Posts Tagged '1 Advent'

For Nov. 30, 2014: 1 Advent, Year B

The Reading                                                   Isaiah 64:1-9

We launch the season of Advent, and with it Year B, with a reading from the predominantly hopeful third part of Isaiah that is penitential and a bit apocalyptic. All of us for whom Isaiah speaks are the authors of our own disasters and about as righteous as used toilet paper(verse 6)—but yet all of us are the work of God’s hand.

The Response                                                 Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

Isaiah’s theme is continued in Psalm 80. Prayers notwithstanding, God’s people are suffering: they eat and drink tears by the bowlful and are the scorn of their neighbors. They ask God, “Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand.” Christians often view this as a prophecy of Jesus. But what if it is a call to us?

The Epistle                                                      1 Corinthians 1:3-9

The Christians of Corinth, a bustling Greco-Roman seaport, were well off by Christian standards, but Jewish and Gentile converts were at odds. Paul opens his first letter to them with gratitude for their learning and speaking but striking silence on the topic for which he praises other churches: love for one another.

The Gospel                                                       Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13 is Jesus’ long answer when four disciples ask him privately how they will know when the Messiah is coming. Jesus tells them to look for the signs, as one gauges from the fig tree’s leaves when summer is coming, but he adds that only the Father knows just when that will be.

 

Further thoughts

These “further thoughts” are normally confined to matters of theology. The current unrest in Ferguson, MO and elsewhere over a grand jury’s refusal to recommend that the shooting of Michael Brown come to trial, however, demands comment, the more so in light of the lectionary texts for this first Sunday in Lent, Year B.

As I write, it is the second day after the prosecutor’s announcement. News reports indicate that last night was calmer than the night before; it is good if the ashes in Ferguson and other cities are beginning to cool, both for the sake of the business owners and residents who suffer damage and injury and in the interest of toning down the chorus of gibes to the effect that, well, one really can’t expect any better behavior from… them. But I can’t help fearing that the settling ashes will once again be allowed to obscure and bury a discussion that this nation must have. The issue is that hundreds of thousands of mothers live in fear that theirs will be the boy who doesn’t come home tonight because he’s been shot by a cop. This fear has been given searing voice by a teacher friend of mine; her son is a senior at Army-Navy Academy in Carlsbad and a standout wide receiver in football, which means he’s a little more lightly built than Michael Brown but still a pretty big guy, and he’s black. She is nauseated with fear that he’ll die of reaching too fast for his ID. And she’s not alone.

That this fear exists and is pervasive must be confronted and dealt with, whatever one believes about who was right in Ferguson. If it is not, I fear that in the future of this nation are Psalm 80:5’s “bowls of tears” for all of us to drink. I fear Isaiah 64:7’s chilling prophecy that, far from falling to outside enemies, we are instead bound to be “delivered into the hands of our iniquity.”

What if our listening to the anguish of Ferguson is the sound of the Lord God tearing open heaven to come down and bring righteousness?

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For Dec. 1, 2013: 1 Advent, Year A

With the turning of the liturgical year, here’s a change for St Alban’s Lections: adding prefaces on the response and the gospel, accompanied by a shift to a shorter contemplation under the name of “Ponderables”.

The Reading            Isaiah 2:1-5

The season of Advent is a path of repentance and promise, and these themes resound in the prophecies of Isaiah that we will read each week. For this first Sunday, Isaiah foretells the path and the promise for Judah and Jerusalem—and, if we too will turn from the ways of war and destruction to the ways of the Lord, for us.

The Response            Psalm 122

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” When Jerusalem truly functions as the Place of Wholeness that its name suggests, then the vision that Isaiah has depicted comes to life.

The Epistle            Romans 13:11-14

Isaiah, in our first reading, foretold the path and the promise of Advent. The apostle Paul writes to Christians in Rome—a city like London, Paris, and Las Vegas all rolled into one—to tell them what it takes to be ready for the coming of Christ. He reminds them, and us, that the time to wake and walk with God is always right now.

The Gospel            Matthew 24:36-44

In Luke 21:5-19, which we read two weeks ago, the disciples asked Jesus when the end times will be, and he gave an indefinite answer. He replies again in today’s reading from Matthew, and with a much more definite indefinite: no one knows except the Father, and therefore it is up to us as followers to be ready.

 

Ponderables

The readings for the first Sunday in Advent fall indisputably into the category of apocalypse. The word literally means ‘uncovering’ or ‘revelation’, but over time it has come to mean ‘the end of times’. We associate it with bad news partly because of the horrors predicted in the Book of Revelation but mostly, I suspect, because, being human, we associate the end of everyday life—the “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” of Matthew 24:38—with bad news. The gospel provides some warrant for this in comparing Jesus’ return with the flood of Noah, which was indeed bad news for anyone not on the ark: one will be taken, Jesus tells us, and one left, though it’s not clear from the passage which of those is the one who is saved at that point, nor is it even clear what will happen to the other. One assumes that Jesus’ vagueness is intentional.

Isaiah and the writer of Romans, characteristically, are much less vague. Isaiah tells us how things will be when the Lord rules, or to be precise when all of us accede to the Lord’s rule: weapons of war and wounding will become tools of tillage and tending. The verses that precede the epistle reading famously sum up our mutual duty as loving one another—looking out for each other—before admonishing us to hop to it. But behold: what Isaiah holds out as the outcome of God’s reign is pretty much what the epistle counsels as the means to it.

What if this is precisely the point of Advent? The one taken away in the gospel might be headed for Paradise—but what if the one is left to keep being God’s hands and feet and love in the world?

For Dec. 2, 2012: 1 Advent, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 33:14-16

In the sixth century before Christ, Jeremiah the prophet predicted very bad times that came to pass: the last king of the house of David lost his throne and many Jews were forced into exile. Yet today’s reading gives us words of hope that look forward to justice from the offspring of David.

The Response            Psalm 25:1-9

The Epistle            1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

The first letter to the church at Thessalonike may be the oldest book of the New Testament. In this lesson Paul, despite the perturbations in his own life, writes almost effervescently of his joy in the Christians of the church at Thessalonike and of his hopes for their continued growth in love and holiness.

The Gospel            Luke 21:25-36

 

Further thoughts

Advent, the beginning season of the Church year, is a season of anticipation. Many of us look forward to the family gatherings, to the seasonal food and drink and decorations, to unpacking the Santa sweaters and furry boots in which we’ll cheerfully swelter on a typical Southern California “winter” day, to performances of the Nutcracker ballet and Handel’s venerable Messiah (which, like so many things in life, is both easier and harder than it sounds), and of course to celebrating the arrival of the vulnerable, approachable baby in the manger, God as one of us. Paul the Apostle Paul looks forward in this way, as he practically wriggles with glee in hopes of revisiting his Thessalonian godchildren.

Not everyone looks forward eagerly. In the sixth century BC, Jeremiah opening his mouth usually meant that bad news was coming: for good reason is a bitter, hyperbolic denunciation of a people and its practices called a “jeremiad”. Chapter 33 stands in marked contrast to most of Jeremiah’s prophecies, for here he foresees the return of Israel and Judah in safety to the land of promise and the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. Even here, however, the prophecy is edged: if the Branch of David is to bring perfect righteousness, what will become of those—or those of us—who are merely human?

Jesus’ prophecy is even more edged, for he foresees the end of everything as we know it, and the signs that he names to foreshadow the end—natural disasters including massive flooding and terrifying phenomena in the skies—give a deeper and more terrifying sense to the word “ominous”. All of this is far indeed from baby Jesus meek and mild.

Yet Jesus offers a remarkable analogy for these signs: not a harbinger of hard times such as bad weather, but rather the fig tree putting forth its tender lives, which is a sign of the coming of summer. The natural tendency, when things are bad, is to hunker down in one’s own foxhole with one’s own resources and wait it out, but Jesus instead calls us to stand up and raise our heads. Beyond the terror, our redemption waits. That is cause for hope—and perhaps we are also meant to stand for hope and for each other to a terrified world.