Engaging the Word: Readings for 11/30/14 (First Sunday of Advent)

By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. Lectionary Year B: This Sunday we begin Year B in our three-year Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) cycle, which focuses on the gospel of Mark. A lectionary is simply the list of assigned readings throughout the church year. This Sunday also begins Year One of the two-year Daily Office Lectionary cycle.

Advent wreath. Creative Commons, via Wikimedia Commons.
Advent wreath, by Kittelenden. Creative Commons, via Wikimedia.

Advent: Advent (from the Latin adventus: coming), always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends with the first Eucharist of Christmas. It’s the season of expectant waiting and preparation. We prepare ourselves in three ways: for the coming of our Lord on Christmas, for his continual coming into our hearts, and for his Second Coming in power and great glory. Our readings this week have to do with Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.

Isaiah: The Book of Isaiah is a collection of prophecies that falls into three sections. Chapters 1-39 (First Isaiah)were addressed to the people of Jerusalem before the Babylonians destroyed the city, chapters 40-55 (Second Isaiah) spoke to the people in exile, and chapters 56-66 (Third Isaiah) contain prophesies for the Israelites who returned from exile in Babylon. Some scholars consider all of chapters 40-66 as Second Isaiah. Although the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah were written to the southern kingdom of Israel, Christians see much in this book that anticipate God’s actions through Jesus Christ—so much so that Isaiah is sometimes called the fifth gospel.

Oil on panel (c. 1512 - 1516), by Matthias Grünewald. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Oil on panel (c. 1512 – 1516), by Matthias Grünewald. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Our reading this week is part of a section known as the “prophet’s prayer” (63:7 – 64:12) and is very much like a psalm of community lament. Prior to our reading, the writer remembered God’s mercy in the past and offered petitions to “our Father.” Now, in our reading, the people cry out for God to take action: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…make your name known to your adversaries.” The people confess their sins for which God is angry. All the people are unclean and polluted, “and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

The people are feeling so alienated from God that “there is no one who calls on your name…for you have hidden your face from us.” Then the people acknowledge, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” They plead with God not to be exceedingly angry and remember their sins, and remind God “we are all your people.”

Who, despite their sins, has not cried out to God in desperation, and asked God to forget the sins and help me now? The amazing thing is that God will. He knows our sins, but he loves us anyway. God will always find a way to help us if we pay attention.

Psalm: this week’s psalm is a community lament and petition for deliverance that echoes the reading from Isaiah: O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people…Restore us, O God of Hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.”

St. Paul, by José de Ribera (1591 - 1652). Public domain via Wikimedi Commons.
St. Paul, by José de Ribera (1591 – 1652). Public domain via Wikimedi Commons.

1 Corinthians: Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus c. 57 AD. The ancient Greek city of Corinth sat on an isthmus of about four miles wide that joined the Peloponnesus with central Greece. It was a thriving trading and commercial center known for luxury, materialism, pleasure, and immorality.

Paul founded the church in Corinth during his second missionary journey, and stayed there for 18 months while he supported himself by tent making. Later, he heard about trouble and division in the church at Corinth and wrote this letter to address the painful situations within the young church.

But in this week’s reading, Paul is not writing about the Corinthians’ problems. He begins by reminding the Corinthian church of who they are at their core. He gives thanks to God for the gifts he has given to the Corinthians: grace, speech, knowledge, and all the spiritual gifts. Paul assures the congregation (and us) that God is faithful and will strengthen them (and us) to the end, that they (and we) may be “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” when Christ comes again. In other words, God is at work in the midst of our difficulties.

Mark: Mark is the earliest gospel written and the shortest. Most modern scholars think the book was probably written c.66–70 CE, during Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt, although some think it was written after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Much of the material will be familiar, because the majority of scholars maintain that Mark’s gospel was used as a source of both Matthew and Luke. According to William Barclay, “there are only 24 verses in Mark which do not occur somewhere in Matthew and Luke.”

The author, though unstated, is traditionally attributed to John Mark, a missionary companion of Paul and Barnabas, and an associate of the apostle Peter. The gospel begins with the baptism of Jesus and ends abruptly with women fleeing from the empty tomb. It may be that part of the original manuscript was lost. A longer ending that includes Jesus’ resurrection and ascension was added later to round out the story.

Christ in Glory, by Annibale Carracci (1560 -1609). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Christ in Glory, by Annibale Carracci (1560 -1609). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s reading takes place in Jerusalem during the last week of Jesus’ life. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple, taught about false messiahs and prophets, and coming persecution. After all the upheavals, they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” One can tell the decisive event will be imminent as when you see the signs of summer approaching—like the fig tree coming into leaf.

Jesus added, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” I think we can make a case that if even Jesus doesn’t know when the time will come, it’s the height of arrogance for anyone to make a prediction about the Second Coming.

Jesus says, “Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Jesus will return. So we are urged to live expectantly, always aware that our Lord may come at any time. We need to stay awake and watchful.

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