First Sunday in Advent, Year C - Nov. 28, 2021

Advent Luke Jeremiah Thessalonians

O Come Emmanuel !

The First Sunday in Advent is not about the wise men, the shepherd’s or the images we associate with Christ’s Birth. We haven’t arrived at that place.

Advent is a journey, a pilgrimage of watching and waiting. We are starting at a point of our preparation for those events as a believer one who relies on Christ. We see the need for our repentance. That’s why purple, the color of penitence, adorns our altar. We dare not rush to greet the Redeemer prematurely until we pause here, in darkened church, to admit that we do need redemption. Nothing within us can save us.

Advent comes from a Latin word – “advenire” - which means to come to... Advent, then is a time to think about “advents” - comings to - and to reflect on three comings-to in particular:
Advent leads us to remember that we are a people who live “between.” We live between the incarnation and the parousia, the day of the Lord.

This present betweenness is not a time of the absence of God, but a time filled with the voice of God calling people out of the darkness of sin into the brightness of the kingdom. Jesus coming in human form fulfills both the words of Israel’s prophets and the events in Israel’s history that speak of God’ saving grace. .

During Advent, we remember and honor those who prepared the way for Jesus: John the Baptist, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary Joseph and others. We hear stories of the preparation and sing carols of expectation. His coming will not be what we expect, or have experienced, or can perceive .

Our Advent readings teach us one that such coming will be ever a surprise, ever new, ever unexpected. They teach us to look beyond even our own hopes. What newness in life, what new experience in faith, what new understanding, awaits us as we turn our minds and hearts to the coming of our Lord again this year?

Come let us prepare!

The Signs

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

In our scriptures, the season of Advent begins with a look to the future coming (parousia of the Son of Man. While we typically live with a fairly linear view of time -- one event coming after another -- the church's liturgical and lectionary calendar is cyclical -- patterns of events repeating themselves.

For this reason, the church year that begins in Advent puts in front of us passages about the end of history before moving in later weeks to prepare us for the coming of the Christ child and the dawn of a new age. This is the last major speech by Jesus prior to the passion narrative in the Gospel of Luke. It follows the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, which in turn, Jesus states in response

Apocalyptic literature is written primarily to give hope and assurance to people in the midst of suffering. So should our preaching on this text. Apocalyptic is a style of literature that tends to flourish during difficult times. In 300 BC, Israel was dealing with the "culture war" brought on by the spread of Greek culture in the wake of Alexander's conquest. By AD 100, a subsequent occupying army had destroyed the holy city of Jerusalem. In between were all manner of rebellions, terrorism, and war.

We live in between the first coming of Jesus Christ and his second coming, and most of us feel a lot better about the first one. Christmas is about a baby, after all, and that makes everything easier.

Before this verse, Jesus has foretold the destruction of the Temple (v. 6) and it did happen in 70AD The Jewish War of 66-70 A.D. was a time of unprecedented chaos in Palestine and among the peoples of the diaspora communities of Judaism all over the Greco-Roman world. It was a time of enormous stress and it was also a time in which the victory of the Roman Empire was virtually unqualified.

The end of the Jewish war was an enormous defeat—the greatest disaster in the entire history of Israel. Thus, the promise of signs of the coming Kingdom of God were heard by Luke's audience in the midst of what they experienced as impending chaos, as powers beyond their control. All these things that Jesus refers to—war, famine, mass enslavement, persecution—all of these things happened both during and following the Jewish War. The issue that Jesus is addressing is whether one can persevere in hard times and remain faithful to God.

However, that was not the end of history. Jesus here describes a different end and distances it in contrast to Mark This is when Jesus returns

Luke appears to espouse the common expectation that the climax of history will include the liberation of Jerusalem from its enemies and the establishment there of the kingdom of God with Jesus the Son of Man as its Messiah. It belongs within a tradition according to which the nations would then come to Zion and there would be a true kingdom of peace. Jesus will eat and drink with his own again in that kingdom (22:16,18).

Such freedom hopes echo through the opening two chapters of the gospel. We shall be meeting them as we approach Christmas. It is important to note that this forms the backdrop of his story of Jesus and of its main themes: the coming reign/kingdom of God, the good news for the poor

Luke is, in fact, down right vague about when Jesus will return, refusing to offer any hint of a timetable. Instead, Luke asserts that, just as budding fig leaves unmistakably herald the advent of summer, so also will the signs of the coming kingdom be transparent to the Christian community. The emphasis therefore shifts from when these things will happen (21:7), to the proper disposition of the discipleship community (21:34ff.).

The fig tree is often used as a metaphor for the peace and prosperity of Israel in the OT (Deut 8:7-8; Hos 9:10; Mic 4:4). It has been suggested, therefore, that the reference to the fig tree "and all the trees" in this context, immediately after the discussion of the destruction of Jerusalem and the fate of the nations (esp. 21:24-26), is not a stray detail that diffuses the parable but a reference signaling that the fig tree and all the tress should be understood in reference to Israel and all the nations

In this section the signs of the coming of the end are not longer wars, earthquakes, famines, etc. but of costmic events - cosmic events in sun, moon and stars (v. 25), the tumult of the ocean (v. 25), shaking of the heavenly powers themselves (v. 26). These are unique to Luke.

This is a different end – with Jesus coming. . His return is the coming of the kingdom of God. It’s the coming of justice in the earth. When the signs appear, says Jesus to a temple-full of listeners, don’t give up!

There is the contrasting picture of "the people" and "you". The signs will happen. The responses to what happens are quite different. "The people faint (or die) from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world." However, you are to "stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (v. 28 -- only in Luke).

"This generation" as part of the world will pass away. "This generation" as part of the Word will not pass away. You and I as people of this earth will face fear, judgment, and death. You and I as people of the Word also have the promise of joy, salvation, and eternal life. There is this distinction among the people This is the promise of the second coming .

Christians should be alert, ready for the coming of the end. They should therefore not be caught up in either the excessive pleasures or worries of the day, but rather remain watchful. At the same time, Christians should be confident, eager for the events Jesus describes as they signal the approach of the deliverance of the Christian community

Two concerns of the prayer are mentioned: strength to escape all that is going to happen and (strength) to stand before the Son of Man.

Truth be told, whatever worries we may occasionally harbor about nuclear or environment holocaust, most of us express little day-to-day concern about the end of the world and even less about Jesus' second coming. In this respect, we may feel that we live at a great distance from Luke's audience.

At the same time, we are as intimately acquainted as they were with the challenges presented by waiting for an event that seems late in coming.

We live, according to Luke, between the two great poles of God's intervention in the world: the coming of Christ in the flesh and his triumph over death - in this regard we should not forget that these verses serve as the hinge between Jesus' teaching and his passion -- and the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time and his triumph over all the powers of earth and heaven. This "in-between time," though fraught with tension, is nevertheless also characterized by hope as both the beginning and the ending of the story of the Church -- and therefore of our story -- which has been secured by Christ. We are therefore free to struggle, to wait, to work, to witness -- indeed to live and die -- with hope because we know the end of the story
Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah 33:14-16

"The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."


In terms of the story in Jeremiah, the city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar and the people will shortly go into exile (Jer. 32:1-6). Jeremiah is in prison (Jer. 32:2; 33:1). The people are about to lose everything that has given meaning to their lives – temple, city, king, priesthood, their homes, family etc. God seems to be silent, absent, and preoccupied with judging the people for past wrongs.

Jeremiah 33 is set against the fall of Jerusalem in 586 due precisely to a lack of "righteousness" in Judah and its leadership. The name of the king at the time, Zedekiah, is built on this term "righteousness" but he falls far short of God's norms and standards.
It was not only because the people had so long been unfaithful to Him, but also because they continually refused to repent and return to God beyond expecting Him to bail them out of trouble (chs. 6-7). The "weeping" prophet (8:18-9:1) knew that an end was coming, and in fact was only a matter of months away.

The term "righteousness" in the passage comes to apply to God's people living out the covenant from day to day (33:16b). There is no righteousness for the people because the covenant is not obeyed. Then, in the coming era of the Messiah's reign, there will be "justice" and "righteousness" on earth (33:15).

Israelite kings were supposed to reign for God as His anointed, modeling for the people the justice and righteousness of God, and caring for the people as a shepherd. But so many of the kings had led the people in destructive worship of foreign idols, had used their position for their own advantage, and had depended on the strength of military power and foreign alliances to secure their position. In all of Israel's history after David, only five kings in the Southern Kingdom, and none in the Northern Kingdom, were remembered as being even marginally faithful to God.

Some of the people, especially the prophets, began to long for a righteous king who would once again shepherd the people with "the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord," who would "not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the lowly of the earth" (Isa 11:2-4). For a time, it seemed Hezekiah had fulfilled that expectation; but then his son Manasseh undid most of the good he had done. Then some expected Josiah with his reforms to fulfill that role; but Josiah had died a sudden death, and his revival also died

So the people, faced with the greatest catastrophe imaginable, again longed for God's intervention in the figure of a great leader who would somehow solve the crisis

The "righteous Branch" was the historically concrete form earlier prophets had used to express the promise, the faithfulness of God. That metaphor was first used by Isaiah of Jerusalem a hundred years earlier to express the hope of a new king who would replace the faithless Ahaz and become the vehicle for God's new work among the people (11:1f).

The salvation promised is a community event -being in a community that is safe under God’s protection and living in a way that grants all the inhabitants of the land peaceful and just relationships with one another.

That hope is not just hoping, but is a profound faith that is empowered to envision a new future solely on the basis of God and His grace That hope is not just hoping, but is a profound faith that is empowered to envision a new future solely on the basis of God and His grace

The present is not the final chapter. The world that we experience, with all of its sin and pain and misery, is not God's final word. Days are surely coming!

In the midst of the darkness and ambiguity we face in the here and now, we've got to keep focused and oriented on how "after the flood all the colors came out; It was a beautiful day." A shoot is pushing up through the stony ground. It is Advent, and God's messiah is on the move to usher in "that other place," viz. that righteousness within community spoken of by Jeremiah

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

3:9-13 has two parts and comes at a transition in the letter to the Thessalonians. The first part, 3:9-10, represents the closing of an earlier part of the letter (i.e., 2:17-3:10). The second part, 3:11-13, is a prayer that moves the hearers toward the topics addressed in the remainder of the correspondence

Paul had founded the church at Thessalonica. He has been anxious about how the new Christian community was faring, especially because he knew that they would face a rough time from fellow citizens. Paul's concern that the Thessalonians may have turned their backs on him, especially since they appear to have suffered some hardship after Paul preached the Gospel to them .

In order to find out how the Thessalonians were faring, and to determine whether they still esteemed him as their founder, the apostle sent Timothy to Thessalonica. Timothy returns with a very positive report (possibly even a letter from the congregation), and Paul writes this letter to the church

Paul is overjoyed. It was common in Paul's day to thank the gods upon receipt of a letter. Here the thanksgiving is in the form of a rhetorical question, "How can we thank God enough for you . . . ?" Timothy's report has gladdened Paul's heart, reaffirmed the love of the Thessalonian congregation for him, and further stimulated his desire to visit them

In 3:6 Paul mentions two main things that cause him joy and relief: their faith and their love

The faith is about their holding up in adversity. Paul connects it to the situation which he and Silvanus have faced. As he had predicted to them, he, too, faced persecution. These were dangerous times. Paul also connects such conflict to the troubles which Christians in Judea faced and which originally brought Jesus to his death

Faith is one's total response to God, something that can be deemed inadequate or deficient. Paul thinks of faith as life in community, life in relationships. When it is found in Paul's letters, it often has the sense of an inadequacy that can be corrected Timothy's visit stabilized them in their faith (3:3). Now Paul wants to visit them to augment it. He indicates there is some deficiency present.

Equally important is "love". Here Paul’s reference to love is love for him and his fellow apostles. Much of Paul's almost poetic euphoria in our passage comes from this energy, as much as it comes from his joy about their faith. Why was it so important?

Right near the beginning of the letter Paul finds the need to remind them of his integrity and effectiveness. He emphasises that he did not engage in manipulation and trickery, but acted as one properly authorised. He was not beholden to anyone, needing someone else's permission or praise. He was gentle (2:7). He did not burden them by seeking payment and upkeep, but worked to pay his own way (2:9). Paul continues to emphasise his integrity and authorisation (2:10-12). Paul almost goes overboard to reassure the readers that he really cares about them and wants to visit them.

The second part of the reading is an extended prayer, although some scholars have called it a "benediction" and others a "prayer wish."

Paul's separation from the believers in Thessalonica and his desire to see them, which is the major thrust of 2:17-3:10, is repeated in 3:11. His interest in stabilizing the Thessalonians appears in 3:13 ”strengthen your hearts”. Likewise, the major topics of the remainder of the letter are already anticipated in the prayer. The holiness for which the apostle prays in 3:13 comes up again in 4:3-8. Love "for one another and for all" (3:12) is discussed in 4:9-12. The "coming of the Lord" is treated at some length in 4:13-5:10. And so, the prayer is both pastoral and instructuive.

Love is one of the triad of endowments -- faith, love, hope -- that appears in 1:3 and 5:8 as bookends to the major part of the letter.

What is interesting is that Paul holds up his own love as a standard for them to imitate. It is the model for their love for others. He had already reminded them of his love (2:8), but now the emphasis is on the communal dimension, "for one another and for all." Thus, it is love, according to the apostle, that summarizes all social obligations (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:12-15). It is the cement that bonds the relations between members, as well as the larger society. Paul prays for a dramatic increase in their love with the goal of it contributing to their holiness.

Paul's communication is one of hope. Advent is a time of holy waiting - being in the process of building community around Christ as it builds slowly but surely. Certainly one based on faith and love should be the center.