Friday, October 30, 2009

First Sunday of Advent Year C

First Sunday of Advent C
Revised Common Lectionary)

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

This excerpt for the prophecy of Jeremiah (which is not included in the Septuagint) extends God's ancient covenant with David into an explicit promise of a "righteous Branch to spring up for David...." Consistent with the whole of the Hebrew scriptures, this new act of God will be known by "justice and righteousness in the land."

The psalmist confesses her faith: she trusts in and is instructed by the Lord. She regrets her youthful indiscretions but expresses confidence that the Lord teaches and guides the humble.

Paul begins this letter to the church in Thessalonica, as he does with all his letters, by expressing thanksgiving for God's work through him and the recipients of his letter. He includes a major, recurring theme in Paul's writings and throughout the New Testament, Christ's return-- "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints."

Following Mark's apocalyptic writing (chapter 13), Luke likewise includes the elements that had become part of early Christian preaching and teaching with a illustrative story from nature. We should not be surprised wehn chaos becomes more intense in the natural world and in human affairs. At the height of crisis "the Son of Man" will appear. He will come on, in, surrounded by clouds, the sure sign of God's action (Exodus 16:10; Matthew 17:5; Revelation 1:7, etc.) Those who trust in God can greet these happenings not with fear, but anticipation-- "your redemption is drawing near." Jesus then reminds his listeners of the natural cycle of trees: when they bud we know its spring and full leaves of summer will inevitably follow. Just as reliably, "when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near." Luke repeats the customary belief of the early church that living generations would live through these experiences. But be assured, he writes, that even when it seems everything is on the verge of collapse God asserts "my words will not pass away." So, do not get absorbed by the worries and wasteful ways of average living. "Be alert at all times."

Biblical texts are filled with the full range of human realities. Murder, betrayal, incest, and greed along with every other known human vice occur in the biographies of individuals and continue in many generations of the same families. War, threat of war, financial collapse, and every trick to exploit social injustice known to humankind that threatens the social order is brutally recorded. But woven into this dismal record is a bright red thread of promise from God. With the same matter-of-factness with which the chaos of life is recorded, the biblical texts discover and record this permanent promise.

In his masterpiece,
Mimesis, Erich Auerbach notes this unique trait of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures , which "created an entirely new kind of sublimity, in which the everyday and the low were included, not excluded, so that in style as in content, it directly connected the lowest with the highest." (p. 154)

The most daring claim made in biblical narratives --(is this a criterion for being considered for the canon?)-- is that chaos, inflicted by people on people as well as natural disasters may be the norm but they are not the final thing to be said. Even total annihilation may seem imminent, (see the readings, gospels and commentary for the last two Sundays, for example). At such times that seem to be the penultimate stage, "People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming into the world..." in Luke's words. Without missing a beat, however, in the very next sentence he writes, "then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory." The appropriate reaction of those who trust God is clear, Luke continues: stand up raise you head, because your redemption is near.

It is precisely when chaos and threats to personal and social survival are at their most threatening and we can become frozen with fear that biblical texts always make their most daring assertions-- This is not annihilation! Do not give in to fear and panic! As our history with God has made clear (indeed, there would be no human history otherwise) this is not the last word! There is always one more thing that must be said! The last words are life-giving hope!

Inspired by Jurgen Moltmann's work, Paul Ricoeur writes "hope begins as 'a-logical'. It effects an irruption into a closed order; it opens up a career for existence and history. Passion for the possible, mission and exodus, denial of the reality of death, response of superabundance of meaning to the abundance of non-sense-- these are so many signs of the
new creation whose novelty catches us, in the strict sense, unawares." (The Conflict of Intrepretations, p. 411)

This is the ultimate word; "my word will not pass away," Luke repeats the Lord's promise. When everyone has had his or her say about how awful things are, someone needs to repeat God's promise. This awlays ushers in something new. Be alert, engaged, committed, busy "at all times...." This is the mood, attitude, stance of the church to prepare to celebrate Christ's first coming, and inaugurate the annual re-telling of that compelling story and, equally, recall the primise of his second coming.