St. Paul’ – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Jeremiah 33.14-16; Psalm 25.1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13; Luke 21.25-36
Advent calls us apart to wait, to reflect upon God’s promises, to pray, to anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ birth, and to rekindle hope for Christ’s Second Coming wherein all things shall be renewed. We are called apart from the bustling activity of shopping for a Christmas tree and gifts, from decorating, from Christmas concerts, from attending parties and open houses. How do the readings for today reflect the spirit of Advent?
In Jeremiah we read, “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (33.14; NRSV). What is this promise? We further read, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (33.15; NRSV). Although not included in our lectionary reading, Jeremiah 33.17 is instructive: “For thus says the LORD: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel . . .” (NRSV).
This promise is initially set forth in 2 Samuel 7 which recounts David’s desire and plan to build a house for the Lord. God spoke to Nathan and commanded him to tell David he was not to build the temple – his heir would. Nevertheless, the LORD assured David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7.16; NRSV). Last week, in 2 Samuel 23, we read the last words of David wherein David acknowledges that God has spoken to him:
The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire (Vs. 3-5; NRSV)?
If, indeed, these were David’s last words, he took great comfort in God’s promise – a promise fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.
The reading from the Gospel continues our treatment of Luke 21. We have previously noted Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple, an event which occurred in 70 CE. Jesus further predicted signs and persecutions and the destruction of Jerusalem. In today’s reading, Jesus predicts the coming of the son of man. As Christians, when we see the signs, we are to stand up and raise our heads, for our redemption is close at hand (Luke 21.25-28; NRSV). We are to stand guard; we are not to become weighed down by intemperate drinking and drunkenness; we are not to be consumed by worry. We are to pray that we may have the strength to escape the trials and temptations, and, ultimately, to stand before the Son of Man. In that Christ’s Second Coming is the fulfillment of God’s promise, we should be prepared to meet it with joy!
In I Thessalonians, St. Paul writes to the Church of Thessalonica: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith” (3.10; NRSV). The Greek words used for “restore whatever is lacking” also convey the image of mending a hole in a fishing net. Note that one does not accomplished this on one’s own, for Paul says “that we may . . . restore whatever is lacking in your faith.” We are to help one another in maintaining our faith, but perhaps even more importantly, we are to rely on the grace of God, for Paul further prays, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may God so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3.13; NRSV).
Psalm 25, believed to have been written by David, reinforces this sense of reliance on God; it depicts an intimate, loving relationship with God. Note the following phrases:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated . . . Let none who look to you be put to shame . . . Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me . . . Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love . . . Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions . . . remember me according to your love (Vs. 1-6: NRSV).
This is the nature of the loving relationship with God which will permit us to stand blameless before God at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the love for God and one another that St. Paul speaks of the Lord’s increasing and abounding within us. And, this is the love which David speaks of when he closes the Psalm with these words: “All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25.9: NRSV).
As Christians, the promises of God should fill us with hope, with hope that stands secure, with hope that is unshakable. Ron Rolheiser captures this sense of hope and its relevance for our times as follows:
Hope is not based on whether the evening news is good or bad on a given day. The daily news, as we know, is better on some days and worse on others. If we hope or despair on the basis of whether things seem to be improving or disintegrating in terms of world events, our spirits will go up and down like the stock market. Hope isn't based on CNN, or any other network.
Hope looks at the facts, looks at God's promise, and then, without denying the facts or turning away from the evening news, lives out a vision of life based upon God's promise, trusting that a benevolent, all-powerful God is still in charge of this world and that is more important than whether or not the news looks good or bad on a given night.
This is a message for our times. During this Advent, I encourage you to meditate on the hope Christ gives us – the hope that looks at the facts in the light of God’s promise, then lives out a vision of life grounded in that promise.
In light of this meditation, may we once again attend to the words of the Collect: “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.”