Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Narrative Lectionary: Promise of the Messiah, Jeremiah 33: (10-11), 14-18 (Mark 8:27-29)
Note: in the liturgical resources I am now including a brief Prayer of Invocation after the Call to Worship.
We begin the season of Advent with the cry from Third Isaiah, if only God would tear open the heavens and come down! In Isaiah 64:1-9, the people have returned from exile, but are going back to their old ways. The prophet recalls God’s deeds of power and how other nations trembled in awe and fear. Now, the people are turning away from God because they do not perceive God’s presence among them. The prophet prays for God to remember that these are all God’s people, and God is the one who can mold and shape them.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 is a plea to God to hear the people’s prayers, though the people have gone astray. The psalmist petitions God to deliver the people and to remind God that these are God’s people. The psalmist uses imagery of the divine throne room, showing the people participating in worship that God is the one with the power to save. The psalmist directs their complaint to God and prays for God to save the people from their neighbors and enemies. In response, the people will turn their hearts and minds back to God, so they might be restored.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 contains the opening to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, a message of thanksgiving for the people and how their lives have been transformed by Christ. While this was a church that experienced great conflict, in this opening section Paul offers a blessing because of God’s faithfulness. Paul knows that though they struggle with understanding the diversity of spiritual gifts, they have also been blessed by them and are stronger together because of their gifts. The church was called together in the fellowship of Christ, and it is together that they wait for Christ to be revealed.
The Gospel lesson turns to Mark for year B, and to Jesus’s own speech to his disciples about the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus knew he was about to be betrayed and handed over to death. He drew upon the images found in the prophets, especially Joel, of the day of the Lord. However, there is good news for those who are faithful, they will be gathered up by the angels. Much of this passage, however, contains Jesus’s instructions on the here and now for the disciples: to stay alert and to keep watch, for the Son of Man will return at an unexpected time. All the faithful are to live as if Christ will be revealed in our world and in our lives in a new way at any moment. The focus is blurry for what is to come when the Son of Man returns; the focus is clear on how we are to live our lives right now. What is out of focus will come into view. This is the meaning of Advent: “coming into view.”
The Narrative Lectionary looks to the Promise of the Messiah in Jeremiah 33: (10-11), 14-18. In verses 10-11, Jeremiah speaks of the people’s return to the land from exile, of God’s restoration of the people, as a bridegroom and bride rejoicing. What has been made desolate in the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the city will be restored, and the people will give thanks and rejoice. In verses 14-18, Jeremiah speaks of a righteous branch that will come up from David—a king who will rule as David did, keeping God first and foremost, and the worship in the temple will resume as it once did, without interference from a king gone astray.
The supplementary verses of Mark 8:27-29 contain Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus asked the disciples who everyone said he was—a prophet, John the Baptist, or Elijah. When Jesus asked his own disciples who they thought he was, Petere boldly declared he was the Messiah.
Advent means “coming into view.” On this first Sunday, we might ask ourselves what is it that we are waiting for? What are our expectations? What have we learned in two thousand years of waiting? Perhaps our expectations need to adjust. Perhaps the Second Coming isn’t what we thought it was. Or perhaps the powerful visions that the prophets beheld of the day of the Lord and Jesus’s own words might help remind us that the Word made Flesh was as earth shattering as the sun going dark. The world turned upside down. And perhaps our expectations should be none the less: that we know God desires for the world to change, but in order for the world to change we must be transformed. Perhaps that’s the problem—we want God to tear open the heavens like God did in ancient days. We want the big flashy signs that things are going to turn. Instead, we’re supposed to be the signs for the world. We’re actually supposed to do something about it. The watching and waiting was never meant to be passive, but active. We’re supposed to turn over the tables and make room for those on the margins and center their voices. We’re the ones who are called to speak against violence and tyrants and call for the tearing down of thrones and lifting up the lowly. We’re called to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. We’ve put a lot of expectations on God to perform for our satisfaction; what expectations have we put on ourselves? How do we live with the focus in the here and now, while we wait for what is to come into view?
Call to Worship
Now is the time to wake from sleep,
Now is the time to keep watch and stay alert.
Now is the time for the bridegroom to appear,
Now is the time to prepare for Christ.
For the tables are about to turn over,
Those on the margins will be welcomed in.
The powerful will be brought down from their thrones,
The lowly raised up and the hungry filled.
Now is the time to be ready,
Now is the time God will make all things new.
Prayer of Invocation
God of signs and wonders: we hear the call from the watchtowers, we listen for the song of the young woman, we light the candles of hope. Open our hearts and minds in this time of worship to hear Your word anew; to listen for new notes in the songs of old; to prepare for Your arrival in our world and in our lives in a new way. In the name of Christ, who makes all things new, we pray. Amen.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Everlasting God, we confess that we are bone-tired. We are drop-down-weary. There is too much to do. The season is upon us and we want to be filled with hope, peace, joy, and love, but there is so much war and violence, so much distrust. Lines have been drawn in the sand of us verses them, instead of a wide circle that includes all Your children. We are broken and bitter. Even more locally, signs everywhere tell us to buy and consume. Remind us that You are from everlasting to everlasting. The busy-ness can wait. We don’t need all the stuff. We can love those on different sides of conflict when we see them in Your image. We can remember that in this season, we come to worship a child born under empire, under the threat of annihilation, amidst fear and sorrow and grief—a child for whom the heavenly host, the army of God, declared peace on earth, and we can believe everything is possible. Help us to hold on, and to not lose hope. Amen.
“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” -Romans 5:5. Through the Holy Spirit, we have this hope that endures through everything: through life and death, heights and depths, sorrows and joys. Through the cross of Christ, we know that the worst thing we have experienced will never be the last thing. Our sorrow will turn to joy, our mourning to dancing. So, cling to hope, despite the world’s hopelessness, and be assured of God’s presence with you, now and always. Amen.
God Who Watches, in this season we often speak of watching and waiting for You, but we know deep down, You are waiting for us. You are watching and waiting for us to sing our songs of justice like Mary. You are watching and waiting for us to declare that there is a new day like Zechariah. You are watching and waiting for us to bring good news like Gabriel to those who may think they are insignificant and unworthy. You are watching and waiting for us to do our part in this incredible drama of Your kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven. We’ve delayed too long, O God. We’ve put caring for the earth off onto the next generation. We’ve put living into peace onto the shoulders of politicians. We’ve wiped our hands and believed we don’t need to do anything, but You are the one who is watching us, O God. May we repent and turn back to Your ways. May we enter this season of Advent reminded that we are the ones who must act. We are the ones who must change. We are the ones who can build up Your kin-dom. Call us out of our slumber. Call us out of our seats in the audience. Call us into action, for Your kin-dom to come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.