Advent 2 : BETTER THAN THE ROUTINE

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 SET READINGS

  • Malachi 3:1-4
  • Luke 1:5-25
  • Philippians 1:3-11
  • Canticle: Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79)

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HABITS AND ROUTINES

Having a routine can be very helpful. Since I retired, I find having a weekly routine (book shop every Tuesday, shopping day Wednesday, home group Thursday, and of course regular church activities on Sunday) helps maintain a regular cycle of life, and provides a feeling of consistent normality. But it can also make us feel uncomfortable when our routine gets interrupted, and hard to change from our normal schedule.

  • What daily or weekly routines have you established in your own life experience?
  • How important is it to have a regular routine in your spiritual life?
  • How well do you cope when some unexpected event interrupts your routine?

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A DECAYING PRIESTHOOD (Malachi 3:1-4)

In our first Advent study we were reminded of the way in which the Rulers of Israel deviated more and more from the high standards set by David and Solomon, to the point where both kingdoms of Israel and Judah became corrupt, and vulnerable to external political pressures. In the end this led to Israel being defeated and carried into exile in Assyria, and Judah conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and taken into exile in Babylon.

But it was not just the political leaders that strayed from God’s commands, the spiritual leaders, who were charged with keeping the spiritual and moral health of Israel, were equally guilty.

Micah condemns the religious and political leaders of Israel and Judah alike:

Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the LORD and say, “Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (Micah 3:11 NIV)

And Hosea singles out the priesthood for condemnation:

The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. (Hosea 4:7-8 NIV)

In the record of Ezra and Nehemiah, we see the returnees from exile in Babylon making a sterling effort to root out corruption and idolatry from the priesthood and restore the reputation of the religious authorities. But by the time of Jesus the religious institutions had once again deteriorated, oppressing the people, laying unnecessary burdens on them, and lining their own pockets by their corrupt practices.

Jesus roundly condemned the Pharisees, Priests and religious leaders for their hypocrisy, and for neglecting the most important matters of mercy, justice and faithfulness (see Matthew 23:23 and following).

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GABRIEL UPSETS ZECHARIAH’S ROUTINE (Luke 1:5-25)

So to go back to our Old Testament reading, Malachi has a very specific message for the Levites – the religious officials and priests of Judah:

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness…

God promises to shake the religious leaders out of their complacency, to rid them of sin and corruption, to restore the priesthood to its original purpose, offering sacrifices that are pure, unblemished, and pleasing to a holy and righteous God.

So it’s significant that the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah – who is not just from the tribe of Levi, but a descendant of Aaron, and who at the time of Gabriel’s appearance is performing his priestly duty in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Moreover Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth (also from the tribe of Aaron) are described as:

“upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.”

It seems that Zechariah has been untainted by the general state of corruption and hypocrisy in the priestly institution, and is performing his duties in a proper and righteous manner. Which is surely why God chose to appear to Zechariah and not to any other member of the priesthood.

But he does have a problem which becomes apparent in his response to Gabriel’s news. Zechariah has been performing his religious duties for many years, reciting the same rites, following the same rituals. He has a set pattern to follow in his Temple duties which probably hasn’t varied for decades.

So imagine yourself in Zachariah’s shoes…

  • How would Zechariah feel at Gabriel’s sudden appearance in the middle of his priestly routine?
  • In what other ways did Gabriel’s message threaten to upset his routine?

Notice that Zechariah has (probably for many years) been praying for Elizabeth to have a child – Gabriel announces: “Do not be afraid, your prayers have been heard”. But when Gabriel tells him that Elizabeth will bear him a son he finds it hard to believe. (How often do we pray over a particular situation, and then are really surprised when God answers!)

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s family routine is about to be upset in a big way!

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MAKE ROOM FOR THE BEST (Philippians 1:3-11)

Paul prays for the believers in Philippi, thanking God for their partnership in the gospel, confident that God, who has begun to fulfil his purpose for them and produce fruit in their live, will complete the work that he has begun, until everything is finally brought together in Christ Jesus on the day of his coming.

There is nothing here that’s routine. Routine suggests continuing the same procedure, in the same way, from one time to the next. Paul’s prayer depicts a process in which God’s plan for us is progressing day by day, from one level to the next, building up to a final glorious climax when Jesus comes to receive us into his eternal kingdom. Always growing closer to the likeness of Christ.

So we should never be satisfied, but seek to know more and more of God’s plan and purpose for us, and be filled more and more with his love and grace.

… this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best, and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.

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 For discussion

Jesus’s birth could be seen as the greatest unexpected, routine-breaking event in history. His birth, life and death turned the world upside down.

  • The shepherds’ nightly routine was interrupted by an angelic choir …
  • Herod’s political routine was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the Magi at his palace in Jerusalem…
  • Peter and Andrew’s routine fishing trip was interrupted by the arrival of a young Rabbi who called them to be fishers of men…

May we pray that God will interrupt our daily routine by showing us a better way.

Routine is good, and safe, but there is better than routine. God interrupted Zechariah’s routine in order to give him and Elizabeth what was the best of his will and purpose for them.

Advent should be a time to remember how God gave his very best for our salvation, and to ask again how we can give our very best back to him.

  • What aspects of your normal routine might you be prepared to relax or rearrange in order to be able to grow in your spiritual life?
  • Plan to do something different and unexpected this Advent that will make an impact on your family, your neighbours, your work colleagues, and make them think more deeply about the real meaning of Christmas.
  • What might be the best thing that would serve to bless your church or community this season of Advent?

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For meditation and prayer …

The Psalm set for today is the Benedictus, Zechariah’s prayer of praise to God. Having been severely shaken up and startled out of his safe regular, comfortable routine. Zechariah appreciates the enormity of what God has done for himself and his wife Elizabeth – not just giving them a son, which would have been a miracle in itself, but one who will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”.

Join with Zechariah in praising God for his amazing plans and for interrupting the regular daily routine of life to bring joy and salvation to mankind.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David  (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us– to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

(Luke 1:68-79 NIV)