The First Sunday of Advent, 29 November 2020
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
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.
Background: The Eschaton
The understanding of the Eschaton in the Hebrew Scriptures is rooted in the idea that YHWH created this world and cosmos and continues to intervene in these worlds and realities throughout history. The History of Salvation that begins in the Hebrew Scriptures is a telling of the Eschaton that God directs and instructs. There are two aspects to this intervention: judgment and salvation. Each are God’s reaction to the acts of the people chosen by God and in a covenantal relationship with God. One can visit the eschatology of the Hebrew Scriptures most vividly in the prophets, especially Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, and Jeremiah. These commented on the “end of things” vis a vie the Assyrian and Babylonian threats which were seen as a part of God’s judgment of the people. The exilic and post-exilic prophets have another take on what is to come, Ezekiel, II Isaiah, and Zechariah along with others see an eschatology of salvation – the redemption of Israel.’
It needs to be noted that the influence of the eschatology of the Hebrew Scriptures was not the only influence to guide New Testament eschatology. Later Hebrew eschatology had been influenced by the end-time thought of Egypt, and that of Persia as well. That can be seen in the developing universalism of the latter Isaiahs, and others. To seek out the eschatology of the New Testament one only needs to look at the teaching and theology that accompanies the idea of the Kingdom of God. The fact of the resurrection gives shape and form to the eschatological hopes of the New Testament writers, either the evangelists or the epistle writers. With the resurrection/ascension, our theological eyes turn to the idea of Parousia, Judgment and the End-of-the-Age. When Matthew and Luke tie their infancy narratives to models from the Hebrew Scriptures, they fashion the arch of eschatology that extends from the words spoken at Creation to the end of time. These are some thoughts to think about as we begin this period of waiting to hear and see God’s intervention in our time.
First Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence--
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil--
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
This reading is actually a part of a much longer pericope that begins with 63:7 and ends with the last verse of our reading. The New American Bible titles this pericope as “Prayer for the Return of God’s Favor”. The material leading up to our reading recounts God’s gracious deeds to Israel and the relationship of God with a chosen people. The remembrance of ancient deeds is juxtaposed with the faithlessness of the people. An example: “Where is the one who brought up out of the sea the shepherd of his flock? Where is the one who placed in their midst his holy spirit, who guided Moses by the hand, with his glorious arm?”
The initial verse of our reading is actually from Isaiah 63:19b. The whole verse reads: “Too long have we been like those you do not rule, on whom your name is not invoked. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you.” And then the third of the Isaiah’s supplies images that match his prayer for God’s return to Israel, “As when brushwood is set ablaze…” Brevard Childs sees this pericope is being very much like many of the psalms, a communal complaint (see Psalm 76, or 106). What we have in this reading is portions of a complaint that included: a) remembrance of God’s mercy (63:7-14), b) confession (63:15-19a), c) a call for divine intervention (63:19b-64:6), and d) a final plea (64:7-11). The faithful people look at their sometime faithlessness, and ask God to come and to not be angry. It is a perfect reading for this period of expectation, and indeed a similar prayer – Maranatha!
Breaking Open Isaiah:
1. What is your plea to God?
2. How would you like God to intervene in our time?
3. How have we as a culture been unfaithful?
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 Qui regis Israel
1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.
2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.
3 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
4 O Lord God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.
6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.
17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.
18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
This psalm resembles in many aspects the reading from Third Isaiah. It is made up of three sections, a) Section I (Verses 1-4) – a plea to God to listen and to come and save, Section II (Verses 5-8) – a remembrance of God’s anger and punishment, and Section III (Verses 9-20) – a remembrance of God’s redemptive acts and the vine that was planted. What is interesting here, and in the Isaiah reading is the self-awareness of the people. They seem to know where and how they have erred. Indeed, they even can interpret God’s presence in the consequences of their lives. This is probably a psalm written after a military defeat. The images of the vine and the wall protecting the vineyard are images of Israel. The lament is that the wall has been broken down, and the vineyard is unprotected (see verse 13). Thus the plea for restoration and salvation. Verse 18 makes reference to “the man on your right”, a phrase Luther used in designating Jesus in the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress”, “Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God's own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he.” So here we have the psalm, the prayer, and the resulting hymnody.
Breaking open Psalm 80:
1. In what ways is God a shepherd to you?
2. If you are a vine, what is the wall the protects you?
3. What is your prayer to this God who is a shepherd?
Second Reading: I Corinthians 1:3-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
How does one wait for some kind of redemption in the midst of troubling times. That certainly is a question that is forefront in our own time, but it also obtained as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. The city of Corinth was a diverse, powerful, economic powerhouse with all the troubles and difficulties that accompany such success. So, Paul, in an effort to encourage Corinthian Christians, has them become aware not only of their worldly assets, but of their spiritual gifts as well. He does this in a prayer of thanksgiving, in which he acknowledges that God has enriched these people in Christ. The Christ on whom they are waiting is evident in their speech and thought. The comfort that he gives them is their blamelessness – their condition that will be on the day of Christ’s coming. In his eschatology, Paul sees God coming into history and calling all sorts and conditions of people into the fellowship held in Jesus Christ. That’s what Advent is all about.
Breaking open I Corinthians:
1. Do you fear God’s judgment?
2. What do you think you are lacking when God looks at you?
3. What are your spiritual gifts?
The Gospel: St. Mark 13:24-37
Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
As a way of preparing yourself to read Mark’s “The Coming of the Son of Man”, you might want to read the pericope immediately preceding this one, Mark 13:14-23. Note especially the tribulations that are documented there: pregnant women and nursing mothers, days such as has not been since the beginning, the shortened days. The comments outline an urgent situation that demands immediate attention. There are signs that are the reversal of creation, with a darkened sun and moon, stars falling, the powers of heaven in chaos. This reversal of creation signals a new creation and a new beginning. It is at this Time, that the new beginning is made real in the coming of the Son of Man. And here we need to turn to Daniel.
When he reached the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him,
all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed.”
This human being, God’s agent, is in Mark, not an unknown entity, but Jesus himself. The “coming in the clouds” reminds us of the accompanying presence at the Exodus, or of the cloud that descended upon the Tabernacle. Psalm 68 is a good reference in which we see God as the one “riding upon the clouds”. Now we see creation in a new light, with angels, the winds, and time itself as attendant upon the Coming One.
Inserted at this point is a Parable of the Fig Tree. The fig is a deciduous tree, that loses its leaves and goes through an annual cycle of growth and fruit bearing. It is a good example of the seasons of the year. Look at the fig and know at what point in the year you are. We are to take those observances of the times and seasons to know, as Jesus says, “that he is near”. The sense of time is also underscored in the comment on the Word of God and its eternity.
Finally, there is an encouragement to be watchful. Jesus offers multiple examples of such watchfulness – the man traveling abroad, and the servants, and the gatekeeper – all need to be watchful.
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. In what ways are you watchful?
2. For what do you watch?
3. What is your vision of the “Son of Man”?
General Idea: Show Us!
Request 1: Requesting and knowing God’s Presence (First Reading)
Request 2: Restore us! (Psalm)
Answer 1: Look at the Gifts I have given you. (Second Lesson)
Answer 2: Look at what’s happening around you. (Gospel)
Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller