The First Sunday in Advent, 29 November 2015

Jeremiah 23:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
St. Mark 13:1-8

Background: The Gospel of Luke, Part I

Greater than a fourth of the New Testament is contained in this Gospel, written by an anonymous gentile in the latter part of the first century, or shortly thereafter.  It is written in a very good Greek and is cognizant of the Hebrew Scriptures and uses them frequently. Tradition holds that Luke was an “inseparable companion to Paul” (Irenaeus), and that he was from Antioch. The tradition may or may not be correct. The intent of the gospel, however, is quite telling,

I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”

The work is contained in two volumes, that of the Gospel According to Luke and its companion volume, The Acts of the Apostles. The author uses several forms in which to tell his story, some appearing in historical forms and narrative, and others as biography or life story. His approach is one of “Salvation history”, describing God’s plan for the salvation of humankind as evidenced in the Hebrew Scriptures, and then in the life of Jesus. One commentator divides the work into three sections: a) Jesus among humankind from his birth until his encounter with John the Baptist, b) Jesus ministry and passion, and c) the work of the apostles, most especially Paul. The sources for this work are materials from the Gospel of Mark, quotations from the Sayings Collection known as “Q”, and material unique to Luke.

Next Week: Structure of the Gospel.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

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."

Some call this section of Jeremiah a message of comfort due to its oracles that announce God’s intention to see to the fortunes of Judah, and to look after a weakened Jerusalem.  Our pericope is from the fourth promissory oracle. It is related to the material in Jeremiah 23:5-6, and you may want to look at that pericope while studying or reading this one. You might also look at the material in II Samuel 7:8.  These both represent prior statements of the promises made in this oracle to Judah. If we read Jeremiah carefully, we may find these promises a bit surprising in that Jeremiah is not all that sanguine about the Davidid kings. Perhaps Jeremiah did not want to kick against the overwhelming tradition both in the Torah and psalter regarding the house of David, and includes it here as a best hope in a dire situation. The key word is righteousness, and it is here that we need to begin to make connections, as Jeremiah hoped the monarchy and the whole of the society would do The question is, then, what is righteousness and what is expected of and from it. The whole prophetic message then follows, and expectation of justice and the care of those who are both poor and lowly. This is a future hope, one to be realized in a yet to be Jerusalem, made new in the promises of God.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. What comforts do you find in these words of Jeremiah?
  2. What promises do you hear God making to you?
  3. How do you exhibit your own righrteousness?

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 poem based on the alphabet. It follows well upon the oracle of Jeremiah. One can imagine it as the response of those who might take Jeremiah’s words to heart, for the subject of the psalm wishes to be instructed and led by God. There is an initial and essential understanding in the first verse, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul”. The Hebrew word here is nefesh, in other words “the essence of my life, my very breath.” There is an understanding that what is to be learned is to be made a part of the essence of the subject’s life. A doublet of versets diverts from that essential thought to pray for survival and protection, an ironic projection of what Jeremiah only implies in his words. Here they are quite clear.

What follows is instruction, a process of mentoring that proceeds on the basis of forgiveness and trust. The subject knows that he has not been righteous in the past (hence the passage, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions.”), but asks God to remember a status of forgiveness and uprightness. God is expected to guide and lead in spite of the subject’s humility and lowliness. 

Breaking open Psalm 25:
  1. How essential is God in your life?
  2. What have you learned from God?
  3. What have you learned from the creation God placed you in?

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.

This pericope comes from an initial “Thanksgiving” section of the epistle that serves as an introduction to the main points of the letter. In earlier parts, Paul expresses his desire to visit the Thessalonians, and offers a thanksgiving for the work that they have done for the sake of the Gospel. In a sense Paul prepares a bridge of blessing between himself and this congregation that he longs to see. The language is familial and fatherly, an initial blessing to them. Paul seems to model his own love for them, on the love that God bears toward them. There is a yearning for holiness and blamelessness so that both Paul and the Thessalonians can be caught up in the faithful to greet the coming Jesus. This is a great Advent text.

Breaking open I Thessalonians:
  1. What binds the lives of Paul and the Thessalonians together?
  2. What makes your congregation a family?
  3. How will you wait with others for the coming Christ?

St. Luke 21:25-36

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."

These teachings precede the passion of Jesus, and serve as a Lucan apocalypse much like the Marcan one that we read a couple of Sundays ago. Luke’s view of these has greater scope than the view in Mark. Luke’s view is much more cosmic and universal, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.” In Mark the disciples are amazed at the local magnificence that Jesus quickly and easily dismisses. Here, however, the whole earth is at risk and in danger. What follows is the promise of the coming. To gain a fuller grasp of the imagery here, you may want to look at Daniel 7:13-14. Jesus appears as the victor over all the powers of the earth. It is an important perspective to maintain as Luke then leads us into the passion events. The disciples, and we, are given something that we can understand and perceive. Jesus uses the metaphor of the fig three, a reference that Luke’s initial readers would have well understood. For a people connected to the agriculture and nature about them – the signs of the seasons would have been obvious and known to all. This removes the eschatology of Luke from a position as an esoteric knowledge to something that might be perceived by anyone. Therefore the closing instruction, “Be on guard, so that your hearts are not weighted down with dissipation,” becomes not an impossible task – tied to difficult observations and discernment, but an approachable part of daily life. Jesus hopes for salvation for his hearers, and bids them be ready for his return.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you observe going on in our own times?
  2. Is it the end time?
  3. If so, why or why not? 
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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller


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