It’s Advent and a new Church Year begins. Today in our lectionary (cycle of readings) we begin “Year A,” the year of Matthew’s Gospel. The First Sunday of Advent always focuses on Jesus’ sayings about the end times. This is the Sunday when that line from the Creed “and he will come again” comes to the fore. Most often this has been understood as a scary time, even as a time to be dreaded: the Great Judgment Day. And yet there has always been a minority voice, often the voice of the oppressed, that has declared in word and song that this day is to be welcomed, because the Day of Judgment is also the Day of Justice, for which, in the meantime, we dream and act.
The Collect of the Day
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
All four Sundays of Advent in this Year A of our lectionary we find Isaiah as our first reading. Each one is from the first portion of the book (chs. 1-39) commonly attributed to Isaiah of Jerusalem, a prophet of Judah prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian Empire. Our reading this week is a vision of Jerusalem beyond its present dismay (spelled out in chapter one). It shall be a city of peace to which people will stream from all the nations. This passage may have been a popular poem or hymn, as it also appears in Micah 4:2-4. Our Advent begins with a hopeful vision of peace, and an invitation, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In 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. 3 Many 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. 4 He 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. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Psalm 122 is one of the “songs of ascent,” which are thought to have been pilgrim songs, sung on the road to Jerusalem for one of the great festivals. This particular song shares the same spirit as our first reading in that it sees Jerusalem (“the city of peace”) at the center of the world.
1 I was glad when they said to me, *
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;
4 To which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, *
the assembly of Israel, to praise the Name of the Lord.
5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.
8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.
9 Because of the house of the Lord our God, *
I will seek to do you good.”
The Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
Our second reading this morning comes from a section of Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which he has been exhorting his readers to right ethical behavior. “Now,” he says is the time to seize God’s call. Salvation, the day the Lord, is at hand. Right action is an urgent imperative for us. In Paul’s writing “flesh” can never simply be equated with the physical body. It is a metaphor for anything that would draw us from the love of God. Verse 12 was an inspiration for today’s Collect of the Day (a prayer written for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer).
13:11 You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44
In the New Testament, apocalyptic imagery is present in each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) as well as in the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic writing is about the end of time. It is usually heavily symbolic and even coded, and it often depicts a very simplistic picture of good vs. evil. It typically comes out of communities that are under great stress, whose identity and existence is uncertain. Its ultimate intention is to give such communities hope. Given all these things, its interpretation is complex and it is easy simply to dismiss it. In our passage this morning Jesus speaks about the return of “the Son of Man.” He emphasizes the suddenness of this return. No one will know when it is to happen except the Father (an admonition many Christians even today ignore as they try to predict when Jesus will return). They only thing we can do is be ready.
24:36 Jesus said to the disciples, “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Collect and Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com , copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.