Reading Ramblings – December 1, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Advent – December 1, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:(8-10)11-14; Matthew 21:1-11 or Matthew 24:36-44

Context: Advent is a liturgical season of preparation, remembering our Lord’s incarnate arrival as a baby some 2000 years ago. The season of Advent has murky origins, historically. Some speculate the season as we know it to be a blending of two separate traditions – one penitential, similar to Lent, and the other more celebratory. As such, Advent has elements of both. While many churches recognize a deep blue as the color of Advent, it was until recent times purple, just like Lent. Properly understood, we are not anticipating the birth of our Savior. That is a historical reality that cannot be anticipated. But as we prepare to celebrate that birth, our eyes should be drawn to the promise of his return, which is the focus of Christian faith (John 14:1-7; Acts 1:6-11).

Isaiah 2:1-5 – To a people living in fear of the growing power of the Assyrian empire in the mid to late 8th century BC, these words must have sounded strange. Predictions of dominance and authority and power? How strange when the gods of the Assyrians seemed to dominate the stage! How odd for us, in an age and culture where science and scientism have become the new idols of the age. That our God is and will be declared the greatest power of all? That the Word of God increasingly despised and ignored in our culture will one day be sought out for guidance and direction as the best and highest truth and rule for human life? It seems hard to believe, and there are many who would scoff at the notion. Yet many scoffed at Jesus during his ministry. Yes his tomb remains empty to this day, and his promises of grace and forgiveness through repentance and faith remain extended to anyone. The promises of God, starting with Eve in Genesis 3, always seem outrageous. Yet God is faithful to his Word, and calls us to trust his promise of our Lord’s return and the establishment of his kingdom based on his faithfulness to his Word in the past.

Psalm 122 – This psalm dovetails beautifully with the reading from Isaiah, and likely the Holy Spirit directed Isaiah to this psalm as a basis for wording his prophecy. While this is one of the psalms of ascent, psalms sung and recited by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for celebration, it is also fitting for people of all backgrounds drawn together in one family through faith in Jesus Christ to use. Jerusalem in this sense is more than just the historic or contemporary city. It exemplifies the City of God, the city of the faithful as Revelation 21-22 point us to. There thanks and praise will be given to God and the Lamb forever.

Romans 13:8-14 – The summary of the Law is to love God and love our neighbor. Culture may tell us it is possible to love one another better by ignoring God’s Word, but clearly this is not the case. The author of creation is the one who best knows how it works, and whenever we substitute our own ideas and preferences for God’s, disaster inevitably ensues. Christians profess this truth and seek to live it out to the best of their abilities. We have been called from darkness into the light. And with that call comes the assurance that history and time are not circular and endlessly repetitive but rather linear, with a clear beginning point and end-point, and we are moving towards that end-point which is the return of our Lord in glory and power to usher in a new creation, a reunion of heaven and earth, God and creation. Our lives of obedience, imperfect as they are, anticipate this end-point which is a beginning point. We seek imperfectly to live now as we will one day live perfectly. We seek to obey the Law of God not from fear or to earn his love or forgiveness, but as acknowledgment we have already received these things in Jesus Christ, and one day this will be made plain as our sin is stripped from us, enabling us to continue living the way God created us to but without the impediment of sin. Living in this way ultimately is not depriving ourselves at all, but rather a rejection of those sinful impulses which one day will be removed.

Matthew 24:36-44 – We begin a new 3-year cycle of readings with the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) – LC-MS edition. As such, the Gospel for this year is Matthew. The majority of Gospel lessons will come from Matthew. Does it seem odd to talk about our Lord’s return? While our television sets and radios and Internet feeds constantly try to draw our attention away towards the latest disaster, the latest catastrophes, and the latest promises about who and what can prevent them from happening again? Does it sound strange to talk of our Lord’s return as we deal with the day-in and day-out issues of paying bills, managing medications, looking for time with family and the countless other issues that demand our focus?

Such is our life, but these things must occupy our attention only as foreground. We engage in them always with the knowledge that our Lord will return one day, and this and only this is the ultimate hope and goal of every Christian life. We pay our taxes, perform our work, fulfill our duties as neighbor and citizen, our blessings as family members with the knowledge that one day all of these things will be transformed, purified, even as we are already purified in our Lord’s sacrificial death and resurrection. We do not wait in fear or anxiety but in joy. We wait in anticipation, knowing that nothing can be better than that day and hour, and every day and hour until then is an opportunity to grow in love of God and love of neighbor.

We will be surprised by his return, but not as those who never thought it would come. We will be surprised, but not dismayed. We wait in his grace and forgiveness and therefore we can wait joyfully. The Master is returning home. All will be well again.

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