Reading Ramblings – November 30, 2014

Date:  First Sunday in Advent —November 30, 2014

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Context:  The Church year begins with the season of Advent, a season of expectation, anticipation, reflection, and preparation. This dovetails well with the conclusion of the last few weeks of the last Church year in looking forward to our Lord’s return. We begin the year as we end it, waiting.  However what we wait for is different.  We do not wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise to his Old Testament people—we have already received that in Jesus Christ.  Now, we live and wait as people who have received those promises in full, but who wait only for the appointed time when this is obvious to everyone—including ourselves.

Isaiah 64:1-9 — Following Isaiah 63, which begins with a vivid depiction of the Lord coming in anger, transitioning to a recounting of the Lord’s history with his people, Isaiah 64 begins with longing for the Lord’s arrival, for him to come in power as He did in days of old. The first two verses assert that the Lord’s presence and power have natural ramifications, every bit as much as fire will light twigs and boil water. The presence of the Lord will cause creation to tremble and the nations to shake in fear. Verse 3 asserts that this is what happened in the past, transitioning to the current situation in verse 4 – God has seemed distant since those amazing days of the past. God’s nature doesn’t change (v.5), but his people have not been so consistent (vs.5b-7). The section ends with a plea for God’s mercy, for his steadfast love to win out over his short-term anger and chastisement.

Psalm 80:1-7— Verse 1 addresses God, describing him poetically as the one who dwells in glory over the Ark of the Covenant with it’s mercy seat of hammered gold in the shape of two cherubim bent over with their wings nearly touching. It is this God that is implored to move on behalf of his people, to save and restore them. God is unhappy with his people (v.4-6), but the writer appeals to God’s overwhelming character of love and goodness as the one source of salvation.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 — The theme of expectation in the last two readings extends now into the era of the Church. God has fulfilled his Old Testament promises, and in Christ we have received all things. There is nothing left to anticipate beyond his return. Here, everything has been received already – grace in Jesus Christ (v.4), enrichment in every way (v.5), confirmed testimony (v.6), spiritual gifts already received (v.7), the promise of faithfulness to the end (v.8). These are things already received, not anticipated. All that remains is for the reality of these gifts to be fully revealed and experienced in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (v.8). This is how we wait – not as paupers with nothing to show for our hope, but heirs in Christ already embellished with the gifts of God, and simply awaiting the day that what we already know to be true is fully and finally evident.

Mark 13:24-37 — In response to his disciples’ questions (13:4), Jesus prophesies about the things to come, both in the near term with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (vs.9-23), as well as those things associated with the Last Days (vs.5-8, 24-27).   The destruction of the Temple, the prophecy of which prompted the disciples inquiries, is associated with shorter-term historical events that will indeed happen before the current generation is gone (v.30).  The other events are not given a specific time-frame, and in fact are repeatedly implied to happen in the future.

Which naturally prompts many people to want to decipher Jesus’ words in order to know better when the End Times will arrive.  But Jesus is smarter than that.  His warnings describe the issues of his day perfectly as well as the issues of our own day. In other words, the time is right at hand, even as Jesus speaks. It has remained right at hand for 2000 years. Which leaves us in a posture of waiting without any certainty that the end is about to arrive.   Jesus addresses this directly in vs.32-37.

Whenever we would turn our attention too deeply to speculating on the exact day and hour, Jesus’ words in vs.33-36 call us back and to the proper emphasis – being watchful and ready. Jesus summarizes the law as love your God and love your neighbor. This is the business of those who wait and watch. We are not idle, but rather we are more than busy loving God through loving our neighbor. Whether Jesus comes this afternoon or in 1000 years makes no difference or change to what his people are called to do in watchful waiting.

We ended the Church year waiting and we begin the Church year waiting.  It is to be the consistent posture of our lives, in light of which we make our daily decisions and our plans for the future.  Everything is conditioned by the reality that Jesus will return at any moment, and yet that moment may not be until long after we have died and gone to wait with him in glory.

My hopes and fears and goals are conditioned by this expectation.  My joys are accented with this knowledge; they become foreshadowings of that greater promised joy.  My sufferings are tempered with this knowledge—Jesus is coming.  All will be set right.  Whatever persecution or affliction I must deal with, I deal with temporarily.  It will not last forever.  It does not have the last word.  The last Word is also the first Word, the Son of God made flesh for me, Jesus the Messiah.  His victory is already assured.  His resurrection is the proof of this.  I have only to lift my eyes to wait and watch and see this truth revealed, His vindication complete, and therefore my vindication complete.

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