Mission Center: The Episcopal Church: Community

Week of December 18, 2011 - 4 Advent (B)


Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 3 or Canticle 15 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

Welcome to this week’s online Bible study. Please join in the conversation by e-mailing your comments to sjohnson@episcopalchurch.org. If you find you don’t have time to go over all the readings, please simply consider the following verse from this week’s scripture:

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38).


12/18/11 Old Testament

RCL reading for Sunday, December 18, 2011:
Excerpt from the New Revised Standard Version via Oremus (http://bible.oremus.org)

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him,
2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’
3 Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’

4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:
5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?
6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.
7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’
8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;
9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly,
11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.

16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.


 Carol said ...  
    In today’s Old Testament reading, we find David trying to take care of God. In response, God firmly reminds David that, in fact, it is God who is in charge, who will make a house for David. So often we, like David, allow our own anxiety to propel us into action. We fail to recognize God’s abundant care in our lives. Rather than slowing down to listen to God, we race to control our lives: our churches, our families, our bank accounts. We often squander so much energy taking care of the details of our lives that there is no room left for God. We don’t actually turn to God, rely on God. Yet God tells David, and with him all of Israel, that God is ever with him, every moment of every day. So for David to want to build a house of cedar for God’s presence is to fundamentally misunderstand who God is and how God works in the world and in human lives. We don’t take care of God; God takes care of us.
  What are you anxious about that God may be waiting to provide for you this Advent?

Mark said ...
   What does where you live say about who you are?
   What sort of framework does a “house of cedar” require that is different from a tent; and how does that concept apply to you and/or your community?


12/18/11 Psalm

RCL reading for Sunday, December 18, 2011:
Excerpt from The (Online) Book of Common Prayer (p. 50, BCP)

Canticle 3 / Canticle 15 (Luke 1:46-55) The Song of Mary Magnificat

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
    the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
    in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
    and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
    for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers,
    to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
    as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.


 Carol said ...
  This is a familiar song, yet I am struck each time I come to it by the depth of the transformation it presents. Mary’s words here are part of a broader conversation. Just prior to this, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth honors Mary as the mother of God. Mary, though, turns the praise back toward God, honoring the way God uses the lowly and insignificant, the poor and unimportant, who will receive the deliverance of God. The rich and powerful, though, will reject it and walk away empty. God’s mercy transforms lives, turns things upside down, liberates us so that we can see with new eyes the changes that God brings into the world.
  In what aspects of your life do you feel lowly and poor?
  In what ways might God be using these to transform and liberate you?


12/18/11 Psalm 2

RCL reading for Sunday, December 18, 2011:
Excerpt from The (Online) Book of Common Prayer (p. 713, BCP)

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

1 Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing;
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
2 For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever;
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
3 "I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
4 'I will establish your line for ever,
and preserve your throne for all generations.'"

19 You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people:
"I have set the crown upon a warrior
and have exalted one chosen out of the people.
20 I have found David my servant;
with my holy oil have I anointed him.
21 My hand will hold him fast
and my arm will make him strong.
22 No enemy shall deceive him,
nor any wicked man bring him down.
23 I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and love shall be with him,
and he shall be victorious through my Name.
25 I shall make his dominion extend
from the Great Sea to the River.
26 He will say to me, 'You are my Father,
my God, and the rock of my salvation.'"




12/18/11 Epistle
RCL reading for Sunday, December 18, 2011:
Excerpt from the New Revised Standard Version via Oremus (http://bible.oremus.org)

Romans 16: 25-27

25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—
27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.


 Carol said ...
  Romans ends as it began: in praise of God, whose story is given through the prophets and revealed in Jesus Christ so that believers can be faithfully obedient. In these closing verses of chapter 16 (which is one long sentence), the author is giving a doxology – a saying about God’s glory. In it we find again that God works throughout the ages to be revealed. What was once mystery has been revealed: Jesus’ coming is how God’s glory is disclosed. God breaks into history for all humanity – Jew and Gentile. And as we approach the culmination of Advent, this passage points us to anticipate the ways in which God’s glory is revealed – in our lives, in our churches, in our world, in all history.
  What does Jesus’ coming disclose about God?
  How is God’s glory shown in lives today?

Mark said ...
    How does “obedience of faith” (v.26) to Christianity enable personal strength?
    What determines wheter your commitments to other people are a source of strength versus a reflection of weakness?


12/18/11 Gospel
RCL reading for Sunday, December 18, 2011:
Excerpt from the New Revised Standard Version via Oremus (http://bible.oremus.org)

Luke 1: 26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’
29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.
31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’
35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
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.’
38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.


 Carol said ...
  “For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord”  (Luke 1:37-38).
  We live in a modern world, based on scientific hypotheses and observations. Even the most unscientifically minded of us is a product of the scientific revolution. So we come to this passage full of questions, seeking explanations, demanding that things make sense. Yet this is a story of faith. Gabriel, here for the second time in this first chapter of Luke, gives a birth announcement, much like that of Samson or John the Baptist. Only this birth is special, miraculous. Mary is confused at first, but Gabriel’s words reassure her: with God nothing is impossible. By accepting God’s initiation, Mary becomes part of the in-breaking of God into the world through the incarnation in Jesus. Mary accepts the unexplainable and offers herself to God’s service.
  What are the unexplainable things in your world today about which you seek answers from God?
  In what way may God be calling you to bring to birth some part of God’s kingdom?

Mark said ...
    In a complex (uncertain) world, how do you gauge when you “know enough” to make a good decision – particularly when much is at stake?
    Who can and should you consult with to improve your decision making in life?
    How does being a Christian impact the way you make life decisions?
    Today’s passages remind me about the importance of finding and living our mission. It implies that at some point, we move on from being nomads living in a tent. After having explored lots of territory and challenged who we are, we narrow our focus, find a place to settle down, and build a life which combines seasoned life principles with a sense of permanence.
    We have free will…and in this country more than most, flexibility to pursue almost any pathway we choose. This can be a challenging process, but it is filled with possibilities. What really matters is not that we have the choice, but that we actually make it and live the results.
    One measure of the degree of success we have in living our mission is the continued improvement in how we make choices, and hopefully, the resulting increase in meaning we obtain from living the results. Because meaning is realized through interactions with others, it is important to periodically reflect on the quality and depth of our relationships – particularly with those closest to us. Such reflection, including seeking opinions from others will translate into a life improvement process that builds character.
    At a fundamental level, improving our decision making process requires we review and prioritize our basic motivations. From today’s passage from Luke, I suspect Mary could not possibly appreciate the degree to which her life was about to be impacted – but she embraced her fundamental motive to trust God. He was the player, she was the pawn to be moved in support of God’s plan.
    Value and purpose emerge when our decisions and choices in life are shaped on motives that include concern for others – and reflect the spiritual presence of our moral perspective.
    My prayer for all of us is to have the wisdom to look outside of ourselves in making life choices….our moral character will strengthen as we do.
    "Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstance." — Thomas Carlyle
    "The single clenched fist lifted and ready, Or the open hand held out and waiting. Choose: For we meet by one or the other." — Carl Sandburg
    "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of great moral crises maintain their neutrality." — Dante Aleghieri



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