The First Sunday in Advent, 3 December 2018

The First Sunday in Advent, 2 December 2018

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
St. Luke 21:25-36

Background: Apocalyptic in the Gospels

In order to understand the development of apocalyptic materials in the Gospels, we need to understand the environment in the first or second century BCE. The recent readings from Daniel help us to get a feel for what these writers were up against. It helps when we hear certain commentators speak about this literature as “crisis literature”.  In having visions about making the whole of reality, the cosmos, right again. Some of this comes from the influence of Persian dualism – the forces of evil against the forces of right. Soon that actuality became quite real in the world of the Seleucid kings, and then the Romans. Jews did think that their world had been compromised and needed to be redeemed.

It is in this world understanding that Jesus arrives, and in which the literature about him was written. So, it is natural that these writers (they synoptics) and Jesus himself use apocalyptic themes and vocabulary to shape their message to the world. Our Gospel for this morning, Luke 21:25-36, is a good example of apocalyptic writing. Jesus’ comments (see also Mark 13; andMatthew 24-25). The destruction of Jerusalem which may have been evident to some of the synoptics would have added those realities to the Jesus’ sayings that they present in their gospels.

First Reading: 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."

Finally, Jeremiah is able to speak a word of hope into his difficult situation. Chapter 33 is made up of seven oracles – promises really – in which God indicates an intention to reverse the misfortunes of Judah. There are two important claims implicit in the text. First of all, it is God who speaks, and it is God’s resolve. Secondly, God’s intent is invested in the reality of Judah – its society, politics, history, and community. Our reading this morning consists of the fourth promissory oracle. You may wish to look back at what the prophet has to say earlier in 23:5-6, in which the promise is connected to the Davidic line, as it is in this text as well. But it is more than just having another Davidid king; David is connected to the virtues of justice and righteousness. It is these elements that will restore Judah, and that is why the reading ends as it does, “The Lord is our righteousness.”In spite of past difficulties with the line of David (see 22:13-18, and verses 24-30 as well). What has laid Judah low will be redeemed. This gives us a more theologically realistic vision when we talk about Jesus’ connection to the Davidic line. 

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. How was David a good example of kingship?
  2. How was David a bad example of kingship?
  3. What do you hope for in our rulers?

Psalm 25:1-9 Ad te, Domine, levavi

1      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.
2      Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3      Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4      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.
5      Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6      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.
7      Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8      He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9      All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

This is an acrostic psalm based on the alphabet. Written so that it might be easily memorized, it may have had a liturgical usage. It begins with the profound notion of the earnestness of the writer – “I lift up my soul” that is, I lift up my very essence and being. The pleading of the psalm continues on from that understanding of the self-involved in a covenant with YHWH. Verse 2 is an excellent example of a chiasmus, a matching of concepts within a single verse: “Let none who look to you be put to shame;” – “let the treacherous be disappointed (shamed) in their schemes.” There we have the plea, and what follows is a request for instruction and wisdom. The request “to remember” is an invitation to remember compassion and love, and then a negative, “don’t remember the sins of my youth.” The final request for remembrance is that God might remember the poet, “according to your love.” 

Breaking open 132:
  1. What do you understand as your essential self?
  2. What does that self desire from God?
  3. How do you want God to remember you?

Second Reading: I 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.

The close of the first section of the book expresses a desire on the part of Paul to visit with and see face-to-face the members of the Thessalonian church. Paul wants to be their pastor and guide in a closeness granted by God. These people seem to be Paul’s concern both night and day. Paul wants to be with them so that he might mend and repair what is missing in their faith. There is almost an urgency in Paul’s words and in his expectation for the Thessalonians. The final verse gives us the clue, “that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” It is the perfect Advent pericope – expectation of a Christ who comes again.

Breaking open I Thessalonians
  1. Who has been a pastor to you?
  2. What life issues did your pastor help you with?
  3. How can you pastor others?

The Gospel: 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."

We need to remember what precedes these statements by Jesus. Sitting in the temple, he and the disciples witness the gift of the poor woman in the treasury. The discussion with the disciples follows largely focused on the temple, and then Jerusalem and its environs (the fig tree) and finally brought into a reverse kind of focus on the entire cosmos – “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.” Everything is now the subject of change and destruction. In the midst of this we see the apocalyptic figure of “The Son of Man”. This is a granular expectation extending from the fig tree and its fruit to the very stars themselves. (I hear the voice of Carl Sagan at this point).

What Jesus describes has the aspects of terror, but that is not his message. His message is one that does not pass away. The warning is practical – “be on your guard!” Our times seem to have a deleterious effect on those who live in them, and Jesus is not looked to as one who comes to redeem, but rather as one who divides and separates. Jesus hopes that we will have strength to survive our own day, and that we will have the grace to survive it not only as individuals, but as a community, his body, gathered for a purpose of God’s design. Advent stuff.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. In what ways are these days threatening to you?
  2. What role does your religious life play in these times?
  3. For what do you hope Jesus will come?

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 © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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