YEAR C: THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ADVENT
Year C, the year of Luke’s Gospel, is also the year of the prophets in the Revised Common Lectionary. In the period after Trinity Sunday we have a ‘continuous’ reading from the Old Testament as the first reading. In Year C this ‘continuous’ reading comes from the prophets in ancient Israel.
To provide some sense of continuity, the Old Testament readings in Advent C are also taken from the prophets. We, therefore, begin and end the year with prophetic texts. In fact, we begin and end Year C with first readings taken from the Book of Jeremiah: Jeremiah 33 in Advent 1 and Jeremiah 23 in the festival of the Reign of Christ.
As well as looking forward, the Old Testament readings in Advent C also connect back to the readings at the end of Year B. Through those readings (in the books of Ruth and Samuel) we have been directed toward the hope in David’s line of descendants and in the Lord’s promise of an eternal covenant with that line. The first reading from Jer 33:14-16 (Advent 1) focuses on the promise of the Lord that ‘(I)n those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land’ (v. 15). The just rule of David was also highlighted in the ‘last words of David’ in 2 Sam 23:1-7, the reading for the feast of the reign of Christ.
Each of the prophetic passages in Advent explores the nature of waiting for the Lord. The readings from Zephaniah (Advent 3) and Micah (Advent 4) speak from times before the exile in Israel and Judah. In both of these hope is expressed at a time of impending disaster. The readings from Jeremiah (Advent 1) and Malachi (Advent 2) come from later times, in the midst of exile in the case of Jeremiah, and from well after exile in the case of Malachi. The Malachi reading is particularly interesting as it speaks about hope in a time when all had assumed it would have already been realised. Hope in the coming of the Lord, it appears, is by no means a simple matter where expectations are filled easily or just as people had assumed. There is always something of surprise or the unexpected when the Lord comes to us. In fact, if we look at the four prophetic texts for Advent we see that as we move closer to Christmas, and the celebration of the fulfilment of Christian hope in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we in fact move backward in the Old Testament story. It seems as if the closer we come to the Lord’s coming among us, the more we need to contemplate a hope and a waiting that look far into the distance.
The other thing that we are reminded of in these prophetic texts is that judgment upon our sins and waywardness and self-examination in terms of faithfulness are an integral part of waiting for the coming of the Lord. That is also the point of the reference to John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-6 (Advent 2). He is not just one who points ahead to the one to come. He is also one who calls people back to a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’.
Finally, the reading from Mic 5:2-5a mentions Bethlehem anticipating the birth of Jesus in that town. We should not, however, assume a simple connection between the expectation in this passage and the stories of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem in the Gospels. The prophetic text does cement the link between the hopes of Israel and the Gospel story, but the relationship between these texts is not just one way. The challenge is not just to see how Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophetic texts but to see how those texts help us understand the later Gospel story. The prophets help us understand the nature of waiting for and hoping in the Lord. Without these readings from them, our faith and our expectation of the Lord’s coming will be insufficient to cope with the world within which we do our waiting and seek to be faithful.
Return to OT Lectionary Reading