The Living Word for Sunday, December 19, 2021 (Advent 4), is a non-denominational Bible study which relies on the Bible explaining the Bible, uninfluenced by any church’s traditions or preferences, and following the Bible’s sequence of progressive revelation. Read the whole passage first and let the Holy Spirit begin speaking to you through it, then go deeper with the verse by verse commentary and reflections. The week’s readings are as set by the Revised Common Lectionary, an inter-denominational resource shared by many different churches and chapels. The Bible version, widely used in contemporary churches, is the NIV © Biblica. Ref. TLW50C
Psalm 80:1-7 — A prayer for revival
Micah 5:2-5a — The whole earth will defer to a great ruler in God’s peace who will emerge from humble origins
Luke 1:39-55 — As Elizabeth and Mary meet, the Holy Spirit presences Himself strongly
Hebrews 10:5-10 — God’s way is to supersede the Old Covenant ceremonial with knowing and deferring to the Lord Jesus
Theme: Deferring to God in receiving His grace
• See also this week’s linked article How Does Revival Come? It’s Not About Us
1-2 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken Your might; come and save us.
3 Restore us, O God; make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
4 How long, Lord God Almighty, will Your anger smoulder against the prayers of Your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; You have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.
7 Restore us, God Almighty; make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
Micah 5:2-5a — A great ruler will emerge from humble origins
The whole earth will defer to the greatness of this Shepherd of God’s peace
2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me, One who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
“Ephrathah” – the district where Bethlehem (‘house of bread’) is located, and where David was born, 1 Samuel 17:12. David was an unlikely choice as king; Bethlehem was an unlikely home town for a subsequent and greater ‘David’.
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour bears a Son, and the rest of His brothers return to join the Israelites.
“Abandoned” — the nation Israel was without a king from the exile in the sixth century BC onwards.
”When she… bears a son” — can be interpreted as Mary, the mother of Jesus; or Bethlehem bearing a son; or a son born of the righteous remnant; or (taking the whole verse) the end time deliverance of those able to participate joyfully in the coming of the fullness of the kingdom, Micah 4:9-5:1.
4 He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.
And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
”Shepherd His flock” — a common metaphor for ruling a nation.
5 And He will be our peace.
”Our peace” — ‘shalom’ is a broad term of general well-being and prosperity, but in this context, Micah 5:5-7, peace from Israel’s enemies symbolised by Assyrian invaders.
SUMMARY Micah lived at the time the northern kingdom fell to Assyrian attackers in 722 BC and his book, the compilation of his prophecies, highlights corrupt spiritual leadership, Micah 3:9-11, and its consequences. This, alluded to in v.3, is contrasted with God’s constant heart to restore and bring people back to Himself which is where this remarkably detailed foretelling of the Saviour’s birth belongs..
APPLICATION A previous emphasis in this Advent overall theme of preparation for the Lord’s coming, was changing, and the need to be changed. Now it becomes about trusting and submitting to God’s higher purposes, whether or not they make sense to us. In class-conscious Israel it was inconceivable that a future ruler would emerge from a humble and remote village. God moves in unexpected ways, but those who have a prophetic ministry will often share and explain what they perceive His plan to be — for those who are listening.
QUESTION What needs to happen in us for God to be able to be our peace?
Luke 1:39-55 — Elizabeth’s unborn baby defers to the Messiah
As Elizabeth and Mary meet, the Holy Spirit presences Himself strongly
39-40 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
“In the hill country of Judea” — a four-day journey.
41-42 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
“The baby leapt” — a remarkable response which the Holy Spirit caused. The baby John leaping in the womb recognises he is in the presence of someone greater; Jesus is not just a prophet. John is already announcing the coming of the Messiah.
43-45 “But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil His promises to her!”
“Leaped for joy” — Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, has prophetic insight about the baby within her expressing joy.
46 And Mary said:
The words that follow are Mary’s Psalm-like song of praise commonly called the Magnificat, from the Latin for ‘glorifies’.
47-48 “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.
49 “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is His name.
“Humble state… all… will call me blessed — at a stroke Mary has changed from a poor Hebrew girl in humble circumstances, to a path that will make her the most honoured woman the world has known.
50 “His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation.
51-53 “He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
“He has performed” — Mary’s experience of change is set in a greater and wider change. The kingdom of God turns the expected order upside down. The ones favoured by God’s mercy are simply those who turn to Him without any merit of their own. God is ‘performing’ this.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
“Brought down… lifted up” — God’s reversal of the expected order is an emphasis of Luke and Acts. By contrast, Jewish culture generally saw power and wealth as evidence of God’s favour, and questioned why someone of humble state should be chosen. Mary is part of this initial re-setting of values, which anticipates the greater reversal to come at Jesus’ coming at the end time. .
54-55 “He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants for ever, just as He promised our ancestors.”
“Remembering… just as He promised” — Mary is aware of the enduring force of God’s covenant promises. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary spoke of God’s covenant with David, and here Mary recalls the older covenant with Abraham.
• For further study on the covenants, read Luke 1:32-33, 2 Samuel 7:13, 16 and Genesis 12:1-3, 17:3-8.
SUMMARY Mary’s song is a vivid reminder that God looks on the heart, and places high value on those who have dealt with their pride and self-sufficiency. The words are about having no need to prove anything ourselves when our focus is on what God has done, and will do in those who live in awe of Him.
APPLICATION We think that God’s favour will be on those who, in our judgment, have merit before Him. But the ‘merit’ He looks for is being humble and dependent worshippers. This explains one of the greatest-ever world-class responsibilities being given to the outwardly unremarkable Mary and Joseph. It speaks to us about what in us enables, or prevents, God from using us.
QUESTION What titles or distinctions might we need to let go of, to be eligible for God’s next assignment?
Hebrews 10:5-10 — Knowing and deferring to the Lord is true worship
The Old Covenant ceremonial and sacrifices now gives way to Jesus
5-6 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased.
”With… offerings You were not pleased” — a quotation from the Greek version of David’s Psalm 40, about simple submissive obedience to God’s will being what God far prefers to the elaborate rituals of Mosaic Law.
7 Then I said, “Here I am — it is written about Me in the scroll — I have come to do Your will, My God.”
8 First He said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings You did not desire, nor were You pleased with them” — though they were offered in accordance with the law.
”Offerings you did not desire” — the ceremonial system was a stop-gap measure until Jesus should come and die, once, as a final sacrifice for sins. The writer implies that God never liked the previous complex and superficial means of holiness.
9 Then He said, “‘Here I am, I have come to do Your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.
”The first… the second” — Jesus’ perfect sacrifice of Himself sets aside for all time all previous sacrifices as a means of sinners being made holy.
10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
SUMMARY This passage quotes Psalm 40:6-8, applying it as a prophetic preview of Christ’s priestly ministry. This, it explains, sets aside the priest and sacrifice ceremonial system which acted as a stop-gap intervention for the manifold sins in daily living. This is now set aside by Christ’s sinless, perfect and final sacrifice of Himself.
APPLICATION This calls us to consider how we achieve holiness and whether it is biblical — or effective. Either we try to achieve holiness by our own efforts, often with ceremonial which mimics sacrifice in a recreation of the Temple and its worship. Or we take Mary’s words in the gospel reading to heart, and rely on what God has done and specifically what Jesus has done for us. He offers us salvation in Him, with a new identity and a new spiritual start in life. It then becomes our decision to lay down the need we have in ourselves to make “sacrifice and offering” by choosing to simply receive and rely on what He has done and submit to His Lordship. We might feel more satisfied with our way of earning an imaginary merit, but Psalm 49 also sets out the folly of “those who trust in themselves” and seek to buy their redemption in various ways. To defer to God is to accept His Son and how He has made it work, believing what we read here that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.
QUESTION Why do we find it harder to receive what God has done for us, than to seek to create our own holiness?
PRAYER Lord, we are creatures of routine and habit.
We look for security in what is familiar, or comfortable, when we should find all our security in You.
Help us to submit to Your good will and purpose for us, being willing to be changed,
as we worship You in the Spirit and in the truth of who Jesus is,
the only Name under heaven by whom we can be saved,
and in whom we come to You in prayer. Amen.
PRINT EDITION You can download a PDF of the print edition from the link below. It prints on A4 paper to produce a four-page Bible-size folder. Permission given to copy for your own use, for your Bible study or home group, or for inclusion with your church bulletin.