Jeremiah 33: 14-16. A prophesy regarding the inbreaking of God into the world to fulfil the promises of God. A re-writing of 23:5-6 but here the emphasis is not only on a new and righteous king but on a renewed community which introduces a corporate aspect to the Advent hope.
1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13. A letter of delight and gratitude for the new Christian community. They have some concerns and problems but everything is generally going the right way. The “Advent” flavour comes from the fact that everything is done in the light of the “Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints”. This is not posed as a threat to keep the troops in line but is anticipated as the conclusion to the whole human story. Paul uses two words that should characterise the Thessalonians – Love and holiness. Love for each other and love for all. The love of God is inclusive. Holiness, is the other watchword which denotes the “set apart” nature of the Christian community. Holiness of course often implies a rigid code of life lived according to a strict code of ethics, but in the two prayers, one here and the other in 5;25 we learn that holiness is conferred by God alone, not attained by living according to a specific code. It is God’s gift and God’s initiative, like Jesus who came at Christmas and will come again.
Luke 21: 25-36. These discourses where Luke describes Jesus talking about “the son of man coming on a cloud” give no timetable for these events. “This generation” is used by Luke to describe anyone who turns their backs on God or His prophets. God comes as judge, but Christians can look up in hope rather than down in fear, because He comes to deliver us and Luke is more concerned with preparing us to live in a constant state of readiness for Jesus’ return.
The church year starts on Advent Sunday, not January 1st.
It hasn’t always been this way. Originally it started on Easter Sunday as it still does in the East. Then in the fourth century after the date of Christmas had been established preparation for Epiphany baptisms started on St. Martin’s day which is November 11th and that season was called Advent.
Later it was shortened to the four-week period we have today starting on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s day and I find it interesting to try and understand why we in the west think it is so significant.
I guess is that holds together both the beginning and the end of the Christian story and therefore our own beginning and our own end.
The season builds up not only to the first coming of God at Christmas in a stable in Bethlehem, but also looks forward to the what we have become accustomed to calling the “second coming” when Jesus returns to judge the world and marks the reconfiguring of all things, even the creation of the “new heaven and the new earth” prophesied in Revelation.
The breaking in of God into the world was prophesied by Jeremiah today in our first reading set for Advent Sunday. This prophesy is actually carried twice in Jeremiah. The one we heard today is a re-writing of the same prophesy that appears earlier in chapter 23 but with important changes.
The most important change is that in the updated version the name “The Lord is our righteousness” is given not to the new king, as it was in the original version but to Jerusalem, which introduces a strong corporate element to our Advent hope and emphasises the graciousness of God to His people.
Righteousness is not so much a passive quality but an activity in which God put things right and upholds those who are loyal to Him.
Both the first and second coming are examples of God’s righteousness where God is putting things right and is speaking through His church to a hurting and waiting world.
We all know I hope what happened at Christmas, the first coming and in our gospel reading from Luke today we have Jesus Himself talking about his second coming. Second coming is actually not a Biblical phrase at all – it is an English translation of the Greek word “Parousia” which means “presence”, the presence of God. So in talking like this Jesus is predicting his death certainly but also his certain return – as certain as the fig trees which when they sprout leaves you know that summer is near.
“The son of man coming on a cloud” is an allusion to the Biblical prophesy in the book of Daniel, from where Jesus takes His favourite way of referring to himself – the son of man, coming with great power and glory.
But there is no timetable given for when these cataclysmic events are to take place. Even the phrase “this generation” can’t be used to imply any temporal application. “This generation” is a phrase used by Luke to describe any people at any time that turn their backs on God.
The most important point from this gospel passage is that God will come as Judge but Christians can look up in hope and not down in fear, because He is coming to deliver us and this passage is most interested in preparing us to live in a constant state of readiness for Jesus’ return.
And that provides the perfect introduction to 1 Thessalonians – the earliest of Paul’s letters, which thus pre-date everything else in the new testament including the gospels. When we hear these words of Paul we are hearing the very first Christian words we have recorded.
The letter was a response to a report on the Thessalonians given to Paul by his helper Timothy. It was basically encouraging though there were some problems – including some who were agitated that Jesus hadn’t already returned while some of their friends had died in the meantime – revealing a feeling as old as Christendom – but is basically a letter of delight and gratitude in this community.
The “Advent” flavour comes from the fact that everything is done in the light of the “Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints”. This is not posed as a threat to keep the troops in line but is a fact anticipated as the conclusion to the whole human story.
Paul uses two words that should characterise the Thessalonians – Love and holiness. Love for each other and love for all. So the love of God is inclusive and so looks beyond the walls of the church whether physical or spiritual. Our concern is rightly for each other – and how we conduct ourselves will influence how we are seen – but we are also to be concerned about the physical and spiritual well-being of those outside the church amongst whom we are set.
Holiness, is the other watchword which denotes the “set apart” nature of the Christian community. Holiness of course often implies a rigid code of life lived according to a strict code of ethics, but in the two prayers in Thessalonians, one here and the other in 5;25 we learn that holiness is conferred by God alone, not attained by living according to a specific code. It is God’s gift and God’s initiative, like Jesus who came at Christmas and will come again.
Advent looks forward to the end of the story and is meant to inspire us. The completion of God’s will and purpose for the entire universe.
Jesus will come in his glorious majesty at the end. So all our lives, as fraught and ambiguous at every level will be swallowed up in victory – the life immortal.
Do you see your life as a unity?
You are now the same person who was born with your name many years ago and you are at the same time the person who will liveforever in the kingdom of God. Your life has inexhaustible meaning and purpose which is why in this mortal life we are asked to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.