Reading Ramblings: December 2, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: December 2, 2012,
First Sunday of Advent

Texts:
Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10; 1Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke
21:25-36

Contextual
Notes:
We begin a new Church Year! And as we do, we
begin a new lectionary cycle as well. We completed Year B of the
three-year lectionary cycle last Sunday, and now enter Year C. As
such, our primary Gospel source for the next year shifts from Mark to
Luke. Next year it will be Matthew. John does not have his own
lectionary year, but we draw on his Gospel at the high holidays of
every Church year.

Advent is a time of preparation. The
origins of this season of the Church year are unclear. Since it is a
time of preparation for the birth of our Lord, it would stand to
reason that Advent did not begin until the Nativity of Our Lord was
widely celebrated, which we can date with certainty no earlier than
the fourth century, at which point it seems to be widespread.
Traditionally it was a time of fasting and penance, very similar to
Lent which precedes Easter. While we don’t fast officially in the
Lutheran tradition, there is much to be said about treating this time
more somberly, not the least because of the tempering effect it might
have on the expectations that this time of year places on us to eat,
drink, be merry, and spend money on gifts. I tend to suspect that
Advent ought to give us pause to consider priorities, and a more
somber observance of the season lends itself better to that end than
the indifferent or even festive tone we are used to. The liturgical
color for the season of Advent is traditionally purple – the same
as Lent. In recent years however a deep blue has also become an
acceptable liturgical color.

Jeremiah 33:14-16 –
This is a beautiful passage of hope, particularly in light of the
first 13 verses of this chapter! The promise of a continuation of
Jesse’s line is made in the context of the final destruction of that
same line. Jerusalem is to be laid waste. The city will be filled
with the dead and dying. Yet in the midst of that stark promise
comes this bright hope – not all is lost! God must chastise his
people, but He has not completely rejected them. Though many will
die, some will live. Though the line of David will be cut off, it
will not be cut off forever. Our sufferings personally and
corporately are always experienced in the light of this same promise,
and in the fulfillment of that promise. Our God reigns over death
and suffering and the grave, and though these things still have their
place in our lives, they do not have the last word. The last Word
has been spoken, and it is a Word of victory!

Psalm 25:1-10: The
progression in these verse of the Psalm are beautiful. They move
from a very plaintive cry for help in present distress (vs. 1-3).
The speaker is in the midst of affliction. Defeat is a very real
possibility and so the speaker cries out for deliverance and
vindication from their enemies. Verse 3 forms a turning point
though. It acknowledges that while the speaker seeks to avoid shame,
no real or lasting shame can come to the one who places their faith
in God. This leads the speaker in vs. 4-5 to ask for strength to
better study and understand the will of God which is the Word of God.
In turn, the speaker also asks – based on the Word of God – that
God not forget his loving kindness, and to deal with the speaker in
forgiveness and mercy rather than righteous judgment (vs. 6-7).
Finally, our reading selection for today ends in praise of God (vs.
8-10). They assert the good and holy nature of God, which are the
source and reason of our faith and trust in him.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13-
St. Paul has been worried about the Thessalonian Christians. Did
they hold fast to what he taught them, or did they abandon the Gospel
after he left them? Were the persecutions that they encountered
enough to drive them back to their old ways, or had they managed to
cling tight to Jesus Christ (vs.1-5)? His joy is overwhelming though
when he finds they have remained faithful! What could be better than
to see them again and to celebrate together the faithfulness of God
in which they have been kept (vs.9-10)? Paul then prays for the
Thessalonian Christians that they would persevere in the faith as
Paul looks forward to being together with them again. But they don’t
wait idly in some sort of status quo – they are waiting while still
growing, while still overflowing in love for one another, and in
holding fast to their life in Christ. Waiting is never a passive
affair, but a constant, moment by moment, day by day active
anticipation of what is to come even in the midst of the enjoyment
and enlargement of what we have already received in Jesus Christ!

Luke 21:25-36:
The
alternative reading option for this morning was Luke 19:28-40. Both
readings are ones we associate with Holy Week and Palm Sunday and the
conclusion of Jesus’ ministry, and may seem a bit out of place here
at the beginning of Advent. But as we wait for the birth of the
Christ child, we affirm that He has already come. He has already
come and his ministry of reconciliation has not only begun, it has
been concluded through his suffering, death, resurrection, and
ascension. What we look forward to in Advent is a historical
reality, but it is also the continued promise of his return. As
such, the reading for this morning links us back to Christ the King
Sunday and the anticipation of the past few weeks looking forward to
the Second Coming of Christ. His first and second coming are linked.
They are part of the same activity of God.

Verses
34-36 are particularly powerful to me. Two thousand years on, how
many of us are weighed down in the concerns of our lives and the
world, and how many of us really, truly believe that our Savior is
coming, and that He could arrive at any moment? How many of us are
comfortable in the assumption that we will meet him after our death,
not before? How many of our decisions are guided by this assumption?

We
are the ones who are going to be surprised, caught unawares – we
who ought to be watching diligently! While we needn’t live in fear,
we do need to live with anticipation. It ought to guide our actions
and thoughts and words each day. It should continually shape who we
are by what it leads us to do and what it restrains us from doing.
Our lives ought to be characterized by this sense of anticipation
which forms the backdrop against which everything else in our lives
plays out.

We
grow up and marry and raise a family not as an end in itself but to
ensure that they know that the Lord is coming! We take a job or
follow a career path not as an end in itself, but as a means of
loving our neighbor for however many days we have until the Lord
comes! We make financial decisions not purely for selfish reasons or
to benefit our own small family but as a means of caring for family
as well as neighbors until the Lord comes again! If there is a
characterization that others ought to be able to make about us, it’s
that we are constantly awaiting the arrival of our Lord!  

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