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advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauMy long-time readers will remember that several years ago I wrote about the O Antiphons, which are Bible readings in the run-up to Christmas.

The posts are listed below and even though I am a bit late in listing them, as they start on December 17, those looking for extra meditations before Christmas Day may find them useful:

The O Antiphon for December 17 (2013)

The O Antiphon for December 17 (2014)

The O Antiphon for December 18 (2013)

December 18: a second O Antiphon for this day (2014)

The O Antiphon for December 19 (2013)

December 19: a second O Antiphon for this day (2014)

The O Antiphon for December 20

The O Antiphon for December 21

The O Antiphon for December 22

December 22: another O Antiphon for this day (2014)

The O Antiphon for December 23

December 23: another O Antiphon for this day (2014)

I wish everyone well in their Christmas preparations, materially and spiritually.

The Fourth (and final) Sunday of Advent is December 19, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,

1:40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit

1:42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

1:43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

1:44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us so that we can better appreciate these two miraculous pregnancies:

Two pregnant women, two miracle mothers One is old, married for many years, childless and barren The other is young, having never been married and a virgin One in her 70s or so, one in her early teens.  Interestingly enough they are relatives.  They have both been chosen by God to be the human instruments for the birth of two very, very unusual men: John the Baptist, the greatest prophet who ever lived up until his time, and Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, Savior of the world.

These two conception miracles, these two miracles in the womb of two women launch the whole series of messianic miracles The whole miraculous coming of Christ begins with these two conception miracles.  And at that point God has injected Himself miraculously into the otherwise non-miraculous course of life.  As I told you before, there hasn’t been a miracle in over 400 years. There hasn’t been a series of miracles in at least 500 years.  Nobody has heard from an angel or even from God in well over 400 years Miracles didn’t happen.  God didn’t speak.  Angels didn’t show up until now.  And it all begins with these two amazing conceptions: Elizabeth, chosen to be the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Messiah; and Mary, chosen to be the mother of Messiah, the Son of God.

In both cases the angel Gabriel came to make the announcement In the first case, the angel Gabriel came to Zacharias, who was the father of John the Baptist, and Zacharias received the message from Gabriel that he and his wife, Elizabeth, together would conceive and have a son who would be the greatest prophet, the forerunner of Messiah.  Gabriel then came later to a virgin, to Mary, and gave her the message that we saw in verses 26 to 33, that she without a man would be given a child who would be the Son of God.  So all of a sudden redemptive history reaches its great high point.

Luke tells us that Mary set out with haste to go to a Judean town in the hill country (verse 39).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Mary was on a spiritual mission to better understand the importance of hers and her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancies:

She arose, and left her affairs, to attend this greater matter: in those days, at that time (as it is commonly explained, Jeremiah 33:15; Jeremiah 50:4), in a day or two after the angel had visited her, taking some time first, as it is supposed, for her devotion, or rather hastening away to her cousin’s, where she would have more leisure, and better help, in the family of a priest. She went, meta spoudes–with care, diligence, and expedition; not as young people commonly go abroad and visit their friends, to divert herself, but to inform herself: she went to a city of Judah in the hill-country; it is not named, but by comparing the description of it here with Joshua 21:10; Joshua 21:11, it appears to be Hebron, for that is there said to be in the hill-country of Judah, and to belong to the priests, the sons of Aaron; thither Mary hastened, though it was a long journey, some scores of miles.

Henry says that Dr Lightfoot, an eminent Bible scholar, believed that Mary conceived miraculously at Hebron:

Dr. Lightfoot offers a conjecture that she was to conceive our Saviour there at Hebron, and perhaps had so much intimated to her by the angel, or some other way; and therefore she made such haste thither. He thinks it probable that Shiloh, of the tribe of Judah, and the seed of David, should be conceived in a city of Judah and of David, as he was to be born in Bethlehem, another city which belonged to them both. In Hebron the promise was given to Isaac, circumcision was instituted. Here (saith he) Abraham had his first land, and David his first crown: here lay interred the three couples, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, and, as antiquity has held, Adam and Eve. He therefore thinks that it suits singularly with the harmony and consent which God uses in his works that the promise should begin to take place by the conception of the Messias, even among those patriarchs to whom it was given. I see no improbability in the conjecture, but add this for the support of it, that Elisabeth said (Luke 1:45; Luke 1:45), There shall be a performance; as if it were not performed yet, but was to be performed there.

MacArthur gives us a geographical note:

Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judah. That would be around Jerusalem in the south of Israel Mary lived in Nazareth, a small town in the Galilee, as it’s known, and that is in the north of Israel, separated by seventy-five or eighty miles or so

It would take her about three or four days to get there.

Mary entered the house of Zacharias, a local priest who served two weeks every year in the temple, and his wife Elizabeth, whom she greeted (verse 40).

Zacharias did not believe Gabriel’s message of a son, so God struck him deaf and dumb, a state in which he would remain until it came time to name John. That was another controversial moment, because John was not a family name, yet Zacharias wrote it on a slate, at which point, God restored his hearing and speech.

With that in mind, Henry says that the elderly priest was keeping to his room, leaving the two women alone to talk:

Mary entered into the house of Zacharias; but he, being dumb and deaf, kept his chamber, it is probable, and saw no company; and therefore she saluted Elisabeth (Luke 1:40; Luke 1:40), told her she was come to make her a visit, to know her state, and rejoice with her in her joy.

MacArthur explains what ‘greeting’ meant in the ancient world. It was more than a simple salutation. It was a conversation involving catching up on personal news:

It was not something brief.  It was not some kind of simple formula.  What was involved in a greeting was a lengthy dialogue.  It was sort of a…sort of a ceremonial social occasion, the significance of which lay in the content of the conversation I’ll give you an illustration of it.  And there might be a number of them that you could use, but back in 18 of Exodus it says in verse 7, “Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and he bowed down and kissed him and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent.”  Now that is a classic, ancient Near Eastern greeting.  There’s an embrace, a physical expression of affection and then in the tent they go to talk about how life is with both of them.  That’s exactly what we can assume occurred upon Mary’s arrival when it says, “She greeted Elizabeth.”  She went in and a typical traditional greeting began to take place which would be hours of conversation And my, they had a lot to talk about, an awful lot to talk about.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the future John the Baptist leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 41).

Elizabeth was probably six months pregnant at this point.

Henry expands on this movement of the future prophet in Elizabeth’s womb:

It is very probable that she had been several weeks quick (for she was six months gone), and that she had often felt the child stir; but this was a more than ordinary motion of the child, which alarmed her to expect something very extraordinary, eskirtese. It is the same word that is used by the LXX. (Genesis 25:22) for the struggling of Jacob and Esau in Rebecca’s womb, and the mountains skipping, Psalms 114:4. The babe leaped as it were to give a signal to his mother that he was now at had whose forerunner he was to be, about six months in ministry, as he was in being; or, it was the effect of some strong impression made upon the mother. Now began to be fulfilled what the angel said to his father (Luke 1:15; Luke 1:15), that he should be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb; and perhaps he himself had some reference to this, when he said (John 3:29), The friend of the Bridegroom rejoiceth greatly, because of the Bridegroom’s voice, heard, though not by him, yet by his mother.

Elizabeth, filled with joy and awe, spoke loudly, proclaiming that Mary was blessed among women and blessed was the fruit of her womb (verse 42).

That verse is part of the Catholic prayer, the Hail Mary.

It was also an ancient Jewish greeting, bestowing honour among a mother.

MacArthur tells us:

First of all, “Blessed are you among women.”  That’s a simple Hebrew construction that means you’re the most blessed of all women.  You’re the most blessed of all women.  Why?  Well in the Hebrew culture, in the Jewish world, a woman gained her greatest stature on the basis of her children That was it.  A woman’s greatness was tied to the greatness of the children she bore Over in the eleventh chapter of Luke this comes up again.  Jesus is speaking, verse 27, “It came about while He said these things one of the women in the crowd raised her voice.”  Some woman in the crowd yelled at Him and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed.”  That was a typical Jewish way to honor a mother because you saw the greatness of her child And so Elizabeth is saying, you are the most blessed because you have the greatest child.

Elizabeth, the aged wife of a priest, did not begrudge her young cousin her divine pregnancy. In fact, she praised it loudly and rejoiced with her.

Henry explains:

She said, Blessed art thou among women, the same word that the angels had said (Luke 1:28; Luke 1:28); for thus this will of God, concerning honouring the Son, should be done on earth as it is done in heaven. But Elisabeth adds a reason, Therefore blessed art thou because blessed is the fruit of thy womb; thence it was that she derived this excelling dignity. Elisabeth was the wife of a priest, and in years, yet she grudges not that her kinswoman, who was many years younger than she, and every way her inferior, should have the honour of conceiving in her virginity, and being the mother of the Messiah, whereas the honour put upon her was much less; she rejoices in it, and is well pleased, as her son was afterwards, that she who cometh after her is preferred before her, John 1:27. Note, While we cannot but own that we are more favoured of God than we deserve, let us by no means envy that others are more highly favoured than we are.

Elizabeth continues in humility, asking how it can be that the mother of her Lord — the Messiah — deigned to visit her (verse 43).

Henry says:

Observe, (1.) She calls the virgin Mary the mother of her Lord (as David in spirit, called the Messiah Lord, his Lord), for she knew he was to be Lord of all. (2.) She not only bids her welcome to her house, though perhaps she came in mean circumstances, but reckons this visit a great favour, which she thought herself unworthy of. Whence is this to me? It is in reality, and not in compliment, that she saith, “This was a greater favour than I could have expected.” Note, Those that are filled with the Holy Ghost have low thoughts of their own merits, and high thoughts of God’s favours. Her son the Baptist spoke to the same purport with this, when he said, Comest thou to me? Matthew 3:14.

Elizabeth tells Mary that as soon as she (Mary) greeted her, the baby leapt for joy in her womb (verse 44).

MacArthur explains the prophecy behind it:

This is not completely without precedent.  If you go back to Genesis 25, do you remember a mother by the name of Rebekah?  And Rebekah had in her womb two boys, remember that?  Remember their names?  Jacob and EsauAnd God gave prophecies through those two little unborn boys in verse 22 of Genesis 25 The children… It says in verse 21, she conceived, Rebekah conceived, Isaac and Rebekah, “The children struggled together within her.”  Now it’s one thing for two brothers to fight when they’re born; these guys started in the womb.  And she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?”  So she went to the Lord and she said, “Lord, You know, why is all this going on inside of me?”  And He said, “It’s prophetic.”  He said to her, “Two nations are in your womb.”  That’s right.  Jacob was the nation Israel, and Esau the Arab world “Two nations in your womb.  Two people shall be separated from your body, one people will be stronger than the other.  The older shall serve the younger.”  There’s conflict going on in your womb that is prophetic of conflict that’s going to go on when those two children are born. That conflict is still going on today as we speak between Israel and the Arab world, between Jacob and Esau.

So God, when He wants to, can send a prophetic message through something physical occurring in a woman’s womb It’s a very unusual thing.  That’s the only Old Testament occasion of such and this is the only New Testament occasion of such But after all, folks, there isn’t any human explanation of this.  This is a miraculous time, isn’t it?  This is a miraculous set of conceptions here.  We would expect miraculous things to be going on as God is moving toward the arrival of the Savior of the world, the Messiah.  Movements of a fetus are normal and common, but this is not one of those. This is not coincidental. We know that because of verse 44, Elizabeth gets a message from God.  “Behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb,” to reposition itself.  Is that what it said?  It doesn’t say that.  The baby was not motivated by anything other than what? Joy, joy.  Elizabeth interprets the child’s movements.

Now I want to tell you, John the Baptist was really a true prophet.  If he couldn’t speak, he just jumped.  And that’s all he could do.  He could only leap.  He could only jump with divinely inspired delight.  His mother had to speak under the inspiration of God to interpret that.  So in a physical way John the Baptist, while still in the womb, gave his approval to the birth of the Messiah. Isn’t that great?  That was not just the normal course of things. That was a word from God through the physical realm.

Then Elizabeth gives a blessing, unspecified as to whom it is intended (verse 45). It is intended towards anyone, including Mary and Elizabeth, who believed that the Lord would fulfil the words that He spoke.

MacArthur says:

It’s really sort of like a general beatitude. It just sort of widens everything up.  “And blessed is she,” anybody, “who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  Blessed is she, sure that’s Mary, of course, blessed is Mary because she believed.  But, you know, it doesn’t say “blessed are you, Mary,” it just says “blessed is she” and it puts it in the third person. Anybody who believes God fulfills His promises is going to be blessed, right?  And so the beatitude starts with Mary, moves to the child, embraces Elizabeth and goes beyond.

The remaining verses are known traditionally as The Magnificat (exaltation) and, more recently, the Song of Mary.

Mary speaks with such faith for such a young person. She also speaks in a highly Psalm-like way.

Henry says Mary must have been very tired after such a long journey, yet she felt moved to praise God before settling down to rest or take refreshment:

We may suppose the blessed virgin to come in, very much fatigued with her journey; yet she forgets that, and is inspired with new life, and vigour, and joy, upon the confirmation she here meets with of her faith; and since, by the sudden inspiration and transport, she finds that this was designed to be her errand hither, weary as she is, like Abraham’s servant, she would neither eat nor drink till she had told her errand.

Mary begins by saying that her soul magnifies the Lord (verse 46), exalting Him, praising Him.

MacArthur tells us that she understood and believed Scripture:

The psalm that Mary pours out here contains numerous references to the law, to the Psalms, and to the writings of the prophets It indicates that this young teen-aged girl knew her Old Testament It’s a great testimony to her own life and her devotion It’s a great testimony to her parents and how she had been raised to love the Word of God and to know it very well And it’s not as if before offering this praise she has to go and find a concordance so she can bring together the assorted verses.  They just flow from within her.

For example, she starts out in verse 46 by saying. “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” which is an echo of Psalm 34:2, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord.”

Mary says that her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour (verse 47).

MacArthur gives us the reference:

In verse 47 she says, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” which echoes Isaiah 45:21, “There is no God else beside Me, a just God and a Savior.” 

In the next two verses, she praises God for His blessings to her.

She says that He has looked down upon the lowliness of His servant, adding that all generations will call her blessed (verse 48).

She says that the Mighty One — God — has done great things for her and holy is His name (verse 49).

Henry has an interesting insight into that verse, basing it on Old Testament episodes involving lowly women:

Upon her own account, Luke 1:48; Luke 1:49. [1.] Her spirit rejoiced in the Lord, because of the kind things he had done for her: his condescension and compassion to her. He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden; that is, he has looked upon her with pity, for so the word is commonly used. “He has chosen me to this honour, notwithstanding my great meanness, poverty, and obscurity.” Nay, the expression seems to intimate, not only (to allude to that of Gideon, Judges 6:15) that her family was poor in Judah, but that she was the least in her father’s house, as if she were under some particular contempt and disgraced among her relations, was unjustly neglected, and the outcast of the family, and God put this honour upon her, to balance abundantly the contempt. I … rather suggest this, for we find something toward such honour as this put upon others, on the like consideration. Because God saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, Genesis 29:31. Because Hannah was provoked, and made to fret, and insulted over, by Peninnah, therefore God gave her a son, 1 Samuel 1:19. Whom men wrongfully depress and despise God doth sometimes, in compassion to them, especially if they have borne it patiently, prefer and advance; see Judges 11:7. So in Mary’s case. And, if God regards her low estate, he not only thereby gives a specimen of his favour to the whole race of mankind, whom he remembers in their low estate, as the psalmist speaks (Psalms 136:23), but secures a lasting honour to her (for such the honour is that God bestows, honour that fades not away): “From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, shall think me a happy woman and highly advanced.” All that embrace Christ and his gospel will say, Blessed was the womb that bore him and the paps which he sucked,Luke 11:27. Elizabeth had once and again called her blessed: “But that is not all,” saith she, “all generations of Gentiles as well as Jews shall call me so.” [2.] Her soul magnifies the Lord, because of the wonderful things he had done for her (Luke 1:49; Luke 1:49): He that is mighty has done to me great things. A great thing indeed, that a virgin should conceive. A great thing indeed, that Messiah, who had been so long promised to the church, and so long expected by the church, should now at length be born. It is the power of the Highest that appears in this. She adds, and holy is his name; for so Hannah saith her song, There is none holy as the Lord, which she explains in the next words, for there is none beside thee,1 Samuel 2:2. God is a Being by himself, and he manifests himself to be so, especially in the work of our redemption. He that is mighty, even he whose name is holy, has done to me great things. Glorious things may be expected from him that is both mighty and holy; who can do every thing, and will do every thing well and for the best.

MacArthur gives us the Old Testament verses:

… in verse 48 she says, “He has regarded the lowest state of His handmaid,” which echoes 1 Samuel 1:11, “If Thou wilt indeed look on the infliction of Thine handmaid and remember me and not forget Thy handmaid,” the words of Hannah It is also is reminiscent of Psalm 136:23, “Who remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endures forever.”  Again in verse 48 she says, “Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” which echoes the words of Leah in Genesis 30 verse 13, “Happy am I for the daughters will call me blessed.”  In verse 49 she says, “He that is mighty has done to me great things,” which echoes Psalm 126:3, “The Lord has done great things for us whereof we are glad.”  And then in verse 49 she says, “Holy is His name,” directly quoting Psalm 111:9, “Holy and reverend is His name.”  And so it goes that she is very well versed in the Old Testament as she unfolds her familiarity with Scripture and applies it to her own situation.

Then Mary goes on to praise God for the mercy and blessings He has bestowed on others throughout the course of Jewish history and going forward into the future.

She says that He bestows mercy on those who live in a (holy) fear of Him (verse 50).

Henry says this is an echo of Hannah’s words:

… as Hannah (1 Samuel 2:3, &c.). In this she has especially an eye to the coming of the Redeemer and God’s manifesting himself therein.

Also:

It is a certain truth that God has mercy in store, mercy in reserve, for all that have a reverence for his majesty, and a due regard to his sovereignty and authority. But never did this appear so as in sending his Son into the world to save us (Luke 1:50; Luke 1:50): His mercy is on them that fear him; it has always been so; he has ever looked upon them with an eye of peculiar favour who have looked up to him with and eye of filial fear. But he hath manifested this mercy, so as never before, in sending his Son to bring in an everlasting righteousness, and work out an everlasting salvation, for them that fear him, and this from generation to generation; for there are gospel privileges transmitted by entail, and intended for perpetuity. Those that fear God, as their Creator and Judge, are encouraged to hope for mercy in him, through their Mediator and Advocate; and in him mercy is settled upon all that fear God, pardoning mercy, healing mercy, accepting mercy, crowning mercy, from generation to generation, while the world stands. In Christ he keepeth mercy for thousands.

Mary says that God has shown strength with His arm in scattering the proud in the thoughts in their hearts (verse 51).

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones to lift up the lowly instead (verse 52).

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty (verse 53).

Henry explains:

First, In the course of his providence, it is his usual method to cross the expectations of men, and proceed quite otherwise than they promise themselves. Proud men expect to carry all before them, to have their way and their will; but he scatters them in the imagination of their hearts, breaks their measures, blasts their projects, nay, and brings them low, and brings them down, by those very counsels with which they thought to advance and establish themselves. The mighty think to secure themselves by might in their seats, but he puts them down, and overturns their seats; while, on the other hand, those of low degree, who despaired of ever advancing themselves, and thought of no other than of being ever low, are wonderfully exalted. This observation concerning honour holds likewise concerning riches; many who were so poor that they had not bread for themselves and their families, by some surprising turn of Providence in favour of them, come to be filled with good things; while, on the other hand, those who were rich, and thought no other than that to-morrow should be as this day, that their mountain stood strong and should never be moved, are strangely impoverished, and sent away empty. Now this is the same observation that Hannah had made, and enlarged upon, in her song, with application to the case of herself and her adversary (1 Samuel 2:4-9.2.7), which very much illustrates this here. And compare also Psalms 107:33-19.107.41; Psalms 113:7-19.113.9; Ecclesiastes 9:11. God takes a pleasure in disappointing their expectations who promise themselves great things in the world, and in out-doing the expectations of those who promise themselves but a little; as a righteous God, it is his glory to abase those who exalt themselves, and strike terror on the secure; and, as a good God, it is his glory to exalt those who humble themselves, and to speak comfort to those who fear before him. Secondly, This doth especially appear in the methods of gospel grace.

Finally, Mary remembers the covenant that God made with Abraham.

God helped His servant Israel, showing her mercy (verse 54) according to the promises He made to the Jewish ancestors, Abraham and his descendants forever (verse 55).

Henry says:

Note, What God has spoken he will perform; what he hath spoken to the fathers will be performed to their seed; to their seed’s seed, in blessings that shall last for ever.

In closing, many of us wonder how Mary could have explained her pregnancy and left her family’s house on her own at such a tender age.

MacArthur runs us through the possible scenarios:

I think Mary went for the confirmation but I also think she went to see Elizabeth because she knew only Elizabeth would believe her I mean, let’s try to put it in a normal context.  Your 13-year-old daughter comes in and says, “I’m pregnant.”  And you say, “What?”  And she says, “An angel came to me and told me that I have been impregnated by God and I’m going to be the mother of the Savior of the world.”  “Really?”

Sounds like something a teenager would come up with, doesn’t it?  What in the world kind of wild story, I mean…at least try to find something rational.  I mean, there would be only…there would be only the slightest glimmer of hope that anybody would believe that Even Joseph, who knew Mary well, made the natural assumption when he found out she was with child, he assumed that she had violated her betrothal vows to him and committed sin.  And he says, “I’m either going to have to stone her or divorce her.”  And he loved her and he knew her and he knew the family and he must have known something about her character and it must have seemed out of character for her to have done some sin like that, but there wasn’t any other explanation.  Frankly, there was only one woman on the earth who would buy Mary’s story.  Who was it?  Elizabeth.  Only one place she could go and tell this tale.

The text doesn’t say anything about what she may or may not have said to her family or Joseph or anybody else.  It just says she was out of there to Elizabeth, the only person who would have any rational reason to believe that what she was saying was in fact true.  Telling Elizabeth first made sense.

Then Elizabeth could be support for her when she told everybody else Because Elizabeth was living, personal confirmation that God was doing conception miracles You tell anybody else and they’re going to think Mary’s made up this preposterous story about Gabriel and being the mother of the Son of God. Nobody would believe that.  But Elizabeth would believe it.  And the parallels were really startling.

This is one of my favourite passages in the New Testament. Atheists hate it because it involves the supernatural. Some clergy hate it, too, for the same reasons. However, believers love it because it shows that, with God, all things are possible.

It is one of the passages that makes the Christmas story so wonderful and meaningful.

The Third Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday — is December 12, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:7-18

3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

3:11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

3:13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Luke 3 is excellent, full of pithy observations.

This particular Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, the one in Advent which is full of joy. Traditionalist priests wear a rose vestment to signify that happiness in the expectation of our Saviour’s birth. The corresponding Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday, when we anticipate Christ’s resurrection after His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.

On the face of it, today’s Gospel reading does not seem very cheery. However, Henry has this to say of the state of our own souls and of John the Baptist’s heralding of Christ’s ministry:

When way is made for the gospel into the heart, by the captivation of high thoughts and bringing them into obedience to Christ, by the leveling of the soul and the removing of all obstructions that stand in the way of Christ and his grace, then prepare to bid the salvation of God welcome

We are now drawing near to the appearance of our Lord Jesus publicly; the Sun will not be long after the morning-star.

Therefore, it is a time of joy as we further prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child.

We pick up from where we left off last week, when John exhorted the people to make straight the path of the Lord, our King, the Messiah. Luke gives us a full sense of John the Baptist’s preaching.

How was it that so many Jews — and undoubtedly some Gentiles — turned out for John the Baptist?

John MacArthur explains that they would have known his miraculous family story of his aged parents Elizabeth and Zacharias:

Now people came out to see John. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that all Jerusalem and all Judea came out. And there is a reason for that. I’m sure people knew about John. I’m sure the story had circulated through the thirty-year period that an old priest by the name of Zacharias, and Elizabeth, were able to conceive a son miraculously and that Gabriel the angel told Zacharias it would happen and that the son would be the forerunner of the Messiah and that that son was alive and he was out in the wilderness and he was a prophet of God. I’m sure that circulated outside the family of Zacharias and Elizabeth and circulated around the related relatives, Mary and Joseph and their family, because they all knew the story. The story must have spread. The fact that Gabriel showed up, the fact that a miraculous birth had occurred, the fact that the Messiah’s forerunner had been born must have been to some extent around so that people knew about it. And once John began to preach and announce the coming of Messiah, the people came out. They were curious. They were ready for the Messiah. They wanted the Messiah. They were compelled by their curiosity. They were compelled by the fact that this could be it, this could be true. I mean, how else can you explain Gabriel showing up? And how else can you explain an old priestly couple having a miraculous child? Maybe this is it. So the people desired to come and find out if indeed he was the forerunner of Messiah and if indeed the Messiah had come.

They were ready. They wanted to participate in the long-awaited blessings promised to Abraham and David. They were really weary of the oppression of the Romans. They were weary of never having independent authority and sovereignty and rule. They were weary of the way things were. They were excited with messianic hope.

John the Baptist did not mince his words. He called his audience a ‘brood of vipers’ and asked who warned them about the wrath to come (verse 7).

Today, we would say that his approach was not very nice, or, in theological parlance, not ‘seeker-friendly’. He would have received a pasting by both traditional and social media.

MacArthur elaborates on the imagery of vipers:

First of all, I think he’s calling them children of Satan.  Jesus did that in John 8:44. He said to the Jewish leaders, “You’re of your father, the devil,” didn’t He?  He said, “You’re of your father, the devil.”  Jesus said to the Pharisees, Jewish leaders, Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23 I think it’s verse 33, both places, “You brood of vipers,” same phrase exactly.  Jesus said it twice to the Jewish leaders. You sons of snakes!  I think he’s really identifying them with their father.  The devil appeared in the Garden in Genesis 3 in what form?  A serpent.  And according to the Scriptures he is a serpent, as clearly indicated in Revelation chapter 12.  So he is… He’s really telling them, you belong to Satan, you snakes.  What he’s saying to them is, you are running from the fire but not interested in any change of your nature.  You’re still snakes. You’re just scrambling in front of the fire.  Shallow repenters are offsprings of that snake, Satan.

By the way, Matthew 3:7, when Matthew writes about the preaching of John, says when John said this, at least on the occasion of Matthew writing, he said it to Pharisees and SadduceesLuke says he said it to everybody So particularly to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were the most vicious, poisonous and deadly, deadliest of all the snakes, of all the children of Satan because they wore the name of God, as it were, on the outside but were satanic on the inside. Thus their hypocrisy was more devastating.  He says you’re the worst of it, the rest of you also belong to the same nature, same satanic nature.  Beyond just the Pharisees and the Sadducees, all those people had the very nature of Satan. They were the children of Satan.  And he’s pointing out their superficiality. He says, your repentance is superficial because your true nature is vicious, your true nature is of the serpent, your true nature is poisonous, your true nature is hostile, your true nature is deadly, particularly those Pharisees and Sadducees, paraded themselves as if they represented God and they were just…just biting the people and filling them with poison.

Henry says that John refused to flatter any of the Jewish hierarchy who came to hear him. As far as John was concerned, all were tarred with the same brush of sin, hence a universal message to all:

… he did not alter it in compliment to the Pharisees and Sadducees, when they came, but dealt as plainly with them as with any other of his hearers. And as he did not flatter the great, so neither did he compliment the many, or make his court to them, but gave the same reproofs of sin and warnings of wrath to the multitude that he did to the Sadducees and Pharisees; for, if they had not the same faults, they had others as bad.

The idea that they had to be baptised must have been shocking for the Jews, because baptism was a cleansing ritual that Gentiles who wished to convert went through, not those born into the Covenant.

MacArthur tells us that, despite such a message, the people obeyed:

The people were so compelled by this that they did it. They came. They heard John and they got baptized which was a great admission on their part. To some degree they were saying, we’re outside, okay we’re outside, we’ve got to get inside and so we’ll go through this even if it is an acknowledgement that humbles us, by having to admit that we aren’t in the kingdom, we’re on the outside, no better off than a Gentile proselyte wanting to become associated with Judaism.

John could see that theirs was a superficial faith of belonging to the Covenant but not needing to do more than obey Mosaic law, so he insisted that they bear true fruits of repentance, warning them not to rely on their ancestry from Abraham, because God could make children of Abraham out of the nearby stones (verse 8).

Henry says:

By the fruits of repentance it will be known whether it be sincere or no. By the change of our way must be evidenced the change of our mind.

… If we be not really holy, both in heart and life, our profession of religion and relation to God and his church will stand us in no stead at all: Begin not now to frame excuses from this great duty of repentance, by saying within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.

On that point, how many of us have heard a sermon preaching repentance this year, or any year? I have not.

MacArthur laments this omission from today’s churches:

John understands the reality of shallow faith. John understands the reality of shallow repentance, false repentance. And this sample of his preaching demonstrates that concern and it demonstrates the message that needs to be preached. And all across this country in churches all across this land a shallow message is being preached, a shallow gospel, a shallow call to repentance that is giving people the tragic and damning illusion that they are saved when they are not.

John goes further by saying that the ax is at the foot of the trees — implying divine judgement; all trees not bearing good fruit will be thrown into the fire of divine wrath (verse 9).

Our repentance must bear fruit in the way we treat others and revere God, otherwise it is but a shallow one. Henry expands on that point:

7. The greater professions we make of repentance, and the greater assistances and encouragements are given us to repentance, the nearer and the sorer will our destruction be if we do not bring forth fruits meet for repentance. Now that the gospel begins to be preached, now that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, now that the axe is laid to the root of the tree, threatenings to the wicked and impenitent are now more terrible than before, as encouragements to the penitent are now more comfortable. “Now that you are upon your behaviour, look to yourselves.”

8. Barren trees will be cast into the fire at length; it is the fittest place for them: Every tree that doth not bring forth fruit, good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire. If it serve not for fruit, to the honour of God’s grace, let it serve for fuel, to the honour of his justice.

The crowds asked what they should do (verse 10).

Henry speaks of a personal journey of repentance, which John spells out in the next four verses:

They that would do their duty must desire to know their duty, and enquire concerning it. The first good word Paul said, when he was converted, was, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? These here enquire, not, What shall this man do? but, What shall we do? What fruits meet for repentance shall we bring forth? Now John gives answer to each, according to their place and station.

By way of a general response, John says that he who has two coats must give one to someone who has none and those with food must share it (verse 11).

Henry notes that we are not to give in order to deprive ourselves unnecessarily; however, if we have more than we need, then we are to give of that bounty:

The gospel requires mercy, and not sacrifice; and the design of it is to engage us to do all the good we can. Food and raiment are the two supports of life; he that hath meat to spare, let him give to him that is destitute of daily food, as well as he that hath clothes to spare: what we have we are but stewards of, and must use it, accordingly, as our Master directs.

MacArthur says that the word ‘coat’ means ‘tunic’ in this context:

“Tunic,” the word there refers to an undergarment and you only wore one of those so if you had two you had a spare one. It was the undergarment that you wore over your skin and then you wore your outer garment on top of that

So, this is more profound than it appears, perhaps, on the surface because there was a general selfishness, always is, in unregenerate minds.  There would be the evidence of regeneration in selflessness and in the consuming love of one another where you look not on your own things but on the things of others, as Paul said in Philippians 2.  So if you have two chiton, two of those linen undergarments and somebody has none, then you give him yours

Then the tax collectors — the publicans — who were the lowest of the low because they often asked for more tax than they should so as to line their own pockets asked what they should do (verse 12).

John told them to collect only the amount of tax due and no more (verse 13).

Henry observes that John did not tell them to leave their secular employ, only to carry out their duties honestly and beyond reproach:

The public revenues must be applied to the public service, and not to gratify the avarice of private persons. Observe, He does not direct the publicans to quit their places, and to go no more to the receipt of custom; the employment is in itself lawful and necessary, but let them be just and honest in it.

Soldiers asked John what they should do; he told them not to extort money in a violent or dishonest way and to be happy with their wages (verse 14).

Who were the soldiers? Here our commentators differ.

MacArthur is sure they were Jews, having changed his mind from them being Romans:

In my study Bible I put the note that they were probably Roman soldiers. I think I was wrong. As I’ve studied it again. It’s debatable in some ways, but I really kind of… I’m going to change that in the next edition. I’m going to change it to the fact that I think they were Jewish soldiers who were really assigned to Herod Antipas and stationed at Perea. That’s the best way to historically track them back. There’s really no compelling reason why Romans would show up here to get ready for the Messiah

However, Henry thinks they were Gentiles: Roman soldiers. I side with Henry on this one. It would be an early instance of Gentiles being welcomed into the Jewish group of penitents, just as the Magi — three Gentiles — were among the first to pay homage to the Christ Child:

Some think that these soldiers were of the Jewish nation and religion: others think that they were Romans; for it was not likely either that the Jews would serve the Romans or that the Romans would trust the Jews in their garrisons in their own nation; and then it is an early instance of Gentiles embracing the gospel and submitting to it.

Henry describes the military mind, which is not given to religion:

Military men seldom seem inclined to religion; yet these submitted even to the Baptist’s strict profession, and desired to receive the word of command from him: What must we do? Those who more than other men have their lives in their hands, and are in deaths often, are concerned to enquire what they shall do that they may be found in peace.

He then analyses John’s answer in light of military activities. Wise words follow, especially with regard to wages:

In answer to this enquiry, John does not bid them lay down their arms, and desert the service, but cautions them against the sins that soldiers were commonly guilty of; for this is fruit meet for repentance, to keep ourselves from our iniquity. [1.] They must not be injurious to the people among whom they were quartered, and over whom indeed they were set: “Do violence to no man. Your business is to keep the peace, and prevent men’s doing violence to one another; but do not you do violence to any. Shake no man” (so the word signifies); “do not put people into fear; for the sword of war, as well as that of justice, is to be a terror only to evil doers, but a protection to those that do well. Be not rude in your quarters; force not money from people by frightening them. Shed not the blood of war in peace; offer no incivility either to man or woman, nor have any hand in the barbarous devastations that armies sometimes make.” Nor must they accuse any falsely to the government, thereby to make themselves formidable, and get bribes. [2.] They must not be injurious to their fellow-soldiers; for some think that caution, not to accuse falsely, has special reference to them: “Be not forward to complain one of another to your superior officers, that you may be revenged on those whom you have a pique against, or undermine those above you, and get into their places.” Do not oppress any; so some think the word here signifies as used by the LXX. in several passages of the Old Testament. [3.] They must not be given to mutiny, or contend with their generals about their pay: Be content with your wages. While you have what you agreed for, do not murmur that it is not more.” It is discontent with what they have that makes men oppressive and injurious; they that never think they have enough themselves will not scruple at any the most irregular practices to make it more, by defrauding others. It is a rule to all servants that they be content with their wages; for they that indulge themselves in discontents expose themselves to many temptations, and it is wisdom to make the best of that which is.

Luke’s tone changes with the 15th verse, as he says that the people were filled with expectation wondering whether John the Baptist was the Messiah. That, by the way, was what many people wondered, even during and after our Lord’s ministry. Acts tells us of people far from Jerusalem who had followed John the Baptist but had never heard of Jesus. The people saw John as a pivotal, prominent figure, a great prophet.

John explained his position, saying he was unworthy of unloosing the sandals of He who is to come — Jesus; John could only baptise with water, but He would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire (verse 16).

John goes on to say that Jesus is ready to gather the wheat into his granary — save the faithful — but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (verse 17).

Henry elaborates:

He owns him to have a greater energy than he had: “He is mightier than I, and does that which I cannot do, both for the comfort of the faithful and for the terror of hypocrites and dissemblers.” They thought that a wonderful power went along with John; but what was that compared with the power which Jesus would come clothed with? [1.] John can do no more than baptize with water, in token of this, that they ought to purify and cleanse themselves; but Christ can, and will, baptize with the Holy Ghost; he can give the Spirit to cleanse and purify the heart, not only as water washes off the dirt on the outside, but as fire purges out the dross that is within, and melts down the metal, that it may be cast into a new mould. [2.] John can only preach a distinguishing doctrine, and by word and sign separate between the precious and the vile; but Christ hath his fan in his hand, with which he can, and will, perfectly separate between the wheat and the chaff. He will thoroughly purge his floor; it is his own, and therefore he will purge it, and will cast out of his church the unbelieving impenitent Jews, and confirm in his church all that faithfully follow him. [3.] John can only speak comfort to those that receive the gospel, and, like other prophets, say to the righteous that it shall be well with them; but Jesus Christ will give them comfort. John can only promise them that they shall be safe; but Christ will make them so: he will gather the wheat into his garner; good, serious, solid people he will gather now into his church on earth, which shall be made up of such, and he will shortly gather them into his church in heaven, where they shall be for ever sheltered. [4.] John can only threaten hypocrites, and tell the barren trees that they shall be hewn down and cast into the fire; but Christ can execute that threatening; those that are as chaff, light, and vain, and worthless, he will burn with fire unquenchable. John refers here to Malachi 3:18; Malachi 4:1; Malachi 4:2. Then, when the floor is purged, ye shall return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, for the day comes that shall burn as an oven.

MacArthur says that part of that verse relates to the destruction of the temple, and part of it relates to God’s judgement involving every one of us. At some point in the future, the Jews will be saved and the Gentiles will fall away:

There were many individuals who…whose repentance was shallow and the ax was laid at the root of the tree, believe me, in those individuals’ lives. In 70 A.D. the Romans came in there and murdered, literally massacred a million 100 thousand Jews and the ax fell in judgment and those people were cast into eternal hell. There were so many of them that it constituted a nation literally going into temporary exile, as it were, out of existence temporarily. And, of course, they will mourn for Him and then a fountain of cleansing will be opened and they will be spiritually transformed and they will become the witness nation that God always wanted them to be and they’ll witness all through the tribulation and they’ll witness all through the kingdom so that on the robe of every Jew will be hanging ten Gentiles saying, “Take me to see the King of kings.”

But at the time that John was preaching, they rejected. The time of Jesus preaching, they rejected. So many individuals rejected that it constituted a national rejection. But every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down.

And by the way, the Messiah will not only judge Israel this way, but He’ll judge all men this way. Zephaniah 1, “The great day of the Lord is near, very near, coming very quickly. It’s a day of wrath, a day of trouble, distress, destruction desolation, darkness, gloom, clouds, thick darkness.” And at the end it says, “He will make a complete end on the day of the Lord’s wrath, all the earth will be devoured. He will make a complete end, a terrifying one of all the inhabitants of the earth.” It isn’t just Jewish people that will feel the wrath of God. Anyone who rejects the Messiah will be subject to that final, terrifying judgment. He says in chapter 3 of Zephaniah verse 8, “He will pour out His indignation and burning anger on the whole earth.”

Luke concludes by saying that, with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the Good News to the people (verse 18).

Henry explains the verse in this way:

Many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people, which are not recorded. First, John was an affectionate preacher. He was parakalonexhorting, beseeching; he pressed things home upon his hearers, followed his doctrine close, as one in earnest. Secondly, He was a practical preacher. Much of his preaching was exhortation, quickening them to their duty, directing them in it, and not amusing them with matters of nice speculation. Thirdly, He was a popular preacher. Though he had scribes and Pharisees, men of polite learning, attending his ministry, and Sadducees, men of free thought, as they pretended, yet he addressed himself to the people, pros ton laonto the laity, and accommodated himself to their capacity, as promising himself best success among them. Fourthly, He was an evangelical preacher, for so the word here used signifies, euengelizetohe preached the gospel to the people; in all his exhortations, he directed people to Christ, and excited and encouraged their expectations of him. When we press duty upon people, we must direct them to Christ, both for righteousness and strength. Fifthly, He was a copious preacher: Many other things he preached, polla men kai heteramany things, and different. He preached a great deal, shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God; and he varied in his preaching, that those who were not reached, and touched, and wrought upon, by one truth, might be by another.

MacArthur gives us the keys to true repentance:

This is the real deal.  The genuine repenter does a real, honest inventory of the reality of his personal transgressionHe understands that no religious ritual and no heritage can bring about escape or protection from divine judgment.  That he must have a heart transformation that results in a righteous life that manifests love and justice and honesty and those virtues that are characteristic of God Himself. And all that is good.

There’s one other thing missing.  And the one thing missing is the sixth and final element in a true gospel preacher’s arsenal. It is this. He must receive the true Messiah. He must receive the true Messiah.   All the rest is insufficient without the true Messiah so that you repent but you also put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, because Acts 4:12 says, “There is not salvation in any other name.” 

Despite the negatives here, which, we, living in the 21st century are unaccustomed to, MacArthur says that John’s message ends on the positive note of salvation and the coming of the Holy Spirit:

this is a very notable portion of Scripture, not because it is a theological treatise on repentance, but because it is an example of the true preaching for repentance exhibited by this man of God. And John gives us … elements of a true, genuine, saving repentance. This section, by the way, is just loaded with theology, just loaded with it. John moves from hamartiology, which is the study of sin, through eschatology, to soteriology to Christology and to pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit. Huge theological themes existed in his preaching. He was, of all things, a theological preacher.

He talks about sin. He talks about the end of the age and the coming wrath. He talks about salvation. He talks about within the framework of salvation, conversion, transformation, regeneration. He talks about Christ. He talks about the Holy Spirit. It is a…It is a sweeping treatment of theology. He was truly a theological preacher.

Therefore, we have every reason to be joyful on Gaudete Sunday.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauAdvent is a time of spiritual preparation before we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas.

These resources help us to better appreciate the significance of this season:

Advent resources for Catholics and Protestants

Advent: Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1

The Advent wreath: symbolism and history

It is a time to remember John the Baptist’s exhortations to repent and make straight the way for the Lord’s arrival:

Advent reflections: John the Baptist and the Apocalypse

Advent: Make straight a highway

Advent: John the Baptist’s message of Good News — and repentance

Advent: a time to examine one’s conscience

John the Baptist’s exhortations also included giving to one’s neighbour, hence the big charity drives in Western countries during this time of year:

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

These resources and reflections help us to better appreciate Advent.

The Second Sunday of Advent is December 5, 2021.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 3:1-6

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

3:3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

3:4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke sets out the historical background to the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry (verse 1), which began when he was 30 years old. His cousin Jesus would begin His ministry shortly afterwards. They were the same age, John being some months older.

This was a terrible time for the Jews, both politically and religiously.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises the political oppression they experienced:

(1.) It is dated by the reign of the Roman emperor; it was in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar, the third of the twelve Cæsars, a very bad man, given to covetousness, drunkenness, and cruelty; such a man is mentioned first (saith Dr. Lightfoot), as it were, to teach us what to look for from that cruel and abominable city wherein Satan reigned in all ages and successions. The people of the Jews, after a long struggle, were of late made a province of the empire, and were under the dominion of this Tiberius; and that country which once had made so great a figure, and had many nations tributaries to it, in the reigns of David and Solomon, is now itself an inconsiderable despicable part of the Roman empire, and rather trampled upon than triumphed in

The lawgiver was now departed from between Judah’s feet; and, as an evidence of that, their public acts are dated by the reign of the Roman emperor

(2.) It is dated by the governments of the viceroys that ruled in the several parts of the Holy Land under the Roman emperor, which was another badge of their servitude, for they were all foreigners, which bespeaks a sad change with that people whose governors used to be of themselves (Jeremiah 30:21), and it was their glory. How is the gold become dim! [1.] Pilate is here said to be the governor, president, or procurator, of Judea. This character is given of him by some other writers, that he was a wicked man, and one that made no conscience of a lie. He reigned ill, and at last was displaced by Vitellius, president of Syria, and sent to Rome, to answer for his mal-administrations. [2.] The other three are called tetrarchs, some think from the countries which they had the command of, each of them being over a fourth part of that which had been entirely under the government of Herod the Great. Others think that they are so called from the post of honour they held in the government; they had the fourth place, or were fourth-rate governors: the emperor was the first, the pro-consul, who governed a province, the second, a king the third, and a tetrarch the fourth. So Dr. Lightfoot.

John MacArthur has more, too much to cite here, including the year of John’s ministry, which would have been AD26 because of calendrical conventions and calculations. 

Tiberius was the son-in-law of Augustus Caesar, who wanted his grandsons to become Caesars. Normally the Roman Senate appointed Caesars; they did not follow a family blood line. However, Augustus broke with convention and persuaded the Senate to appoint Tiberius, whom he actually adopted to make his succession more amenable to the senators. The Romans believed that a man’s adoption of a son was more significant because he did it by choice.

Pontius Pilate we know about from Christ’s trial and crucifixion. He had run-ins with the Jews, who had reported him to Rome on more than one occasion. That is why he washed his hands of Jesus. The Jews had likely threatened him with a recall by Rome, which would have destroyed his career.

When Herod the Great died, his sons inherited separate parts of the land over which he had ruled. Herod Antipas, a wicked man and the one referred to in the first verse here, ruled Galilee. He was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded.

His brother Philip was the best of a bad lot and ruled the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis.

MacArthur says:

Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis. That’s northeast of the Sea of Galilee And he ruled from 4 B.C. to 34 A.D., a long rule of 37 years The capital of that region is a city way up at the headwaters of the Jordan River called Caesarea Philippi, another city named after Caesar

Herod the Great’s third son was called Archelaus. He ruled over Judea, Samaria and Idumea initially, but he was deposed.

MacArthur describes what happened next:

They had to have somebody else to rule that area, Judea, Samaria and Idumea.  They just combined it into one area, called it Judea and put in a series of prefects, the fifth of which was Pilate So you had Archelaus ruling that area for ten years, and then you had a succession of four rulers and finally in 26, the same time John steps in, you have Pilate.  So those dates coincide very well.  It was at the time when Pontius Pilate had just stepped in to governing Judea because Judea was now the name for all three areas.

Abilene had two rulers named Lysanias. The one to whom Luke refers is the second one. Abilene is north of Galilee and west of Damascus.

MacArthur describes life for the Jews under Tiberius:

The reign of Tiberius Caesar is linked with a number of trials, linked with treasons, sedition.  There were lots of Jews — when he was the emperor, when he was the Caesar — there were lots of Jews deported out of Israel and taken to Rome for trials and sedition and things like that He was a typical Caesar with all of the bizarre machinations, all of the expressions of cruelty, all of the self-centeredness, all of the ego gone mad. The whole thing was all part of Tiberius.  And in his latter years he descended into dementia, to one degree or another His mental abilities were so severely hindered that the last part of his rule has been called “a reign of terror,” a combination of his wickedness unchecked because of his irrationality He was in many ways the worse possible kind of ruler.

So, over the…the life of Israel hangs this great cloud, this dark ominous cloud by the name of Caesar Tiberius, and he is oppressive and he at any time can rain down all the evil of the Roman purpose on their heads.  To be ruled by a Gentile, pagan, uncircumcised idolater is the worst possible scenario for the Jewish people

MacArthur gives us facts about Pontius Pilate:

it says, “Pontius Pilate was governor.”  It’s not a noun here, it’s actually a participleHe was governing. It’s the same generic word from hgemoneu He was ruling in the land of Israel, in the land of Palestine.

We know about him because in 1961 there was a plaque discovered, a dedicatory statement discovered in Caesarea Caesarea was the center of Roman occupation. You can visit the ruins today and still see some of the original Roman ruins there.  But in Caesarea, where the Romans had their main occupation center in the land of Palestine, apparently there is a building built there called the Tiberium, named for Tiberius.  They did a lot of that.  The city of Tiberius, which you can visit in Israel today, was named for Tiberius It’s on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee But in 1961 there was discovered there a dedicatory plaque on a building called the Tiberium and on that dedicatory plaque is the name “Pontius Pilate.”  Pontius Pilate is a real person.  He has the dedicatory plaque because he built the building in honor of Tiberius and called it Tiberium.

On that plaque he is called prefectus Prefectus was the official title He was a Roman prefect, a Roman prefect Later on that word in verse…in I think 46 A.D. was changed to procurator.  Sometimes you hear Pilate called a procurator, but that wouldn’t have been true until 46 A.D. and Pilate was through in 36, so he was never called a procurator In 70 A.D. they changed it to a legate. He wouldn’t have been called that either.  By then he was certainly dead.  But he was a prefect.

Luke tells us that two high priests ruled, Annas and Caiaphas; it was during this time that the word of God came in the wilderness to John, the son of Zechariah (verse 2).

Looking at the religious corruption, Henry points out that there was supposed to only be one high priest at a time then gives us reasons as to why there might have been two:

God had appointed that there should be but one high priest at a time, but here were two, to serve some ill turn or other: one served one year and the other the other year; so some. One was the high priest, and the other the sagan, as the Jews called him, to officiate for him when he was disabled; or, as others say, one was high priest, and represented Aaron, and that was Caiaphas; Annas, the other, was nasi, or head of the sanhedrim, and represented Moses. But to us there is but one high priest, one Lord of all, to whom all judgment is committed.

However, MacArthur says that, during this time, Rome appointed the high priests, which would have been the reason for two of them — and they might not have even been priests:

during Roman times the Levitical line was ignored. During Roman times the Romans appointed the priests, the high priests. They had to approve of and appoint the high priests. So what that meant was that you became high priest by somehow currying the favor of Rome.

We don’t know anything about the lineage of Annas. We don’t know anything about the lineage of…of Caiaphas, really. They were in the position they were in because they had somehow gotten the favor of Rome and been placed there. It is even said by some historians that the office of high priest was often bought with money, or granted as some kind of political favor.

So, Annas had garnered that favor from Rome and he was in that place because he served Rome’s purposes, not God’s. It wasn’t that he was a priest truly or that he was in the priestly line. We don’t know any of that background. But it was that he was there because he served the purposes of Rome well.

Between them, Annas and Caiaphas could be described as the Jerusalem mafia, with Annas as the Godfather:

Now in some ways Annas, who is mentioned first here, who is the older of the two, had a death grip on the high priesthoodThe real power exerted over the people of Israel on a day-to-day basis was exerted by the most powerful man in their recognized structure, and that would be the high priest. He was the real power because he represented, theoretically, God. And what he brought to bear on them was not an intrusion into their life, but was reflective of what God had ordained, and that is that they be ruled by priests and a high priest. So he represented the leadership they could accept and had to accept by virtue of its ordination by God, even though in this case it had been terribly, terribly corrupted.

Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, who:

was high priest from the year 7 to 14 A.D., 7 to 14 A.D. During the silent years, the private years of John and Jesus, during those thirty years when Jesus was living in Nazareth and John was out in the wilderness, 7 to 14 A.D., just a…not a long period of time, but he was succeeded in the priesthood by five sons and one son-in-law. That son-in-law is Caiaphas.

Even though Caiaphas carried out a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities, Annas had to know everything that went on:

That’s why he’s constantly identified as the high priest.  When you go to John 18 and they go and arrest Jesus, they arrest Jesus and they say, “We’ve got to take Him to Annas first.”  It says, “Caiaphas was the high priest that year, but they took Him to Annas first.”  He was the real power behind the priesthood.  And the priesthood was not just a position, not just a position of spiritual leadership, it was… It was a crime family is what it was.  It was the Jerusalem mafia. That’s what it was.  And the mafioso boss was Annas.  He still had the power.  He probably maintained the title all his life …

But the fact of the matter is it wasn’t just a titular designation. The fact is he ran everything and that’s indicative…that’s indicated, I should say, when they took Jesus first to Annas before they went to Caiaphas, who was the high priest, because they knew that Annas had the final say and if it didn’t get by him, no use going anywhere else.

Their biggest racket was the temple’s sacrificial system and money-changing operation, which made them wealthy. They were deeply unhappy when Jesus twice took a whip to the tables in the temple compound.

MacArthur describes their hatred of Jesus, who was disturbing their operation:

Annas and his sons and son-in-law — they managed to turn the high priesthood into an incredibly profitable business.  And I… Just as a footnote, I’ve been studying this particularly in the last few weeks. I just finished writing a book called The Murder of Jesus [1999] … in which I just take you clear through the whole story of the crucifixion.  And in doing so I got very involved in the life of Annas and Caiaphas, who play a major role, of course, in the execution of Jesus.  In fact, if you want to lay the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus at anybody’s feet, you can start with God because God sent Him to die for sinners, and then you can move to Annas and Caiaphas. They drove the plotThey were the ones who cornered Pontius Pilate and had him in a position where in blackmail he had to do what he did and that was authorize the execution of Jesus.  But they were the ones that drove the plot.  And the reason they hated Jesus had a little to do with His theology and mostly to do with the fact that Jesus interrupted temple business.

When Jesus first showed up on the scene, He went to the temple and He made a whip and he cleaned out the place.  You remember that?  And then at the end of His ministry, He did it again.  This did not make them happy.  If you want to carry the analogy a little bit, what happened at the cross was they finally found a hit man to execute the guy who was intruding into their operation. And Pilate was the hit man.

MacArthur says that there were 28 high priests during 100 years of Roman occupation. Caiaphas served for 20 years in that post, which was a remarkable tenure:

So twenty-eight high priests, you take seven, eight years of Annas and twenty years of Caiaphas and you’ve got this say thirty years, so you’ve got twenty-six left for a seventy-year period. So they ran through that office pretty fast. For a person to stay there twenty years was pretty remarkable. Caiaphas was there for twenty years.

MacArthur says that the two high priests were no doubt Sadduccees. Sadduccees didn’t pay much attention to Scripture, preferring to follow established tradition instead. They also did not believe in the supernatural, therefore, they had few qualms about installing a temple racket:

Now Caiaphas from his theological standpoint was a Sadducee and Sadducees were religious liberals. They didn’t believe in the supernatural, they didn’t believe in angels, they didn’t believe in the supernatural character of Scripture. It’s easy to remember them because somebody says they didn’t believe in angels, they didn’t believe in the resurrection, they didn’t believe in the supernatural character of Scripture, that’s why they were so sad, you see. So that’s how I remember them. It’s not bad. It’s not bad. They were materialists.

As I said, they were religious liberals. They… They were opportunists and because they were materialists and anti-supernaturalists, they were the kind of people who could run an enterprise li…enterprise like this in the temple and not worry that they were just going to be incinerated by God, turning His house of prayer into a den of thieves. They had a very, very low view of Scripture. Frankly, they were very much like modern Jews. They had a high view of tradition and a low view of Scripture. They were anti-supernaturalists. They were… They were really sort of traditionalists rather than scriptural in their commitment.

These two men were the real power over the people and they were as wretched as wretched could be. They weren’t any better than the pagans. So this is a very, very, very dark time in the land of Israel. They are apostates who blaspheme the God of Israel, really. They blaspheme the God of Israel right in God’s own temple. I can’t imagine those guys going into the Holy of Holies once a year, right? On the Day of Atonement and wondering whether they’d ever come out. They were the ones who drove the conspiracy to execute Jesus because He tampered with their business and they couldn’t agree with the Pharisees on anything except to kill Jesus. The Pharisees hated Jesus because He attacked their religious system. The Sadducees hated Jesus because He attacked their economic system. And they all got together and cornered Pilate and got Pilate to agree to execute Jesus with the threat that if he didn’t they’re going to complain again about Pilate to Tiberius Caesar. And Pilate was already on some serious thin ice because of things he had done in Israel.

Turning to John the Baptist, it is likely he took a lifetime Nazirite vow, as I explained several years ago. The only other two in the Bible to do so were Samson (e.g. long hair) and Samuel. John lived a very basic life, however, away from people. He foraged for his food. He wore animal skins rather than conventional clothes.

Most Jewish men, such as Paul, took short term Nazirite vows, but John lived his life as a Nazirite monk.

Henry tells us more about John’s receiving the word of God:

He received full commission and full instructions from God to do what he did. It is the same expression that is used concerning the Old-Testament prophets (Jeremiah 1:2); for John was a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, and in him prophecy revived, which had been long suspended. We are not told how the word of the Lord came to John, whether by an angel, as to his father, or by dream, or vision, or voice, but it was to his satisfaction, and ought to be to ours. John is here called the son of Zacharias, to refer us to what the angel said to his father, when he assured him that he should have this son. The word of the Lord came to him in the wilderness; for those whom God fits he will find out, wherever they are. As the word of the Lord is not bound in a prison, so it is not lost in a wilderness. The word of the Lord made its way to Ezekiel among the captives by the river of Chebar, and to John in the isle of Patmos. John was the son of a priest, now entering upon the thirtieth year of his age; and therefore, according to the custom of the temple, he was now to be admitted into the temple-service, where he should have attended as a candidate five years before. But God had called him to a more honourable ministry, and therefore the Holy Ghost enrols him here, since he was not enrolled in the archives of the temple: John the son of Zacharias began his ministration such a time.

Wilderness in this context means ‘desert’. MacArthur says:

Chapter 1 verse 80 [of Luke’s Gospel] tells us. That’s the last we’ve heard of John. “He grew and became strong in spirit,” talking about John. “He lived in the desert,” or wilderness, “till the day of his public appearance in Israel.” There he’s just the wilderness guy. He’s out there in the wilderness. That is the wilderness of Judea, it’s called, from the… I’ll give you a little geography on Israel. There’s a coastal plain, there’s a Mediterranean Sea, and there’s a coastal plain. There’s a coastal range of mountains. The Sharon…the Carmel range, it’s called. There’s the Plain of Sharon, which is a coastal…coastal lowland, a coastal valley, much like we have in California. And then you go inland a little bit and you have a range of mountains that was called Carmel. We talk about Mount Carmel. Carmel wasn’t one mountain it was kind of a range of mountains. And then you had a valley and then you had another set of mountains on the east and that was where Jerusalem was, the high point, the plateau range, and then that fell off into the wilderness of Judea. And that wilderness extended across the Jordan River. From the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee up the Jordan River was that wilderness area.

His parents — Elizabeth and Zechariah — lived on the edge of that wilderness:

Now John’s family lived in the hill country of Judea which would be the western border of that wilderness, which would go from the Dead…the top of the Dead Sea half way up to the Sea of Galilee to where the river Jabbok came in and it would go west of that and east of that. That is a very barren area.

Having received the word of God, John, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first in 425 years, left the wilderness to go to the region around the Jordan River, proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins (verse 3).

The people went to him. MacArthur refers us to Matthew:

Back in Matthew chapter 3 and verse 5, it says, “Then Jerusalem was going out to him and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan, and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.”

You know what happened? Everybody went to John. And again you have almost an illustration of the necessary disconnect from the system that is required when someone comes to the truth. And so the Lord leaves John out in that barren, barren place, apart from the establishment because like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, like Ezekiel and some other prophets, John is going to have to keep his distance, he’s going to have to be untouched, unpolluted.

He proclaimed the message from Isaiah from the wilderness, as prophesied: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (verse 4), with no obstacles of valleys, mountains and hills or rough roads (verse 5).

All — Jew and Gentile — will see the salvation of God (verse 6).

MacArthur explains the importance of these verses:

it is from Isaiah chapter 40 verses 3 through 5. That prophecy was given 700 years before John, 700 years before Jesus began His ministry. And it is a powerful, powerful prophecy. In fact, I confess to you as a human preacher, a very human preacher, I’m not sure I can bear the weight of it. Literally this prophecy overwhelms me and I…I confess to you that it places on me a huge burden to communicate because it has so much contained in it. The implications around this prophecy are…are vast. Even the explicit elements of this prophecy are powerful, but what surrounds this prophecy in the context of Isaiah has sweeping implications. And Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has picked the perfect prophecy from the Old Testament to identify John. It is a prophecy that has immense theological implications, immense historic implications, immense salvation implications. It is not just limited to John, the forerunner crying in the wilderness. It is the whole message of what he is saying that is coming to fulfillment at that moment with the arrival of Messiah. And all its implications for Israel and for all flesh, as verse 6 indicates, that is all people across the faith of the earth. This is a sweeping prophecy that literally covers all the ground of redemptive history.

This imagery suggests the way one would prepare for the arrival of a king, in this case, the Messiah — Jesus:

In ancient times when a monarch went on a tour of his domain and approached the various cities and towns along the route, there would be an advanced message “The king is coming and you need to make things ready. We don’t want the king going through deep ravines. We don’t want the king having to climb over great high rocks and mountains. We don’t want the king going on some circuitous pathway. We don’t want the king to have to come stumbling over rocks and boulders and great holes in the path. We want a highway for the king that suits his dignity and one that provides ease for the monarch. We want you to get a highway ready for the great king to come to your city.”

Now the people, knowing this, would set about to do this. It was the greatest of events to have the monarch come to their town, to have the king come to their home. And they would know of such an arrival. They hadn’t seen the king so it was an act of faith, but a forerunner came and said he’s coming, get everything ready so that he has easy access into your city. Start preparing a road. Start constructing a road, because in a matter of months or whatever the time might be, the king will be arriving.

So Isaiah said in his prophecy, the king will come someday, but before he comes, a voice will come in the wilderness and tell people to get the highway ready for the king. And here Luke quotes that because John is the fulfillment of that. He is the voice crying in the wilderness. He has come to the people and he is saying to the people of Israel, “Get the highway ready, the king is right behind me.” And truthfully, but six months later the King did begin His ministry.

So John is…is taking that prophecy of Isaiah and fulfilling it. And Luke makes note of that fulfillment. John was calling on the people to prepare a highway for the true King who was Messiah.

MacArthur says that, until this point, baptism was a cleansing ritual reserved for Gentiles who wished to convert to the Jewish faith. By proclaiming that all needed to be baptised, John was telling the Jews that they were spiritually no better than Gentiles. They needed to repent:

When John came he came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They were religious people, they were lost. They needed the forgiveness of sin. The theology was they had a form of religion without the reality of it. They had a zeal for God but not according to a true knowledge of God, as Paul put it. And so John tells them their sins can be forgiven but only if they repent. And if they repent so deeply that they’re willing to be baptized in the same way that a Gentile was when a Gentile wanted to enter into Judaism. When a Gentile wanted to be a proselyte, they were baptized in a…in a special ceremony to show that they needed to be cleansed before they can engage themselves with the covenant people of God.

Well John, by baptizing Jews, is saying you have to repent to such a depth that you will confess you’re no better than a Gentile. So he preached a baptism for repentance for the forgiveness of sin. That was the theological perspective. The people were under the damning burden of guilt and they needed forgiveness which God always has given, always will give to those who repent, whose repentance is genuine and in this case evidenced by a willingness to say I am no better than a pagan.

Years ago, a Presbyterian pastor’s daughter told me that the Book of Isaiah was ‘depressing’. Unfortunately, she hadn’t read the whole book nor has she paid attention to readings used during Advent and Christmas. That’s a very sad state to be in, especially for a pastor’s daughter.

MacArthur says that the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are all about judgement, but chapters 40 to 66 are about redemption.

According to Isaiah, God will redeem Israel one day:

Chapter 40 then launches the rest of the book of Isaiah all the way to chapter 66 and the message changes from judgment to salvation, from warning to encouragement. The latter half of Isaiah’s prophecy is all about salvation and the Messiah and His kingdom and righteousness and joy and peace. And the simple message of the overall view of the book is the same God who has judged Israel for sins will someday save Israel. That is the great message of the book of Isaiah. The same God who promised terrible judgment on a sinning Israel promises salvation on a penitent Israel. That, folks, is at the heart of redemptive history. God is not finished with Israel. Whatever may lie ahead and the prophet Isaiah knows what’s going to lie ahead, he’s said it for thirty-nine chapters and the people know it, and it’s also been prophesied by many other prophets, but whatever may lie ahead for the people of Judah and Jerusalem, God’s ultimate purpose for them is not judgment, God’s ultimate purpose for them is salvation. God’s ultimate purpose for them is not destruction but redemption, not death but life. God’s ultimate purpose for them is not the abolition of His covenant, but the fulfillment of His covenant.

So you see here really in my mind a dramatic insight into the unfolding and eternal purposes of salvation that God has purposed for Israel. There is a future for Israel, for Jewish people who today reject their Messiah, but someday will be saved by the very Messiah they reject because they will look on Him and see Him for who He really is and turn to Him for salvation and Zacharias said, “A fountain of cleansing will be opened to the house of Israel.”

So these two verses have a warm, affectionate, and tender tone, something unfamiliar in the first thirty-nine chapters. God is saying there will come a time when sin has been paid for. There will come a time when suffering is over, warfare has ended. There will come a time of salvation so here’s the message, comfort, oh comfort My people … 

So God looks and says, I promised to save you but there’s nobody that can do it but Me. And so God says I’ll come, I’ll come and save sinners. That’s what the incarnation was about. John is saying He’s here and He’s about to begin His work. Are you ready? “Ready” means repentant. You can’t save yourself but you can prepare your heart for the only one who can save you. Get ready, He’s coming. And for us, He’s already come, hasn’t He? Already died for sinners. And when you repent, you are forgiven. Someday Israel will do that. Until then, Jew and Gentile alike can do that and do as the Spirit works in their hearts.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The First Sunday of Advent is November 28, 2021.

Readings for Year C — the new liturgical year — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 21:25-36

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We had a similar passage about the Second Coming two weeks ago, on the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity: Mark 13:1-8.

This Sunday’s is Luke’s version of Christ’s prophecy.

As with Mark’s (and Matthew’s) version, Luke’s preceding verses had to do with the destruction of the temple and the end of the Jewish sacrificial system, which occurred at the hands of the Romans in AD 70.

With regard to His second coming, Jesus tells us that the universe will give us signs as will the earth, where the movement of the seas will create distress across the nations (verse 25).

Jesus goes on to say that people will ‘faint with fear and foreboding’ as ‘the powers of the heavens will be shaken’ (verse 26).

John MacArthur says:

The staging is given in verses 25 and 26. Sun and moon and stars…what happens to them in that period of time? They go out. The sun goes out therefore the moon goes out. The stars go out as well, blackness covers the universe. At the same time the seas begin to roar, the waves turn into a tumult and we see the powers of the heavens being shaken. This is all final staging and parallels the Old Testament prophets and the book of Revelation.

Now that brings us to the third word and where we pick up the text this morning. The third word is shock…shock. There’s only one possible response to this unimaginable chaos, verse 25, “And upon the earth dismay among nations in perplexity.” Verse 26, “Men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world.”

And again I remind you, this is how history ends. This is the real story of the end of the earth and the universe as we know it. This is the first step in the beginning of the eternal state …

The confusion comes because people can’t do anything about it. There is absolute chaos. There’s no way to solve this. You’ve got a third of the oceans destroyed, a third of the fresh water destroyed. You’ve got mountains exploding. You’ve got heavenly bodies crashing and careening into the earth. You’ve got the skies going dark. You have horrible storms, hundred-pound hailstones and other things described in the book of Revelation. And the confusion comes because they can’t sort it out.

They can’t even react to it because it’s coming in such rapid-fire succession. There’s reason to believe that the trumpet judgments come in months and then the final judgments described in Revelation, the bowl judgments come in weeks and days…rapid-fire succession. Shock is so great that we are told that men are fainting from fear. And fainting is a rather benign way to translate another rare word used no where else in the New Testament, aposuche(?). What that word means is to breathe out or to expire. That’s another word for to die. People will be scared to death. People will be scared to death. People all over the world will die of terror because of what is happening and because what is happening they know will lead to further horrors. As they watch everything turn into chaos, they understand the implications. It’s not just what’s going on in the moment, it’s what all this means in the immediate future. That is to say the terror comes from the immediate and the terror is compounded by the total absence of any hope of relief. You might be able to mitigate your anxiety if you thought there would be an end but there will be nor can there be…there will be no end nor can there be any end. The chaos is too great.

This is not, by the way, hyperbole. This is lethal emotional trauma causing rapid pulse, low blood pressure and cardiac collapse. Rapid-pulse, low blood pressure, cardiac collapse, scared to death. This is not something the disciples wouldn’t have heard about before. This is shocking coming from Jesus and yet this is what Isaiah said. Listen to Isaiah 13:8, “All hands will fall limp, every man’s heart will melt. They will be terrified. Pains and anguish will take hold of them. They will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame.” Listen again to the Revelation chapter 6, as we read familiar words. “The kings of the earth, the great men, verse 15, the commanders, the rich, the strong, every slave, every free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb for the great day of their wrath has come and who is able to stand?’” They want to die. Some will be scared to death. Others will be scared but cannot or do not die, they will wish to be buried alive just to escape what’s next.

In the ninth chapter of the Revelation and verse 6, “In those days men will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die and death flees from them.” In the sixteenth chapter of Revelation and verse 8, “The fourth angel pours out the rapid-fire judgments called bowl judgments and the sun scorches men with fire. They’re scorched with fierce heat and they blaspheme the name of God who has the power over these plagues that didn’t repent so as to give Him glory. Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, his kingdom became darkened. They gnawed their tongues because of pain and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores and didn’t repent of their deeds.” The chapter ends in verse 21 with a statement, “The plagues were extremely severe.”

The eighteenth chapter gives us a description of the disintegration of life at that final hour, in those final weeks, in those final days. The eighteenth chapter of Revelation, we can pick it up in verse 8. Plagues will come pestilence, mourning, famine, fire, the Lord God is bringing judgment. The symbol here is Babylon, Babylon is the unifying term to describe the final world coalition of religion and government, the final world system. And it’s going to be wiped out. The kings of the earth who committed acts of immorality live sensuously with this system will weak and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning. Standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment saying, “Woe, woe, the great Babylon, the strong city, in one hour your judgment has come.” Again indicating to us how rapid-fire the final judgments will be.

The merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, again symbolizing the whole economy of the earth in this one symbol of Babylon. Nobody buys their cargoes anymore, cargos of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls, fine linen, purple silk, scarlet, the clothing industry, the jewel industry, every kind of citron, wood and every article of ivory, every article made from costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, the construction industry as well, cinnamon, spice, incense, perfume, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, cargos of horses, chariots, slaves, transportation industry, food industry, everything goes…the fruit you long for has gone from you, all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you. Men will no longer find them. The merchants of these things who became rich from her will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen, purple, scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste.” Again indicating the suddenness of this destruction.

Matthew Henry’s commentary acknowledges that some Bible scholars believe this refers only to the destruction of the temple, but, like MacArthur, he says this pertains to the eventual end of the world and the terror that unbelievers will experience:

… our Saviour makes use of these figurative expressions because at the end of time they shall be literally accomplished, when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their powers not only shaken, but broken, and the earth and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up, 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12. As that day was all terror and destruction to the unbelieving Jews, so the great day will be to all unbelievers.

Jesus says that, at the appointed time, people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ of great power and glory (verse 27). The quote comes from a verse in the Book of Daniel.

His appearance, MacArthur says, is the final sign:

… here is THE sign, verse 27, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” That is THE sign, the final sign, the sign is the Son of Man.

Listen to Matthew 24:30, the parallel account. The words of our Lord, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky.” The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, they’ll already be emotional basket cases, to put it mildly. They will now launch into a final mourning as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. THE sign of THE Son of Man, that is a subjective genitive, the sign which is the Son of Man.

It is not another sign that points to the Son of Man, it is the sign which is the Son of Man. Now remember, the whole world will be pitch dark. As Joel puts it, the sun will go dark and the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall. Heaven rolls up like a scroll. It’s pitch blackness. And out of that blackness, the whole world sees the Son of Man coming. This is the moment to which all redemptive history moves. This is its glorious culmination, when the once humiliated Christ returns as the eternally exalted Christ. He came once to die. He comes now to kill. He came once to build His church. He comes again to establish His glorious Kingdom.

Henry ties the Second Coming back to the temple so that we might better understand that its destruction presages the return of Christ:

The destruction of Jerusalem was in a particular manner an act of Christ’s judgment, the judgment committed to the Son of man; his religion could never be thoroughly established but by the destruction of the temple, and the abolishing of the Levitical priesthood and economy, after which even the converted Jews, and many of the Gentiles too, were still hankering, till they were destroyed; so that it might justly be looked upon as a coming of the Son of man, in power and great glory, yet not visibly, but in the clouds; for in executing such judgments as these clouds and darkness are round about him. Now this was, 1. An evidence of the first coming of the Messiah; so some understand it. Then the unbelieving Jews shall be confined, when it is too late, that Jesus was the Messiah; those that would not see him coming in the power of his grace to save them shall be made to see him coming in the power of his wrath to destroy them; those that would not have him to reign over them shall have him to triumph over them. 2. It was an earnest of his second coming. Then in the terrors of that day they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, and all the terrors of the last day.

Jesus says that, when believers see these alarming signs, they can stand up and raise their heads because their redemption is near (verse 28).

MacArthur says:

A word to the saints in verse 28. These are the folks that will be alive at the time and will have believed in Christ. “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up, lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near,” engizo, about to start.

Then Jesus gives the disciples a parable about the fig tree and other trees (verse 29), saying that when they sprout leaves, everyone knows that summer is near (verse 30).

Similarly, when these dramatic signs take place, we can be sure that the kingdom of God is near (verse 31).

MacArthur says that analogies involving fig trees are common in the Bible. They were the easiest ways to get a point across:

both in the Old Testament and in the teaching of the Lord, the fig tree served a purpose as an illustration. It is designed to help people understand. In fact, in Matthew 24:32, where the parallel text in Matthew’s record is, he says Jesus also said, “Now learn this parable of the fig tree.” The point is: This is for your learning – manthanō – this is so you can understand. And the reason I press that point is because it seems to me that people turn these parables into very complex things when they are the most simple, especially when you have such a simple parable as this.

It was also apposite as Jesus taught His disciples this lesson about the temple and His later return in the middle of His Passion, which we commemorate during Holy Week. It was Passover week, therefore, springtime.

MacArthur explains the deeper meaning of summer, which involves fruit and harvest, therefore, blessings for some and judgement for others:

When you see the signs – leaves – you know summer’s near. And with summer comes fruit and harvest.

By the way, harvest is always, in the Old Testament, a symbol of judgment as well as blessing. So, you have a simple analogy.

MacArthur says the disciples who would witness the destruction of the temple were symbolic of the people who would witness the end of the world:

The disciples are only symbolic of those people. They are only representative of that future group of people. “You,” meaning you believers, who are alive when you see these things happen. What the Lord is saying is: It’s going to come very fast.

You remember He told a parable about a man who went on a long journey? We’re living in the long journey. We’re living in the long time, two thousand years now. But once those signs start – once they start – you can be sure that when you see these things happen, the Kingdom of God is near …

Jesus emphasises — ‘Truly I tell you’ — that the present generation will not pass away until all those things have taken place (verse 32).

This is a confusing verse, because some of the things that Jesus prophesies here did not take place when the Romans destroyed the temple.

MacArthur says that Jesus means whoever is alive at the time and sees the prophesied events take place, whether about the temple or His coming again in glory:

Let me tell you how simple this is. Verse 32, “Truly I say to you, this generation.” What generation? “The generation that sees these things happen will not die until it’s all taken place.” Whoever is among the you who sees these things happen can know this, it’s going to happen soon in your lifetime, and if you see the beginning, you’re going to be there for the end.

If you see Jerusalem surrounded, if you’re alive and you see Jerusalem surrounded and you see the changes and the devastating changes in the universe, you see those signs, you will see the Son of Man. Such a simple thing. If you see the leaves, you know summer is near. If you see the signs, you know Christ is near; He’s at the door.

And our Lord is simply saying, “You asked Me a question. You asked Me, what do we look for? What are the signs?” And I’m telling you this, that generation alive that sees these things will see the Son of Man return. Our Lord is answering the question

If you’re alive and you see the signs and you survive through that and you’re not martyred – and we’re talking about believers here; believers who are alive and looking and waiting for the coming of Christ – if you’re alive when all that starts, you’re going to be there when He returns and you’re going to go into His Kingdom. That’s all it means.

If this is looking for an antecedent, the obvious antecedent is you in verse 31 – you, you. It is this generation – the you that sees these things – that will see it all take place.

Jesus makes it clear that heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will not; they will endure forever (verse 33).

MacArthur explains:

You were saved through the living and abiding word and you will be brought to glory through that same living, abiding word. Whatever God says is absolutely the way it is, whether He speaks of salvation, or sanctification, or glorification. And we look forward to the unfolding of this.

Then Jesus gives stern warnings about our behaviour. We must not be weighed down by the concerns of this life to the extent that we become despondent and drunk as a result, lest His return catch us by surprise (verse 34), like a trap (verse 35). In our era, I would also include getting out of one’s mind on drugs in that warning.

We do not want to be out of our minds when the time comes for us to meet our Lord.

Henry says:

See here, 1. What our danger is: that the day of death and judgment should come upon us unawares, when we do not expect it, and are not prepared for it,–lest, when we are called to meet our Lord, that be found the furthest thing from our thoughts which ought always to be laid nearest our hearts, lest it come upon us as a snare; for so it will come upon the most of men, who dwell upon the earth, and mind earthly things only, and have no converse with heaven; to them it will be as a snare. See Ecclesiastes 9:12. It will be a terror and a destruction to them; it will put them into an inexpressible fright, and hold them fast for a doom yet more frightful.

Jesus calls upon us to be ‘alert at all times’ — ‘watching’, in some translations — and praying that we are strong enough to escape these terrible events and be able to stand before Him one day (verse 36).

Henry says:

Watch therefore, and pray always. Watching and praying must go together, Nehemiah 4:9. Those that would escape the wrath to come, and make sure of the joys to come, must watch and pray, and must do so always, must make it the constant business of their lives, (1.) To keep a guard upon themselves. “Watch against sin, watch to every duty, and to the improvement of every opportunity of doing good. Be awake, and keep awake, in expectation of your Lord’s coming, that you may be in a right frame to receive him, and bid him welcome.” (2.) To keep up their communion with God: “Pray always; be always in an habitual disposition to that duty; keep up stated times for it; abound in it; pray upon all occasions.” Those shall be accounted worthy to live a life of praise in the other world that live a life of prayer in this world.

MacArthur says:

He will come. He will come. We don’t know when He will come. And so, we live in perpetual vigilance, a vigilant anticipation, never letting that out of our minds. He could come at any moment…He could come at any time…He could come at any day. This needs to be kept before the church at all times. This is one of the gifts that our Lord wants from us. When He comes…Oh, we expected You, we expected You. We’ve been waiting, we’re ready.

This might seem to some as an odd reading in Advent, a time which, for us, is full of preparation for Christmas, including happy social engagements.

Yet, Advent readings begin by calling us to account, to repent, so that we might better appreciate Christ’s deigning to come to the world as an infant and living a fully human — yet fully divine — life among us.

Hello, everyone!

Christmas is nearly here, and I have a few items to share of both a secular and a religious nature.

O Antiphon for Christmas Eve

First, the final O Antiphon, the one for Christmas Eve, is Matthew 1:18-23, detailed in the following two posts:

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

The Christmas 1968 Bible reading from space

On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the moon. Listen to the astronauts on board read from Genesis:

The Christmas message from Outer Space

‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ — a delightful reading

Children might need a distraction while grown-ups are preparing for Christmas.

What better than listening to a reading of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’?

Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has done a cracking job of reading the story in his remarkable baritone:

Those who listened to it loved it. This is just one of the many compliments on his voice:

Christmas traditions — religious or not?

The trend over recent years, possibly a reactionary one, is that certain Christmas traditions that have evolved since the 19th century are either too secular or too pagan.

That said, some of these traditions can be said to have religious overtones.

The history of the candy cane is an intriguing one and one that could be used in Sunday School for its symbolism about Jesus:

Candy canes: useful for a Nativity lesson in Sunday School

There is a religious reason why we give each other gifts at this time of year. We recall John the Baptist’s ministry in preparing the way for our Lord:

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

He advocated giving as one way of preparing. Luke’s Gospel records John the Baptist’s words about charity (Luke 3:10-11):

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

This is how seasonal giving developed over time:

Christmas gifts — a history

As far as greenery is concerned, St Boniface transformed the fir tree into a Christian symbol in Germany during the early 8th century:

The Christmas tree — a history

Christmas cards were highly secular and of a facetious nature. They did not become religious until much later:

Bizarre Christmas cards from the 19th century

Louis Prang, a Prussian who emigrated to the United States, made Christmas cards popular there, beginning in 1873. Hallmark did not come along until 1910:

Louis Prang — father of the American Christmas card

I hope these give everyone a few spiritual talking points along with some fun during the countdown to Christmas!

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauReadings follow for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22. 2019.

The third purple candle on the Advent wreath is lit at this time.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This reading from Isaiah is a bit involved. King Ahaz engaged in idolatry, and God passed judgement on him through Syria and Israel, which joined forces in an attempt to attack Jerusalem. The Lord sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to worry, as both forces would crumble, which they did two years later (verse 16). Isaiah, speaking the Lord’s words, tells Ahaz that Immanuel — Jesus — will come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David. Whilst that did not happen for another 500 years, it was a sign that God would forgive and forget.

Matthew Henry says that two different children are referred to in the last two verses. Verse 15 refers to Immanuel. Verse 16 refers to Isaiah’s son Shear-jashub, whom the Lord instructed the prophet to take with him to his meeting with Ahaz. Shear-jashub means ‘the remnant shall return’.

Henry also says that Ahaz displays false piety in verse 12. He knows his idolatry was wrong but is too stubborn to humble himself before God.

It’s worth reading Henry’s commentary as well as Isaiah 7 in full.

Isaiah 7:10-16

7:10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying,

7:11 Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.

7:12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.

7:13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?

7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

7:15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

7:16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Psalm

Matthew Henry’s commentary states that this Psalm refers to the Messiah, particularly verses 17 and 18.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

80:2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

80:3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

80:5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

80:6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

80:7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

80:18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

80:19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Epistle

This is Paul’s exquisite greeting to the Christians in Rome.

Romans 1:1-7

1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

1:2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,

1:3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh

1:4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,

1:6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

1:7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel

Joseph was embarrassed and ashamed that Mary was with child, until an angel of the Lord explained to him in a dream that she would bring the Messiah — Jesus — into the world.

Matthew 1:18-25

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

1:19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

1:20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

1:22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

1:23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,

1:25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but verse 25 should clear up any disagreements on Mary’s virginity and her marital relations with Joseph. To say that Mary was perpetually a virgin is scripturally inaccurate.

It was a relief to see the return of regular scheduling on BBC Parliament.

Thursday, December 19, 2019 was the first real day of debate in the new parliamentary session which followed the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech, which laid out the new majority Conservative government’s plans.

The Conservative and DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland) were the most conciliatory towards their opponents. I wonder if that is because both parties seem to embody the greatest expression of faith.

When the swearing in went on earlier in the week, all of the Conservative MPs, past and present, knew which Bible on which they wanted to be sworn in. A friend told me that Savid Javid, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, took a different oath, but Home Secretary Priti Patel took the traditional one.

By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader (for now), took a neutral oath that omitted ‘so help me God’. Another Labour MP, Liz Kendall, announced that she is ‘godless’ but ‘not a pagan’:

The DUP’s Jim Shannon, representing Strangford, thanked ‘the Lord my Saviour’ for the election results, including his own re-election.

Just before Shannon spoke, a new SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) MP from Northern Ireland, Colum Eastwood, gave his eloquent (even if I disagree with it) maiden speech in the House of Commons. He did not stammer or falter. The SDLP are diametrically opposed to the DUP. The SDLP represent the Republic of Ireland’s interests, and the DUP represent Ulster Unionists.

Colum Eastwood spoke of the lingering bitterness from the Troubles which continues to reach the courts:

This Conservative Government is obsessed with the idea of granting amnesty to soldiers who committed grievous wrongs and heinous crimes in Northern Ireland. Not only is it an affront to victims and survivors who lost loved ones at the hands of British Army personnel, any attempt to change the law will grant effective immunity to members of paramilitary organisations who murdered and maimed people in our communities.

There is nothing vexatious about seeking truth, justice and accountability for those who lost loved ones. The threshold for criminal prosecution is itself a check on the exercise of legal powers. Those brought before the courts do not face charges on a whim, it’s the result of gathered evidence and a determination by the independent PPS that a prosecution is in the public interest. I am sick of the myth that former soldiers are being pursued for nothing – these are serious crimes with a substantial body of evidence.

[A] Uniform should offer no shield to accountability before the law. The sensitive balance of legacy investigations and institutions should not be offset by headline grabbing promises from a militaristic government.

The SDLP successfully derailed similar proposals from Peter Hain, backed by Sinn Féin. The legacy of our past must be dealt with comprehensively and ethically. We will oppose any proposals aimed at erasing the ability of victims and survivors to access truth, justice and accountability.

Jim Shannon responded by saying that he had served in the Ulster Defence Regiment. That was between 1973 and 1977, at a very heated time of the Troubles, which neither side wants to see repeated.

Shannon told the MPs and Deputy Speaker of the House that he had spoken to Colum Eastwood earlier, explaining that, although they are on opposite sides of the political and cultural spectrum, there will be issues on which they will agree. Shannon said that he would find a way to work together with Eastwood on these issues to achieve common cause. I am sure that Jim Shannon will make every effort.

In another speech, returning Conservative MP Victoria Prentis, representing Banbury, said that Christmas should be a time of self-reflection and self-improvement. She suggested that MPs should use the time well to improve their discourse before Parliament reconvenes in the New Year. It was a wise sentiment, especially with the previous tensions from October 2019 concerning Brexit.

The Conservative and DUP MPs remembered that the run up to Christmas is a time of goodwill — to all. Victoria Prentis spoke perfectly when she said that we should continue any personal improvements gleaned from Christmas into the New Year.

Let’s start as we mean to go on. Christmas should be a time of deep reflection and ongoing renewal.

We are now in the octave before Christmas.

Centuries ago, special Bible verses — antiphons — were read on each of the days from December 17 through to the Christmas Eve devotions on December 24.

These were known as O Antiphons, as each of them began with the letter ‘O’. Each corresponds to a certain divine aspect of our Lord.

The O Antiphons are best encapsulated in the Advent hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

The verses for December 17 — the ‘S’ — are from Isaiah 11:2-3:

2And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
   the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the Spirit of counsel and might,
   the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

You can read more about that verse below in my 2013 post:

The O Antiphon for December 17

Another selection for this day is provided in the next post, from 2014:

The O Antiphon for December 17

More O Antiphons follow below for the days ahead, including relevant Bible commentary.

December 18

The O Antiphon for December 18 (2013)

December 18: a second O Antiphon for this day (2014)

December 19

The O Antiphon for December 19 (2013)

December 19: a second O Antiphon for this day (2014)

December 20

The O Antiphon for December 20

December 21

The O Antiphon for December 21

December 22

The O Antiphon for December 22

December 22: another O Antiphon for this day (2014)

December 23

The O Antiphon for December 23

December 23: another O Antiphon for this day (2014)

December 24

I will be closing the Octave with Lectionary readings for Christmas Eve.

The O Antiphons really put one in a good frame of mind spiritually for Christmas. With all of the last minute rushing around involved at this time, they provide needed refreshment for the soul, reminding us of the Reason for the Season.

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