Reading Ramblings – December 3, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Advent ~ December 3, 2017

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

Context: Happy new liturgical year! We begin our journey as we ended it – in anticipation. Christ the King Sunday leaves us waiting for the return of the one and only good and rightful king and Advent strengthens that hope and anticipation as we remember that this good and rightful king has already come once. We hope for something that has precedent. We can trust the good promises of God the Father in this respect because He has already partially fulfilled them. Advent then overlaps the final Sundays of the previous Church year, continuing an initial focus on the Second Coming of Christ that gradually gives way to a focus on remembering his first arrival. We await in a posture not only of anticipation but repentance, knowing that the Day of the Lord will be one of judgment, and trusting that our position before the holy and righteous Judge is dependent entirely on our relationship to his Son who died and rose again to forgive our sins. Advent therefore has both joyous and penitential overtones and should serve as a guard against the overly sanitized and sentimentalized Christmas that has taken over cultural (and commercial) observances of Christmas.

Isaiah 64:1-9 – We anticipate the return of our Lord for his final judgment and condemnation of evil. We might think of it primarily in terms of the joy that we will share in or the loved ones we will be reunited with, but such things are only possible after judgment, after evil has been fully exposed for what it is and dealt with in God’s righteous judgment. Of course, as we contemplate this the honest person will recognize that certainly the evil within them should not escape God’s righteous judgment. Each has sinned and gone astray and no one can rightfully claim to stand pure and perfect before the righteous judge who knows every thought and feeling as well as every word and deed. This should lead the honest person into a quandry – on what basis can they hope to stand before God’s judgment? On what basis should they receive his benevolence while He punishes others? Isaiah’s prayer for God’s coming quickly transitions into a doubtful lament and acknowledgment of the sinfulness of God’s chosen people. Advent begins here – looking into our hearts and not sentimentalizing or whitewashing, but taking honest stock and inventory that should lead us to heartfelt confession and thanksgiving that our salvation is dependent not on our own hearts but wholly and completely on the work of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Psalm 80:1-7 – The psalmist has similar themes here to Isaiah. A strong desire for the Lord’s righteous salvation, and a more expressed trust that even his sinful people may be saved (v.3). The psalmist acknowledges that the suffering of God’s people is under the power and dominion of God. He allows – or even causes – their suffering, such that the casual outside observer must surely find them masochistic fools to love and worship such a God! But the hope of God’s people has always been restoration. They have always looked forward to God’s work on their behalf, and so we do as well. Yes, we suffer now, and that suffering is a direct result of our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others. It is just such sinfulness that God comes to judge, and our hope and trust is that as his people, we will receive his mercy because of his forgiveness we receive through faith and trust in the work of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – Paul begins with a blessing to the church in Corinth – praying upon them the grace and peace of God. Grace that declares them forgiven not on the basis of their own righteousness but on the righteousness of Christ alone, and peace that should calm their uncertain hearts as they struggle to live out this forgiveness in faithfulness. Grace can be terrifying because it sets us free, therefore the peace of God is necessary to steady us that we might daily seek to love our neighbor and our God to the best of our ability. Paul is clear – God’s grace comes only and completely through Jesus Christ. It isn’t something the Corinthians have to manufacture for themselves. It isn’t an emotion or a state of mind. It is an objective reality made possible only and completely through the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Is this where the Corinthians place their faith and trust? Well and good, then! They have the grace of God! A grace not limited to an intangible forgiveness but which extends into every aspect of their lives, altering their way of thinking and speaking and bringing the Holy Spirit which provides the Corinthians with every gift they need as they await Jesus’ return. They may be suffering now, and Paul will deal with the suffering of sinful division within their ranks throughout this letter. But they should never mistake their suffering and division for a lack of grace from God. God is faithful. And God will show them through Paul how to better be faithful in response.

Mark 13:24-37 – We begin and end this liturgical year (Revised Common Lectionary Cycle B, with LC-MS tweaks along the way) with Mark’s capturing of Jesus’ teachings towards the end of his ministry regarding the end times, as taught and preached by Peter. Having taught about the destruction of Jerusalem in previous verses, Jesus turns his thoughts towards the second coming, after that tribulation (the destruction of Jerusalem) (v.24). There will be amazing signs in the heavens that will occur in conjunction with Christ’s return. Nobody will know exactly when that will happen, and therefore the emphasis is on preparation and readiness. God’s people are to live in continual preparation and anticipation for their Lord’s return. This does not mean we withdraw from the world to live in the wilderness, or that we take no thought for the needs of ourselves and others around us for today or tomorrow. Rather it means that as we fulfill our vocations in the world, we do so with one eye heavenwards. We remember that we go to work not simply to earn a paycheck and pay for home and food but as a means of loving our neighbor in a tangible way, which is a form of preparation and anticipation and obedience for our Lord’s return. We marry and raise families not simply for our own personal pleasure and edification but as a means of loving our neighbor in anticipation of Christ’s return.

The posture of anticipation and repentance should lead us to be humble as we deal with one another, always seeking to live out the peace of God tangibly in our relationships. Our lives are to serve as imperfect reflections of the love we have received in Christ, bearing witness to those around us of what our true hope is – our Lord’s return. Advent is not just a short season at the start of the liturgical church year, it is who we are – Advent people. People actively waiting for their Lord’s return. Praying for his return, praying for one another, and giving thanks to God for his blessings which we in turn pour out into the lives of people around us.

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