The First Sunday of Advent, 1 December 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
St. Matthew 24:36-44

Background: Advent absent Christmas

It is a battle that has been long lost, at least at a cultural level. When we were in Munich in October, we saw emerging Advent Calendars, but also saw glimmers of Christmas decorations even in Catholic Vienna. Society has taken what was once the purview of the Church and has made its own, turning it into something different. That is why I think it is necessary for us to observe an Advent absent Christmas. We need an Advent of waiting – a Pauline kind of waiting, active in good deeds and actions. There is a temptation in this season to equate Christmas giving with giving, but be not fooled – it is consumerism plan and simple. The work of the season is to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God. If we keep that agenda in mind, then the readings of the lectionary will have a different meaning and impact. The prayer we need to keep in mind is Maranatha.

First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

This is indeed a reading for our time. It is all about the Kingdom of God and God’s agenda. We have met the first of the Isaiahs already in the first chapter. This second introduction may be an introduction to the collection comprising chapters 2-12, addressed to Judah and Jerusalem. For a comparison take a look at Chapter 13, where we see the beginnings of oracles against Jerusalem’s enemies. In these earlier chapters we read of the hope of non-war, and the peace that God wills.

As we look at the particularities of the text that follows we find an oracle that reminds us of Micah (4:1-4)

In days to come
the mount of the LORD’s house
Shall be established as the highest mountain;
it shall be raised above the hills,
And peoples shall stream to it. 

Perhaps this is a passage that predates both Isaiah and Micah, and is really quite ancient. It may represent a multi-layered composite of prophetic hopes centered on the Kingdom of God and all that comes with it. “In the days to come” has a hint of the Day of the Lord, along with a sense of the pilgrim-history of Israel. Isaiah’s take, however, is that God breaks into what was to make for something new and outrageous. It is this notion that makes this a great Advent text. There is a new creation here with the city and the mountain, indeed all of creation being made new. What was (swords and spears) are swept away and repurposed. God is the ultimate judge and not just of Israel but of all the nations. It is this hope that is the light of the final verse, “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.            What is your spiritual destination?
2.            How will you know when you have arrived there?
3.            In what way is Advent meaningful to you?

Psalm 122 Laetatus sum

     I was glad when they said to me, *
"Let us go to the house of the Lord."
     Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
     Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;
     To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the Lord.
     For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.
     Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
"May they prosper who love you.
     Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.
     For my brethren and companions' sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.
     Because of the house of the Lord our God, *
I will seek to do you good."

This pilgrim song, sung by those walking up to Jerusalem, wants us to ask the question, “to which Jerusalem are we climbing”?  Is it the old Jerusalem of David and Solomon, or is it the Jerusalem born in the dreams of first Isaiah? Whichever is true, we are welcomed into the city, and into the temple precincts where all the tribes go up. What shall we find there? Both judgment and peace are found there. Here is the central place, the high place of Israelite worship, the place where all gather to hear God’s will and to experience God’ peace and prosperity. If this is Isaiah’s Jerusalem, then it is a place that exceeds what had been there before, with a vision of a new Jerusalem, and a new justice and worship met there.

Breaking open Psalm 122:
1.        In what ways is your life a pilgrimage?
2.        Where do you to go find justice?
3.        Where do you find peace?

Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Paul offers us contrasts here: night and day, the works of darkness and the armor of light. This season asks us to step into the new, and to await what God’s new creation will bring. Here Paul actualizes the new and sees it as a contrast to not only what has gone on before but as a contrast to darkness and its works, which he lists for us. The waiting and living may be done “honorably.” A new garment, that is literally Jesus Christ, must be put on as we wait for his coming again.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. When is your life darkness?
  2. When is your life light?
  3. Which is better for you?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 24:36-44

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

If Isaiah sees a new day, Jesus, in Matthew sees the end of time and the unexpected coming of the Kingdom. What does Jesus see here? Is it the immanent end that would be realized in 70 CE when Rome destroys Jerusalem, or is it far beyond that? Perhaps it is a good thing for us to honor both possibilities, so that we might have the foresight to see even our own time. It might be good for you to read through the entirety of both Chapters 24 and 25 to feel Jesus’ intent and vision, providing a good context for his sayings here. What Jesus calls for in our pericope today is preparation and readiness. The difficulty lies in that this is a preparation for an unknown time, a startling event. It is known only to the Father and is a mystery and an unknown to us. 

Jesus reminds his hearers of Noah’s experience, how the flood interrupted the flow of daily life. The Advent is unknown to us in the midst of the busyness of Christmas. Jesus describes the randomness of the coming in the midst of daily life. Its reality will be one thing to one person, and something entirely different to someone else. The temptation of these texts is to assign them to dispensationalism. What he is really pointing to is those who are taken up in the judgment of the world, and those who survive as a remnant – a wonderful prophetic word. Preparedness is the order of the day – really of the hour of Christ’s coming.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        Where/when has God interrupted your life?
2.        What was your reaction?
3.        How do you prepare for God’s presence?

Central Idea;               Waiting

Example 1:                  Awaiting God’ Justice (First Reading)

Example 2:                  Awaiting in the Temple (Psalm)

Example 3:                  Awaiting in Darkness, and in the Day (Second Reading)

Example 4:                  Awaiting with Awareness of the times (Gospel)

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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller


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