letter to the Hebrews explains how their new relationship with Christ surpasses everything they had before. In this passage, old sacrifices and sin-offerings are gone, but replaced by our ability to imitate Jesus in doing God’s will. —Greg Warnusz

LECTOR PREP (GREG WARNUSZ)
The Historical Situation
The letter to the Hebrews was written for the benefit of Jewish converts to Christianity. When their old friends turned them out of synagogue and Temple, they were bereft. They missed the institutions of Judaism, especially the law, the priesthood, rituals, and sacrifices. The author of this letter is determined to show them that Christ and their relationship with Him in the church replace and improve upon everything they’ve been asked to give up.

So the letter has some complex theological arguments about how the acts and words and legacy of Jesus take the place of the formerly required institutions. The style of argumentation is quite foreign to us. It’s the style of some of the rabbis of the time, where quotes out of context are fair game, and seemingly random ideas, if they share a word or two of vocabulary, can be yoked together to make a point.

Thus in today’s passage Jesus is said to have quoted Psalm 40. Doubtless he did so, at some point in his life, but doubtless he did not do so in an inaugural address at the beginning of his mission. The author is giving an interpretation of Jesus’ whole mission that, simplified, goes like this: Jesus knew that the sacrifices and sin-offerings of Judaism were of no avail, and he doesn’t want his followers relying on them or pining for them. What Jesus did was come into the world and do the Father’s will in the world (something we had been unable to do since Adam and Eve). That Jesus did so wins for us everything we might have hoped to gain from a lifetime of ritual sacrifices.

Our Liturgical Situation
So what is this doing in our calendar of readings today? Didn’t the editors of the Lectionary know that this is when we want tidings of comfort and joy, when we want to identify with the little drummer boy playing for the baby, when our Christmas sentiments are the most, well, sentimental? This cold dose of high theology might be appointed for proclamation today because it portrays the Son of God accepting a human body; that incarnation is a Christmas theme. Or maybe it’s here because it gives the most profound of statements about why Jesus came into the world at all, “Behold, I come to do your will.”
Proclaiming the Passage
Given the likely seasonal disposition of the assembly, and the complexity of the argument here, what’s the lector to do? In the past, I said I would just emphasize the sentence

Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.”

and let the inspirations fall where they may.

However, a more faithful response would be to treat this like every other reading, on any Sunday of the year. That is, figure out what is the point of the reading and how to get that point across. The point is that Christ in our lives wants to replace some things we’ve grown comfortable with. What he offers is better, but the change is scary. For Jesus the issue was doing the Father’s will, even if that will contradicted traditional ideas and made obsolete traditional practices. You get that point across by making your own the mind of Jesus, then reciting this speech as he would have recited it. Doing so will make a difference in the life of the lector and the lives of some listeners, if not in the hurly-burly of the last week of Advent, then in good time, before Jesus comes again.

SOURCE: LectorPrep.org — Used with permission.
LECTOR WORKS (PAUL SCHLACHTER)

CENTRAL POINT

I come to do your will

Objectives
  • lector preparationMessage for the assembly: Do we really see God in the simplest people around us?  Or are we swayed by external shows of splendor?
  • Challenge: To continue to remind myself that the greatness of Christ comes from his union with God, his responsiveness to God.
Reading Guide/Reflection

I have just heard how the prophet found a divine strategy at work in a small town.  We learn two further truths in this passage about the Christ.

when Christ came into the world.  Behold, I come to do your will, O God.

  • The author reminds us that Jesus did not forget where he came from, as we might say.  He quotes from Psalm 40, putting it in the mouth of Christ when Christ came into the world.  Behold, I come to do your will, O God.  Psalms are rhythmical and lyrical by nature, and I can suggest this as I read the verses.

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire.

  • He also suggests that God is like this, too.  Sacrifice and offering you did not desire.  In another prophetic psalm it says that God has no need to eat beef or drink the blood of bulls.  And God’s will, as Hosea has reminded us, has to do with “mercy and not sacrifices.”  I’m not writing about chief executives walking around in denim jackets, but about the most defenseless and strangers among us.

He takes away the first to establish the second.

  • We believe in Jesus Christ who is for us the embodiment of God.  ‘Establish’ is the key word here.  The author means that the life Jesus lived for others surpasses a life of fidelity to the law.
SOURCE: Lectorworks.org — Used with permission.
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Gregory Warnusz

Sunday Scriptures for Community Leaders