As I did last week, I'd like to invite readers to consider how the themes of Advent are advanced by reading these passages this week.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (be sure to keep reading after verse 4 on that link!)
- This will seem an obvious question to some, but it needs highlighting. Where else might you have seen the words of the first two verses?
- Having answered the first question (and if you haven't already, here's a hint), does seeing these words in this context change your understanding of these words in any meaningful way? Are the differences in wording between one version and the other significant?
- There has been a significant interpretive issue in the history of this passage, whereby some scholars believe that the passage is talking about "circumstances" changed "for the better," and others argue that it refers to the "release of captives." This isn't an issue that is simply a matter where modern (post-KJV) findings make a certain interpretation more likely. Note that the old (pre-2011) NIV actually alternates between the two (see verses 1 and 4, and their footnotes). And the NASB actually translates verse 4 as "restore our captivity"! Clearly, this is a hard translation to "get right." What are the implications of these issues for our understanding?
- The Revised Common Lectionary suggests this reading as an alternative Psalm. Most churches will choose to read either Psalm 126 or Luke 1:47-55, but likely not both.
- As with the Isaiah reading above, this passage is already well-known to many, but it's worth noting (since it's not explicitly stated in the verses here) who's speaking. Does the identity of the speaker add meaning to these words?
- I find myself remembering something I wrote a few Thanksgivings ago in regard to this passage, so perhaps it's natural that my own mind reflects back on that as I read these words again. I won't rehash those thoughts again here, but invite discussion on those ideas.
- I imagine that the idea of what it is to avoid "brush(ing) off Spirit-inspired messages" and the command to "hang on to what is good (and) avoid every kind of evil" will be interpreted differently by different people. Indeed, I imagine that people on opposite sides of the "liberal/conservative" spectrum will have very different ideas on what it would mean to be faithful to these instructions. On what areas might we find common ground?
- In this passage, John the Baptizer spends a fair bit of time telling people what and who he is not. What can we tell about what and who he is from what is written here?
- Does John actually answer the question (in verse 25) "Why do you baptize?" What do you understand from his response?