Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Narrative Lectionary: Faith as a Way of Life, Habakkuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4; 3: (3b-6), 17-19 (Matthew 26:36-38)
Happy New Year, Church! The first Sunday of Advent begins a new year in the Revised Common Lectionary, and we are beginning year A.
Isaiah 2:1-5 contains a vision shared with Micah 2:1-4. Both prophets witnessed terrible violence and the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, but they had hope that the southern kingdom of Judah might learn and change their ways. The two prophets shared a hope that the people would turn back to God and gather in Jerusalem at the temple, a hope the people would turn away from violence and war and instead turn to God, and other nations would follow suit, with lessons learned going forth from Jerusalem: peace in God’s name.
Psalm 122 is a prayer for Jerusalem, the holy city, calling the people into worship and into God’s ways of peace. Both the temple for God and the throne of David were established in Jerusalem, and the psalmist calls the people into worship, into a litany of praying for peace for the city and its people. For the sake of God, the psalmist prays that those who gather in worship seek the goodness and well-being of the city.
For Advent, the Epistle readings follow Romans (except for the third Sunday when the reading is from James). In Romans 13:11-14, Paul writes near the end of his letter that this is the time to wake up. This is the time to pay attention to how we live and act in this world. Paul is hoping that Christ’s return is eminent, but even if it is not, this is always the time to live into the light, to live as if everything about us is exposed, and we have nothing to hide. Instead of acting in the way of this world and trying to mask who we are, Paul calls the believers to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, to let Christ be the face the world sees.
Jesus calls the disciples to keep awake in part of his final discourse in Matthew 24:36-44. Jesus shares the story of Noah as a warning, that people didn’t heed the signs of the flood and simply focused on living their own lives. For those who do not pay attention to what is going on and focus on only themselves, they can neither perceive where God is at work nor how evil is at work in the world around us. Jesus then tells of the coming of the Son of Man, where some are taken and some left—not a “rapture” as mythologized among some, but rather a metaphor to be ready, for Christ is at work in our world and lives and will be in a new, unexpected way. Like an owner of a house who would be prepared for anything if he was expecting a thief, so we must, as faithful followers of Jesus, be ready for Christ.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Faith as a Way of Life in Habakkuk. Part of Habakkuk was the reading for the Revised Common Lectionary’s second selection of Hebrew scriptures on October 2nd, and the first selection on October 30th. Habakkuk prophesied right before the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. Habakkuk argues with God in 1:1-4, because all the prophet experienced was violence. He couldn’t see any hope from God to deliver him or the people from evil. Justice was not possible because the law couldn’t be upheld. However, in 2:1, the prophet remained faithful to God, keeping their position at the fortress, watching and waiting for God to respond in 2:2-4. God told the prophet to write a vision, so simple that a runner could read it, because there was still a vision for their time. Whether it was a vision of hope, or a vision of doom, is unknown, but God would answer if the people waited for it. For the righteous live by their faith and are justified, unlike the proud who live for themselves. In chapter 3, Habakkuk lifts up a prayer, and the language shifts to an ancient poetic understanding of God strolling along the earth, making it quake and tremble, with the power of destruction at God’s hands. The prophet concludes that even though there are no signs of goodness on the earth, they still rejoice in God, for God is their strength and salvation, in whom they have their whole hope.
The supplementary verses are Matthew 26:36-38, when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane and asks the disciples to stay with him and stay awake while he prays, grieved and agitated.
Keep awake! This is the call of the prophets and of Jesus. Pay attention to what is happening in the world! Too many people want to bury their head in the sand. The world’s problems are too big. There’s too much evil in the world, too many things we can’t fix on our own. Far too often we’ve passed the buck on caring for creation to the next generation. It’s too difficult for us to change our ways so we hope the next generation will. Perhaps the next generation will hold the largest pollutants accountable because we haven’t. Someone else will figure out the debt crisis and healthcare and so many other things. Someone else will get our government to move past the stalemates and help the most vulnerable among us. Wake up! Jesus is calling out to us. Jesus is also calling to those of us who sit comfortably in our faith and believe we will have all the answers in eternity and we don’t need to do anything on this earth, in this life. Wake up! This very night your life might be demanded of you, as Jesus told in a parable in Luke 12:20. Wake up and keep awake, for Christ is at work in our world and in our lives, and we may be too stuck on ourselves to perceive it.
Call to Worship
Wake up! The time for dreaming is over,
It is time to live into our dreams and hopes.
Keep awake! Look for the signs,
Christ is already at work in our lives.
Be alert! Take notice where God is present,
For the Holy Spirit is stirring in our world!
Surprise! The time is now,
This is Advent, the Arrival, the Coming Into View,
For God is here, making all things new!
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Wonder, God of Light, we confess that we enter this season caught up in the busy-ness. One holiday ends and we have to prepare for the next. We get caught in the rush of wanting to preserve tradition, create new memories, and do all the things. Sometimes we’re also caught in waves of grief—what we have lost the past two years and who we have lost. Help us to be gentle with ourselves, Loving One. May we be tender with our hearts and allow us space to not do it all perfectly. Remind us to slow down and to experience the wonder and joy of the stories we tell this season, including the story of Your incarnation, the Word made Flesh. May we feel the magic of this time in a new way, to be transformed to love one another more deeply and to truly live into Your peace on earth, no matter how much or how little we find to celebrate. May we be wakened to what You are doing in our world and in our lives, so we might love one another as You loved us, enough to live as one of us. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. From the beginning we were never alone. From the beginning there was always life and light. From the beginning God speaks, and God creates, and God lives. God is always making everything new, including ourselves. You are loved by God. Go and share this love with one another, and the knowledge that God continues to move, mold, and shape us into who we are as God’s children: into new creations in Christ. Amen.
“Stay here, and keep watch with me.” O Lord, You asked Your disciples long ago to remain awake and they could not. We know that we have been caught in the ways of this world and not simply in worldly measures of success, but the desire to make a better future for our children, to make things easier for our loved ones. Sometimes we sacrifice our ideals for a better world for others to focus on the here and now. Sometimes that is all we can do for the time being. Help us, O God, to wake up, and recognize where You are calling us in this world. Help us to wake up and be alert, when the world drags us down. Help us not to daydream for a better world but to build it, to live into it, for the sake of the most vulnerable among us. We pray all things in Christ, who calls us to wake up. Amen.