Scripture notes – 1st Sunday of Advent, C – 28th November 2021

The ending of the world ‘as we know it’ has long been a theme across various cultures, and more recently from scientific study and speculation. Geology has revealed past mass extinctions of living creatures, and astronomy predicts the running down of stars like our sun, although that seems far into the universe’s future. The reality of some kind of ending has become urgent in our own times as the world faces catastrophic climate changes from human destructive activities.

The difference we hear in today’s reading is confidence that all the future comes from God, and the final days bring not just sorrow for loss, but joy in the everlasting presence of the risen Jesus coming to those waiting on him.

The readings are available online here.

Jeremiah 33:14-16
The first reading points to the ‘First Coming’ of Jesus as Son of David, our Saviour, one of the themes of Advent leading up to Christmas. This selection is from the part of Jeremiah called ‘The Book of Consolation’, which follows the many prophecies of disaster and exile that the prophet had the unhappy task of delivering.

The image of ‘branch’ for a descendant is found in several places in the Old Testament, and the same idea has entered our language, with the idea of a ‘family tree’. David is seen as the root stock, as the King to whom God promised an everlasting line (2 Samuel 11-16). A series of faithless and disastrous kings had almost wiped out that hope, but now Jeremiah repeats it. At the time of his writing, the land was divided between the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, but here they are described as united by the coming perfect Branch of David. Christians see that prophecy fulfilled in Jesus – but with a very different kind of kingdom, as we heard last week. ‘Integrity’ or ‘righteousness’ are Jeremiah’s description of the new kingdom, and it will be based on God’s promise (covenant) rather than human efforts. Jesus will call it ‘the Kingdom of God.’

Psalm 24/25:4-5, 8-10, 14
The psalm looks ahead to the next readings on living in holiness. In the first verses, the psalmist seeks to know what God asks of us, and to be guided by that. Next the confidence we can have that God does indeed show the right ways, guiding and teaching, especially the humble and poor. The last verses affirm the closeness of God to those who faithfully follow the way, with the image of intimacy as being close to God as to a friend. The words pick up the Lord’s fidelity to his covenant.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
This may be the earliest book of the New Testament, written by Paul to his converts in the capital city of Macedonia. His Letters to churches he had founded combine prayers, praise, teaching, and correction. Paul was always concerned to describe how Christians should live, and gave an example of that which he often calls on those to whom he wrote to imitate. At this time Paul expected that ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus would be in the near future, and thus part of his prayer refers to being ready for the end. He then urges them to make even more progress than they have. This is a typical for Paul, combining praise for what they are doing with a reminder to his readers not to rest in their present state, but keep growing more and in love and virtue.

The translation of ‘the whole human race’ has a modern tone – the Greek just says ‘all’. It is important to Paul that communities are based on loving each other, but also our love is to extend beyond that to all people. It is a message much needed in our times as well, in a world so often drawing boundaries between ‘us and them’, public shaming and blaming and spoken or written ‘hate speech’.

Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Our first selection from St. Luke in ‘his’ Year C does not start at the beginning of the gospel. The liturgical celebration takes its own themes, rather than going through a gospel from beginning to end as if reading the book in order.

Today’s selection comes near the end in Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem and is a parallel of what we heard from Mark’s last selection. Each evangelist, however, has their own special emphasis and theological shading. This short passage is a few verses from the longer discourse of Jesus which began with a prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, as we heard from Mark. In Luke, Jesus first warned that the Roman war against Jerusalem would bring terrible hardships for the people living at that time. Now, using the typical ‘stage setting’ language of apocalyptic writing, he names natural disasters expected as part of the final end and extending to all peoples. Luke makes it even more dramatic than Mark, describing that it will be so frightening that people are ‘breathless’ or ‘fainting’ with fear.

The image of the Son of Man coming in power and great glory is in all three first gospels and taken from the Book of Daniel, but only Luke tells his disciples that instead of being fearful, they are to look up in anticipation for what is coming is their liberation or redemption.

Luke also has changed the plural ‘clouds’ of Daniel to ‘cloud’ which may be an echo of the cloud at the Transfiguration (9:34) which indicated the presence of God the Father. Luke also the author of Acts mentions in 1:9-11, a single ‘cloud’ which carried Jesus out of sight of the apostles at his Ascension. There is also a cloud that came down on Moses on Sinai, again indicating the presence or ‘glory’ of God. (Exodus 24:15-16.) Luke makes many such allusions which show his sense of the continuity in God’s plan of salvation.

Jesus concludes the long address with a personal application: because the end is certainly coming, his disciples are not to live as those without faith and hope – anxious over problems and daily cares, given to doubtful ‘pleasures’ like drunkenness. It may be hard for busy people to live in such constant hope as Luke advises, but for Luke a way to be ready is prayer. More often than the other gospels he will show Jesus praying, and suggests that should be as much a part of our lives as it was for our Lord.

Joan Griffith

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