I Thessalonians 3:19-13
Saint Luke 21:25-36
What a troublesome season this is, with nearly everyone either misunderstanding it, or totally ignoring it. In American culture, the season is only observed in the liturgical churches, with the society having already launched itself into the trappings of Christmas well before Thanksgiving. Even for those who observe it, however, there is a gross misunderstanding of its purpose. It is there not to prepare for Christmas. It is there to encourage us to wait, longingly wait, for the second coming of our Lord – and that perhaps is the problem. Do we want to see the Christ come again? The countdown of time, helped with the Advent Wreath and lesser so by the so-called Advent Calendars, make us aware of our place in time, and our yearning for completion and fulfillment. We will in the coming weeks comment on other aspects of Advent, but for now it is enough to know that we need to be vigilant in our expectant waiting
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In 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. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."
In order to understand Jeremiah’s words, we need to understand the context and circumstances in which they were uttered. Written in 588 BCE while Jerusalem was being besieged by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, these words speak not only to a national situation, but to a personal one as well. Jeremiah was quite outspoken about the fate if Israel and Judah. The siege was a sign of YHWH’s disfavor with the current regime (who were putting there hope with the Egyptians, an ancient near eastern Geopolitik). The King Zedekiah had no appreciations for Jeremiah’s anticipations, that Babylon would conquer Judah, and that Zedekiah would be taken captive. For stating this, Jeremiah is imprisoned. Jeremiah’s vision is crisp and clear. The stump of a tree that has been cut down (Israel and Judah) yet shows signs of life – a branch “springs up” and is a sign of a continuing monarchy from David’s line that will honor the God of Israel. Salvation and safety, justice and righteousness, are the signs of this new kingdom and rule. From this point of view we can begin our discussions about what Advent means in our time.
Breaking open Jeremiah:
1. What hopes do you have in your life?
2. What hopes do you have for our society and culture?
3. What “new life” do you see emerging in our land?
Psalm 25:1-9 Ad te, Domine, levavi
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
Show me your ways, O LORD, *
and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.
Gracious and upright is the LORD; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
This is an acrostic psalm that forms a period of personal reflection, rather than a theological argument on the part of the author. This psalm seeks after Wisdom. The reader of the psalm is urged to wait, and the actions of thoughtful waiting are pointed out: lift up your soul, be taught by the Lord, be led by the Lord, and be guided by the Lord. The waiting is seen as a process of the discernment of Wisdom, of waiting upon God’s gracious acts. Verses eight and nine are reminiscent of the covenant concepts in Exodus 34:6-7. The result of our faithful waiting will be seen in God’s “love and faithfulness”.
Breaking open Psalm 25:
1. Where do you find Wisdom in the world?
2. Where do you find Wisdom in the Church?
3. Are the two related, and do they move you in your life?
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Paul, having sent Timothy to Thessalonica, now rejoices in the results of his vicar’s mission, and sends joyful greetings to the Thessalonians. The reason this reading is read during this season is seen in the final verse, “at the coming of our Lord Jesus.” Here is the Advent hope expressed in real terms to a company of Christians who have had their share of difficulties. Like the psalmist in the Psalm for today, Paul outlines what needs to happen while awaiting the Coming One: increase and abundance of love, strengthened hearts and holiness, blamelessness. What is interesting is that these are not only individual virtues, but communal ones as well. The waiting is not only done by you alone, but it is done by all of us together – seeing the sum of our waiting expressed in deeds of kindness and love.
Breaking open I Thessalonians:
1. How does your church await the coming of Christ?
2. How does it observe Advent?
3. How might it be different?
Jesus said, "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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"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, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 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."
Here in this liturgical season that precedes the Nativity of Our Lord, we are thrust into the Passion of our Lord. This reading is found in the initial verses of Luke’s Passion Narrative, an instruction given to the disciples following the institution of the Eucharist. In the preceding verses Luke places the dispute about greatness, and Jesus, moving from that point which threatens the communal life of the disciples, begins an instruction on “knowing the seasons” and waiting. As we read the “signs” that Jesus points out they bear no relationship to the horrors that fundamentalist Christians delight in. No, here we are asked to see what is going on about us, and to realize that God is present and always coming into our situation. To make it both real and tangible, Jesus imparts some common Wisdom, relating their skills at watching to the skills of observation about the fig tree. Again, we are given a list of duties and tasks for waiting: don’t weigh yourself down with worries, and don’t exacerbate them with “dissipation and drunkenness.” The disciples didn’t realize what was soon to follow, nor do we. Like them we try to wait patiently.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What are the signs and seasons that you observe in our world today?
- What do they say to you as a Christian?
- How do they inform your prayers?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
All commentary and questions are copyright © 2012 Michael T. Hiller