Engaging the Word: Readings for 11/27/16 (The First Sunday of Advent)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

adventkranz_andreaAdvent: This Sunday is the beginning of Year A in our three-year lectionary cycle. It begins with Advent (from the Latin adventus: coming), which always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends with the first Eucharist of Christmas. Advent is 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.

Let us Beat Swords into Plowshares by Y. Vuchetich, garden at UN Headquarters. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Let us Beat Swords into Plowshares by Y. Vuchetich, garden at UN Headquarters. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 2:1-5: The first of the five Major Prophets, Isaiah began prophesying to the southern kingdom of Judah in 740 BC, the year King Uzziah died. His ministry lasted about half a century during a very difficult period for Israel. Isaiah looked forward to the coming of a Messiah, who would be an ideal king, one who would bring peace. We will read from Isaiah on the four Sundays in Advent.

The first chapter indicts the people of Judah for their faithlessness to the covenant, moral disgrace, and social injustice; the prophet pronounces God’s judgment against Judah. But with God, judgment is never the last word.

Our reading tells of a new day when God will usher in an age of peace. In one of the best-known and poetic passages in the Isaiah, we have a vision of the future, when Israel will be a light to the nations and the world will be at peace. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Psalm 122: Our psalm this week is one of 15 “Songs of Ascents” in the Book of Psalms. According to The Interpreters Commentary on the Bible, “Ascents (lit. ‘goings up’) relates to both ‘staircase’ and ‘pilgrimage,’ and these psalms were probably sung during the pilgrimage feasts on the stairway leading up to the temple at the times when the pilgrims were arriving or departing.” In our psalm, the pilgrim is happy to go to worship in the temple, the house of the Lord. He prays for the peace and security of Jerusalem and for all who are within its walls.

St. Paul by El Greco, c. 1608-1614. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul by El Greco, c. 1608-1614. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans 13:11-14: Paul had not yet been to Rome when he wrote this letter (c. AD 57), but he was well acquainted with the church. Romans is considered to be Paul’s most ambitious theological work and the Bible’s most systematic and comprehensive interpretation of the Christian message. Paul writes on the grand themes of sin, faith, God’s sovereignty, grace, freedom in Christ, the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and rules for living. If I’m counting correctly, we will have 24 selections from this extraordinarily rich letter in the coming church year.

In our reading, Paul has a sense of urgency. He tells us that “Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” We need to “put on the armor of light,” and live honorable lives. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Christ in Glory by Mattia Preti c.1660. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Christ in Glory by Mattia Preti c.1660. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 24:36-44: Year A is the year we focus primarily on the Gospel of Matthew. Most New Testament  scholars agree that Matthew’s Gospel was written anonymously (as were the others) by a Jewish Christian and was written c. 80-85 AD. They consider this Gospel as the “bridge” between the two Testaments. Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels and emphasizes that God’s promises in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in Jesus. Of course we remember that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, and had a Jewish mother. The author of Matthew didn’t think of Christianity as breaking away from the Jewish religion, but that it was more of a continuation and fulfillment of the OT prophesies. His Gospel contains more OT quotations than the others. Also distinctive about Matthew’s Gospel is that it contains a higher percentage of text is devoted to Jesus’ teachings than in the others, and they are divided into five discourses.

Our reading this week is from Matthew’s last discourse; it takes place during the last week of Jesus’ life, and is about the last days and Jesus’ own return. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” We need to be prepared. “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Although the Gospel calls us to be prepared, it seems as though Jesus is asking us to live on several levels. We need to attend to the business of our daily lives, but also be ready for Christ’s return. We can be attentive to the ways that Christ is continually breaking into our everyday lives. And we can be aware that our own or our loved one’s end time may well come at an unexpected hour.

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