The world’s first breath and final sigh:

The promise of peace

File:Mist - Ensay region3.jpg

Watching for the Morning of November 27, 2016

Year A

The First Sunday of Advent

We start the Advent season by talking about Christ’s advent at the end of the age. I used to say “the end of time”, but it is not the end of time; it is the end of this time. It is the end of the world we know where bombs rain on hospitals and people still wave flags emboldened with the sign of the most hateful reign in human experience. But it’s not the end of this wondrous creation. Even the brutal travail of the world described in Revelation is not the end of the creation but its transformation, its healing, its redemption. There may be no need for sun and moon because of the radiance of God’s presence, and the author may proclaim that the sea is no more – meaning that there is no longer in this world any remnant of the primal chaos (the source of the beastly kingdoms described in Daniel’s visions) – but the point is that God has come to dwell with us and the city gates no need ever be closed. The violence that mars the creation, the rebellion begun in the garden that reaches cosmic dimensions in the imagery of the book of Revelation, is over. Humanity that was once clothed in animal skins is now robed in white. The river of life flows from the city, and the tree of life from which humanity was barred lest we live eternally in our sorrows, now feeds us with fresh fruit blossoming each month. The end of which Jesus speaks is not the end but the new beginning of a world made whole, a world born from above, a world born anew.

This season of Advent begins with our eyes on the end of the age because the child whose birth we wait to celebrate at Christmas is the Lord who was and is and is to come, the world’s first breath and final sigh. He is our peace.

And so this Sunday we will read from Isaiah the promise of swords beaten into plowshares, when the world is taught by God and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And we will hear Paul declare that “the night is far gone, the day is near.” And we will hear Jesus summon us to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” The armies of the world march and train in constant readiness for war, but we prepare for peace.

The Prayer for November 27, 2016

Gracious God, who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of our journey homeward
and wake us to your presence among us,
that the day when swords are beaten into plowshares
may be alive in us now;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for November 27, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”
– In the midst of the wars and destructions as the Assyrian empire rises and crushes the kingdoms around Judah, Isaiah proclaims God’s ultimate rule: all nations will recognize and come to Zion to learn the ways of God.

Psalmody: Isaiah 51:4-11
“The heavens will vanish like smoke… but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.” – In place of the appointed Psalm 122, we sing the song of salvation from Isaiah 51. The prophet declares that even if they heavens could vanish, God’s faithfulness will not, and heralds the return from exile in “everlasting joy.”

Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep … the night is far gone, the day is near.” –
Living in the confidence of Christ’s return and the full dawning of God’s reign of life, Paul exhorts the community to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”.

Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44
“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
– Having spoken of the fall of Jerusalem and warned his followers about the troubles and persecutions they will face in the days to come – and particularly of the false messiahs who will claim that the Day of the Lord has come (in their violent revolt against Rome) – Jesus assures them that though the final day is unknown, they will not miss it when it comes. In the face of the challenges to come they are to be ever awake and attending to the work of God.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMist_-_Ensay_region3.jpg By benjamint444 (Digital Camera) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Advertisements

A box filled with plowshares

File:Old agricultural tools.jpg

Thursday

Ephesians 3:1-12

8This grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

Most modern scholars don’t think Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, but that doesn’t take anything away from its authority as scripture. It is part of the canon not because Paul wrote it, but because the community of faith recognized the voice of God in it. It bears witness to the character and work of God.

It’s not my purpose to review the academic argument, only to point out that what we listen for in these ancient writings is the living voice of God. These writings are not dictated by God as an authoritative legal code or historical record; they are inspired, “inspirited,” breathing the breath of God, encountering us with God’s creating and redeeming speech that brought forth the world, reveals the heart of God and draws us into his will and purpose.

Paul is a servant of that word, that message, that living speech of God that calls our name and bids us follow, that forgives our sins and draws us into the realm of grace, that nourishes us through the wilderness of this world like manna in the desert and water from the rock.

Whether these words are from Paul, Paul’s secretary, Paul’s friend, Paul’s disciple, or someone writing in Paul’s memory doesn’t matter. These words have their origin in the Holy Spirit and continue to be a vessel of that Spirit. They bear witness to the mystery of God’s purpose in the world: 6the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

It doesn’t seem strange to us now to think that God is the God of all, that we are – and are meant to be – a single human family. But it was radical news at the time. And we still have trouble with it – not with the concept of one God, Lord of all, but with the reality of receiving all people as sisters and brothers.

We are wired to put things into categories: these are apples, these are oranges, these a bananas. They are all fruits. They are not meat. They are not vegetables. These are edible. These are not. Pennies go in a gumball machine; they don’t go in your mouth. Gum goes in your mouth, but you don’t swallow it. Oak leaves are pretty in the fall, so are poison oak leaves – but they go in different categories.

We are wired to put things into mental boxes. The mystery of which Paul speaks is that there is one box labeled ‘people’. There are not separate boxes for tall people and short people, fat people and skinny people, dark complexion and light. There are not separate boxes for liberals and conservatives, sinners and saints, Christians, Muslims and Jews. There is just one box: all God’s children.

The church is meant to be the sign that there is one box, a community of all kinds of people across language and culture and time. We are also the bearers of the message that there is only one box – a box filled with “the boundless riches of Christ.” A box filled with grace. A box filled with compassion. A box filled with love of neighbor. A box filled with plowshares and pruning hooks.

 

Image: agricultural tools used in Ferizaj.  By Diamant Hetemi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Come, let us walk…”

File:IRIA soldiers marching in formation (1).jpg

Sunday Evening

Isaiah 2:2-5

5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

This is the concluding line of the beautiful prophecy we sang as our psalm, today:

2In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
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.
5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

It is a beautiful passage, vivid, memorable, timeless in its aspiration for peace. But we miss something of the power of this text because of that timelessness. The prophet was speaking to a specific time – a nation in the run-up to war. Assyria is on the horizon. Fear is rampant. Neighboring kingdoms are assembling against Judah. The king is beefing up defenses, marshaling troops, forging alliances. It is a time of muscular rhetoric and bravado, not unlike our own. The talking heads in the royal court all declare that God is on their side. They possess the temple: God will never let his holy house fall.

Now stands the prophet. He declares that the day shall come when Jerusalem will be the center of peace. All nations will come to learn the way of God. And while everyone is nodding their heads in assent at this acclamation that they are the greatest nation on earth comes the final line, the punch line: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!”

“Let us walk…”

It is wonderful to hear the promise of peace. But Isaiah lived in a time of war fever. While everyone is marching to war, he summons us to walk in the way of peace.

Isaiah met King Ahaz as he was inspecting the defensive ramparts of Jerusalem and challenged him to put his trust in God’s power not his own. He promises the king a sign, any sign, whatever the king might ask for. But the king demurs. He puts on a polite religious front, but has no interest in the word of the LORD. This is that famous passage where the prophet says, “If you won’t choose a sign, God will choose one for you. A woman shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’.” The king’s trust and hope are in his preparations for war, not the path of peace.

We tend to think that the way to peace comes through conquest: hurt me and I’ll hurt you worse. It is the way of the nations. Take what you can. Give back only what you must. Rule by fear and threat or overwhelming military or economic force. But these very nations, says the prophet, will come to Jerusalem to learn the way of peace. They will come to learn the Word of the LORD, the commands that require justice and mercy.

And what the whole earth will do one day, says the prophet, we should do now: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

 

Image: Islamic Republic of Iran Army soldiers marching during Sacred Defense Week parade. By Reza Dehshiri (http://www.ypa.ir/media/k2/galleries/280/02.jpg) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It is his promise

File:Tractor Teamwork - geograph.org.uk - 545872.jpgSaturday

Isaiah 2:2-5

2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
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!

Personally, I think this message in Isaiah is so priceless and profound it deserves to stand without comment; our comments can never be worthy of it. Yet here I am, wanting to be sure we are captured by this promise.

I don’t know if it’s true that Jerusalem is the most contested pieces of land in human history, but it will do as a symbol of our warring. We call it the city of peace, but peace has been difficult to find.

On the spot where the holy temple once stood now stands a holy mosque, and those who pray in the mosque are divided from those who pray at the base of the foundation stones. Nearby are holy churches – churches that also pray separately.

We will come here, says the prophet, to this holy embattled ground, to learn God’s way of peace. We will come here, to the place where the holy body of Jesus lay slain, to learn to beat swords into plowshares.

That nations will come, says the prophet, to this land where armies have marched for thousands of years – Assyria, Babylon, Medea, Persia, Egypt, Rome, the Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, Fatimids, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, Germans, Great Britain. And how shall we describe the bloodletting since?

Tiglath-Pileser, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, Pompey, Titus, Saladin – many have marched here. They shall come, says the prophet, not for conquest, but to learn the way of peace.

It is important to let the text say what it says – we will learn God’s ways. This will not be the triumph of one religious people over every other religious people; it will not be the triumph of one tradition over every other tradition or one law over every other law; it will be the “triumph” of God over our fallen humanity: our selfish humanity, our warring humanity, our “us against them” humanity, our divided-into-holy-camps humanity, our bent and broken image-of-God humanity.

We who were made in the image of the creative, life-giving presence at the heart of all existence have become creators of the tools of violence and death: club, knife, sword, catapult, bow, rifle, cannon, bomb, bigger bomb, nuclear bomb, hydrogen bomb, missile, RPG, drone. Ever more clever. Ever more deadly. And when big is not available to us, then suicide vests and swords for beheading and kids turning pressure cookers into death and maiming.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”

Christians say that the nature of this God who will teach us his ways is revealed most profoundly in Jesus of Nazareth who did not take up the sword to protect himself. When one of Jesus’ followers drew his sword to protect Jesus (John says it was Peter), Jesus rebuked him saying, All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” When Peter offered to forgive seven times, Jesus made it seventy-seven times and, when he hung upon the cross, prayed for God to forgive his torturers.

When Jesus eats at the house of Zacchaeus, when he eats at the house of Simon the Pharisee, when he eats with his followers on the night he is snatched in the dark, when he welcomes women as disciples, when he forgives the lame man or heals the leper or defends the woman caught in adultery, when he speaks to the woman at the well as if she were a member of his own household or welcomes Matthew the tax collector – all these are part and parcel of the way of God who is teaching us the way of peace.

Most of us go to church to feel better. But God’s purpose there is to summon us to be better. Again and again we hear the stories. Again and again God speaks forgiveness. Again and again God gathers us to one table. By word and example God teaches, though we learn poorly.

God wants us to be better – not better, as in trying harder, but better as the doctor wants us to be better. God wants to recover in us our true humanity. God wants to straighten what is bent and heal what is wounded. God wants to cast out what is harmful and give birth to what is good. God wants us to live and breathe the way of peace, the way of mercy, the way of compassion, the way of truth, the way of life. God wants us to live and breathe his Spirit. God wants us to live and breathe his love.

And all this is not just God’s desire; it is his promise.

 

Image:Pauline Eccles [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

He is our Peace

File:ANGELICO, Fra Annunciation, 1437-46 (2236990916).jpg

Watching for the Morning of December 20, 2015

Year C

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

(We rearranged the readings in Advent to accommodate our children’s Christmas program. As a result, we read the story of the visitation last week and have added to our Advent this year the story of the annunciation.)

It’s interesting to me that the angels in all the baroque paintings of the annunciation I have reviewed show such deference to Mary. This is, after all, a young peasant girl and Gabriel one of the lords of heaven. It is like the chairman of the joint chiefs calling upon a college girl in her dorm room. He should be the one before whom she kneels, not the other way around.

But it is not just medieval piety about the queen of heaven at work in these paintings; the mission upon which the angel is sent is a wonder and mystery beyond all imagining. The author of the universe is binding himself into the womb of a woman.

The language of Gabriel’s speech to Mary hasn’t quite reached the depths of that mystery, yet. It is still the language of kingship: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” – a royal title – “and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David” – a messianic title, but still framed in terms of human kingship. “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” This is the fulfillment of the ancient promise that a shoot will come forth from the stump of Jesse, from the fallen line of the Davidic monarchy. We are not yet at the full mystery of the incarnation, but we will get there. God is beginning a new enterprise to capture and deliver his rebellious and suffering world.

And so, on Sunday, we hear Micah’s promise that from Bethlehem will come one “whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” “He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.”

And we sing of swords beaten into plowshares with the song of salvation in Isaiah 2, when all nations come to learn the way of God – a way in which God’s people are summoned to walk now.

And we hear the apostle Paul remind us to focus on all that is good and noble, promising that the peace of God will be upon us.

This child of Mary will bring the day of peace, the world of peace, the liberating joy of peace with God and one another. This child will be the one who brings the realm of heaven to earth. This child will be the bearer of earth’s redemption. And for that reason Gabriel kneels.

The prayer for December 20, 2015

All earth and heaven have their beginning and end in you, O God;
you are our source and goal.
Fill our hearts with your Spirit,
and bring quickly the day when Christ shall reign in every heart
and all creation shall dwell in your peace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The texts for December 20, 2015

First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.”
– Amidst the words of judgment in the 8th century BCE are also words that promise a new future for the nation. This is the famous passage, quoted by Matthew, promising a king from the royal line of David who will “be the one of peace.”

Psalmody: Isaiah 2:2-5
“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.” – As Assyrian power rises in the 8th century BCE, the prophet reverses the call to arms, and summons the nation to walk in God’s way of peace.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:8-9
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure … think about these things.” – Though Paul is in prison facing the possibility of death, he urges his community to abide in all that is true and honorable.

Gospel: Luke 1:26-33
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” – Following the announcement to Zechariah that Elizabeth would bear a child who would be the forerunner of God’s anointed, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary.

The texts as appointed for 4 Advent C

First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.”
– Amidst the words of judgment in the 8th century BCE are also words that promise a new future for the nation. This is the famous passage, quoted by Matthew, promising a king from the royal line of David who will “be the one of peace.”

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary, the Magnificat (alternate: Psalm 80:1-7)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – In response to her encounter with Elizabeth, Mary sings with joy of God’s coming to set right the world.

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.’” – In the midst of the author’s gathering of the scriptural witness to the superiority of Christ, he points to this passage and the words “I have come to do your will, O God” to speak of the new work of God in Christ Jesus that replaces the pattern of temple sacrifices.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
“As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” –Having heard from the angel Gabriel that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, is also wondrously with child, Mary comes to greet her. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, and the child in her womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy.

 

Image: Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, San Marco Museum, Florence.  By carulmare (ANGELICO, Fra Annunciation, 1437-The mission upon which the angel Gabriel is sent is a wonder and mystery beyond all imagining: the author of the universe is binding himself into the womb of a peasant woman.46) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Come and See

Saturday

John 12:20-33

File:JesusHeiliglandstichting.jpg

‘Jesus in Gethsemane’, asking God for help, statue made by Piet Gerrits in the village Heilig Landstichting (NL)

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

John’s Gospel has all the same elements as the other Gospels, but he uses them in such different and intriguing ways. We all know that in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus anguishes over the destiny that awaits him on the cross. Luke says his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. They all record that the disciples, with bellies full of food and wine, are dropping off to sleep, leaving Jesus to face alone the cup before him.

John doesn’t tell that story. Not in the familiar way or in the familiar place. Instead we have Jesus here declaring that his soul is troubled. With this simple remark John alludes to the prayer that God would take this cup from me.” Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus struggle towards the prayer “not my will but yours be done,” but in John Jesus inhabits that prayer completely. The “trouble” in his soul is quickly dismissed: “What should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

File:Lascar O Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) - One of the New Seven Wonders of the World (4551738882).jpg

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

John has meditated so deeply and for so long on this Jesus that he sees what the others see through a mirror dimly. Jesus has come for this hour. His struggle is but a slight momentary affliction. He knows why he has come: to be lifted up that all nations may come and see.

Come and see. Come to him who is the living water and bread of life. Come to him who is the new wine and good shepherd. Come to him who is the light in our dark world, the living one, the embodiment of God’s eternal word of grace and love and life.

Come and see. See with eyes opened, with eyes once blind now seeing. See the true and eternal. See the imperishable and abiding.

Come and see, like Nathanael whose skepticism – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – turns to insight and fidelity: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

“You will see greater things than these,” says Jesus, “You will see heaven opened.”

Some Greeks have come to see Jesus. The nations have come to Zion. Now is the hour Jesus will be lifted up. Now is the hour he will be revealed to the world. Jesus need not struggle at the thought of this cup, for John recognizes that this is not tragic suffering; this is exaltation. This is the bronze serpent lifted up that all who have been bit by the poisonous serpent may see and be healed. It is for this Jesus has come. It is for this the Word became flesh.

 

Image 1:  I, LooiNL [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2:  By Jorge Láscar from Australia [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The invitation bears our name

Saturday

Isaiah 2

Wedding

Wedding (Photo credit: 蓝上弦)

4they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;

It is not only about the warring of nations.  It is about the warring of families, the warring of political parties, the warring of ideologies, the warring of our own hearts.  There is no want of conflicts in the world.  Some make their way into the evening news.  Some are witnessed in the halls of schools and offices.  Some are tragically compelling.  Most are hidden.

And we use tools.  Weapons.  Guns.  Knives.  Dishes.  Words.  Words are often the worst, wounds that do not heal.  Weapons get turned upon ourselves.  I have buried both young and old from gun violence, both self-inflicted and not.

The United States spent $682.7 billion on the military in 2010, $2,200 for every man, woman and child.  Plus the blood of citizens.  And the blood of innocents.  I would not argue we do not need military.  I am only pointing out the sorrow of the human race.  Willingly or unwillingly, we spend our labor on tools to injure and kill.

It shall not last.

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;

It shall not last, this constant warfare.  It does not endure.  It is not eternal, our brokenness.  The ruptures of communities.  Ethnic hatreds.  Torn families.  Conflicted souls.  It shall not last.

Not because peace finally comes with death, but because death itself is defeated.  This marauding power with its grip on human joy and life, this thief in the night, this storm of violence, this caustic agent corroding life’s purpose, turning day to night for far too many – this invader in God’s good world has been defeated and will be silenced forever.  Death, and fear of death, and grief and sorrow, and guilt and regret – the whole corrosive reality born of our desire to be gods rather than let God be God – it has all been shattered by the hand of God reaching into the tomb of Jesus.

God took death upon himself and shattered death forever.  And with death, all that is tied to death – disease and fear and shame and sorrow, injustice and poverty, war and violence.  It is all defeated.  It is all undone.  It is all revealed as an imposter in God’s kingdom, a usurper claiming God’s throne.  It shall not last.

Swords shall be beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks.  We will make tractors from our tanks.  Jungle gyms. Swing sets.  Rakes and hoes for the home garden.  Brass rings from brass casings to be used on the merry-go-round.  Poetry and song from the words once hurled in anger, prejudice and fear.  Stories that heal and bind up from words uttered callously or in shear stupidity.  The weeping of the wounded and grieving shall give way to the tears of joy at the wedding that has no end.  “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Advent looks to the future with hope.  It does not surrender to cynicism.  It does not yield to despair over the human condition, nor to hardness of heart.  It waits and watches for the wedding of heaven and earth.  It bids us see the wedding invitation bears our name.  It urges us to announce our RSVP.  And it invites us to put on the wedding garments of compassion and grace even now as we wait for the feast to begin in full.

2In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
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.
5O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

“Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying”

Watching for the morning of December 1

Year A

The First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent (Photo credit: Will Humes)

The Sundays of Advent ring with rich songs of hope.  From Isaiah, from Luke, from the hymnody of the church, we hear songs of deliverance and praise, of comfort and joy.  But these are not the only sounds of this season.  We hear the warnings to be awake and ready.  We hear John call us to bear fruits worthy or repentance – worthy of our shift of allegiance to the dawning reign of God.  This is a season of turning to one another in kindness and generosity, and turning to God in hope and expectation.

On this first Sunday the key word is “Watch.”  Though the consummation of all things comes unexpectedly, “as a thief in the night”, it comes not as threat but as promise.  God will reclaim his rebellious earth.  The ceaseless strife since Cain rose up to slay Abel will end and “sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  We who live in Christ live in the light of that dawning day.  And for this day, we wait and watch and work, bearing witness to our redeeming God.

The Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent, 2013

Gracious God,
who called forth the first morning of the world
and brings all things to their final end when all night is vanquished,
make us ever mindful of our journey homeward
and wake us to your presence among us,
that the day when swords are beaten into plowshares
may be alive in us now.

The Texts for the First Sunday of Advent, 2013

First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”
– In the midst of the wars and destructions as the Assyrian empire rises and crushes the kingdoms around Judah, Isaiah proclaims God’s ultimate rule: all nations will recognize and come to Zion to learn the ways of God.

Psalmody: Isaiah 51:4-11
“The heavens will vanish like smoke… but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.” – In place of the appointed Psalm 122, we sing the song of salvation from Isaiah 51.  The prophet declares that the faithfulness of God is more enduring than earth and sea and heralds the return from exile in “everlasting joy.”

Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep … the night is far gone, the day is near.” –
Living in the confidence of Christ’s return and the full dawning of God’s reign of life, Paul exhorts the community to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”.

GospelMatthew 24:36-44
“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
– Having spoken of the fall of Jerusalem and warned his followers about the troubles and persecutions they will face in the days to come – and particularly of the false messiahs who will claim that the Day of the Lord has come (in their violent revolt against Rome) – Jesus assures them that though the final day is unknown, they will not miss it when it comes.  In the face of the challenges to come they are to be ever awake and attending to the work of God.