Reading Ramblings – November 29, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Advent, November 29, 2015

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 19:28-40

Context: We begin the new liturgical year, and the themes of waiting and anticipation that formed the end of the previous liturgical year still resonate strongly in the readings for today. We are not the first of God’s people to face uncertain times, ill-defined disasters, premonitions of dread and collapse. And the promise to us is the same as the promise to God’s people in Jeremiah’s day – terrible things may happen, we may lose all that we know and treasure in this world, yet God remains with us, and God promises to gather us together again. The readings will move from this general sense of waiting and anticipation to more specifically focusing on the Christ’s arrival in our world 2000 years ago. It is that first arrival so long ago that grounds our hopes for his return and the fulfillment of God’s promises to us that began with Eve so long ago.

With all of this we need to reiterate that we do not await a king. We have a king. It’s like the movies where the good prince or commoner fights against the unlawful or evil prince or power and defeats them. Once the bad guy is defeated, we know what comes next – the good guy takes over and happily ever after ensues. The coronation may take some time to get planned and executed, but it isn’t as though there isn’t a king at this point. People are now free to live in the reality of a good king. Many will rejoice, and some will continue to buck against the new order. But it isn’t the good folks who are seen as unrealistic – it’s the folks who continue to live as if there is no king, or as if the evil prince was still the one in charge.

Jeremiah 33:14-16 – While the words are promising and comforting, they come in a larger context of judgment and condemnation. God speaks loving words of promise after assuring his people of their immanent destruction. Yet despite that destruction of all they know and hold dear, God will restore his people to their land. Jeremiah undoubtedly would have preferred to hear that God was going to spare his people from his judgment, but instead he is assured that the judgment will be terrible, but that there will be a restitution. That restitution can only come from the Lord himself, based in his righteousness, rather than the righteousness of his people. Resitution comes from God’s grace, not the eventual obedience of his people! Restitution comes based on God’s bringing forth a promised savior to do what God’s own people cannot and will not.

Psalm 25:1-10 – The emphasis in this psalm is trust and hope in the Lord, stated explicitly in vs. 1, 2 and 5. The speaker acknowledges they are a sinner in verse 7, yet still maintains that God’s grace and mercy are extended to those who are faithful to his covenant requirements (v.10). God’s grace however is also said to extend to those who trust in him (v.3). The psalm captures well the desire for obedience, which requires God to instruct us (vs.4-5, 8-10), and yet our utter dependence on God’s mercy and grace. We throw ourselves on this grace and mercy because we know that it is God’s natural disposition (vs.6-7). Our relationship to God must be one of trust, a trust that He invites us into.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 – I have to say, I find it odd to begin this reading at verse 9, which is near the end of Paul’s extended exposition on his concern for the Thessalonian Christians (vs.1-8). Paul has received good news from Timothy that the Thessalonians are holding strong in their faith, and he now bursts into thanksgiving. Their faithfulness is an encouragement to him in his suffering. Paul’s language in vs. 11-13 (where I would have limited the reading to) emphasizes once again the imagery of movement. As God the Father has come to us through God the Son, Paul seeks to return to the Thessalonians with the result of an overflow of love. As with the psalm, the movement and action is also on God’s part. He is the one who will strengthen the Thessalonians to be blameless in his presence. As we prepare for our Lord’s arrival,we should take comfort that it is God himself who preserves and sustains us until that time.

Luke 19:28-40 – God promises restoration to God’s people in the Jeremiah reading. His people would no doubt presume that this promise was fulfilled 500 years or so before Jesus, when the residents of Jerusalem (or their descendants) were free to return and rebuild. But that restoration was temporary, and would soon be undone once again by the Romans. Yet here, in an unexpected way, God truly fulfills his promise.

Note that the fulfillment is based fully and completely on the “Righteous branch”, not on God’s people. Restoration is still not a matter of their fidelity and obedience, but on the obedience of God’s servant. The servant is the one who will be obedient, and it is this obedient servant that now enters the city of God to the acclamation of God’s people. They recognize that it is the arrival of the Lord’s anointed that commences peace and glorifies God (v.38). They have done nothing other than acknowledge the arrival, likely drawing on Psalm 118.

Jesus is rebuked by the religious leaders who understand that the language the people are using is not appropriate. It isn’t appropriate politically, as it could easily draw the wrath of their Roman rulers down on the people at large, rather than just Jesus. The pharisees also think that the acclamation is theologically inappropriate, and it is this point that Jesus is likely correcting them on. Perhaps He is making reference to Habbakuk 2:11. Nature is invoked to sing praises to God if God’s people won’t, and certainly the Old Testament is replete with references to nature declaring God’s greatness.

Christians celebrate the fact that we have a king. That king was revealed in his final conflict with our ancient enemies – Satan, sin, and death. In overcoming these powers through his resurrection, Jesus demonstrates that order has been restored. It is incumbent upon those who know of his victory to begin living in that reality.

We look forward to the coronation, the event that makes it clear to everyone who might have wished to deny reality before, that the king is truly the king. But today we live in the comfort of having a king, of knowing that proper order and right rule is being re-established despite the best efforts of those who would reject the king or seek their own ascendency. Advent keeps our eyes fixed on this future coronation by reminding us of the faithfulness of God to send our king in the first place to defeat our enemies.

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