Lectionary Preview study materials: First Sunday of Advent (28 November)
(Study on 23 November)
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
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 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. 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. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Ad te, Domine, levavi
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
The New Testament
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And 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 he 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.
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
ECUSA Advent 1 (C) November 28, 2021 Michael Toy
RCL: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
During Advent and Christmas, we will be using study prompts and other activities tied to the sermon for the week. Read the sermon aloud and follow-up with spoken responses to the two questions at the end. Find our full sermon compilation for individual, small group, or congregational use, Sermons for Advent and Christmas 2021 at www.sermonsthatwork.org.
by Michael Toy
It’s Advent again! It is that season where we are oriented—in everyday life as well as liturgically—toward Christmas. And yet, there are some stops we must make along the way. In today’s waypoint, our readings look forward to Jesus’ triumphant return. Today, we look to the apocalypse. The prophecy from Jeremiah signals the coming of the fulfillment of God’s promise when all shall live in peace and justice. This era of justice and flourishing for all people, we can all probably agree, has not yet come to pass. The coming Messiah was meant to usher in this age of peace on earth, end to war, and an end to the woes of humanity. And yet, in our gospel reading from Luke, Jesus says that time has not yet come. Instead, he is declaring prophecies of distress, roaring of waves, fear and foreboding. This time of distress of the Son of Man’s return is not far away in the future, according to Jesus, who teaches, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.”
Reading this sentence plainly or literally surely is a bit embarrassing. A bit embarrassing not just for us, but for Jesus as well. It certainly seems like he is saying that his return will be imminent. Here we are, nearly two thousand years later, and the second coming of Jesus has still not occurred. So, was Jesus wrong?
Our impulse is to rush to the answer, “No!” We want to rush to an explanation of how this surely was not what Jesus could have meant. We want a clarification that meshes with our ideas of orthodoxy and our theological commitments. We want to say, as we all too often do, “That’s not what Jesus meant.” We’re not good at waiting. We rush for answers. We rush for explanations.
But to be seasonal, let us engage with the text using an “Advent hermeneutic.” Hermeneutic is the word used to describe an approach to and interpretation of Scripture. Thus, in this season of waiting, let us hold off from that immediate jump to making this make sense. Instead, let us wait. Let us sit with the discomfort that these passages bring us.
Was Jesus wrong? What would it mean if Jesus were wrong about this? His generation certainly did pass away before seeing him returning, descending in a cloud with power and great glory. If he were wrong, would that change the way we see Jesus as fully divine? If we maintain that Jesus was fully divine but wrong about the timing of the apocalypse, would it change the way we think of divine omniscience? If Jesus were wrong about the timing, could he have been wrong about other aspects of the great return?
These questions are not easy to sit with. And yet, they are important questions to ask—especially for that generation to whom Jesus was speaking. Imagine being part of that first generation of Jesus’ followers. Jesus has promised that he would return. But now, people are dying, and understandably, the church is a bit confused. These questions we’ve been raising, these are the questions that the community in Thessaloniki was asking as well. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is about precisely this issue. Jesus was expected to have come back before this generation passed away. Now, people are dying, and the community is concerned about the place those who have passed will have in the coming kingdom. When is Jesus coming back? Was Jesus wrong? Is Jesus coming back at all? Has Jesus left us alone with our death and our suffering? Words from today’s psalm surely capture some of that anxiety, “My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.” And what enemy seems more triumphant than death? Weren’t you supposed to come by now? Weren’t you supposed to come save us?
These are the questions that come up while we sit with this conundrum using our Advent lens. Paul’s response to the Thessalonians is simultaneously theological and pastoral. Further on in the letter, he addresses the community’s fear about those who have already died, affirming that they will experience resurrection and have a place in the coming kingdom of God. He also acknowledges those feelings of grief, helplessness, and powerlessness that accompany that feeling that God has abandoned or forgotten us. He declares that we wait with faith.
To wait with faith is to acknowledge that the waiting is not pointless. It is to believe that the waiting will be worth it. In addition to cognitive belief, waiting is a time for feeling. We see in Paul’s letter that he himself is waiting to see this community again. But his faith influences the way that he waits to be reunited. While apart, he reaches for that feeling of joy found in each other’s presence: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.” Here, Paul is naming the joy of Christian connection, but he is also naming the fact that he misses this community of his friends.
Waiting is a time to look around and recognize that all is not as it should be or could be. Waiting is the time to lean into these feelings of longing. It is a time to lean into those feelings that not all is right, and that there is something better to come. It is a time to dream; it is a time to imagine. When we wait, though it seems that death and suffering run rampant and unrestrained through our world, we dream of being comforted. We dream of being reunited with loved ones. We dream of a time when God is going to make everything alright. To echo the words of Jeremiah, we dream of a time when God’s promise is fulfilled, and all will live in safety and in flourishing. We dream of a day when God will execute justice and righteousness throughout the land.
In the coming weeks of Advent, we will hear of the prophets who came to prepare the way for Jesus, especially John the Baptizer. We will hear a message of repentance and of a baptism of fire. And of course, we will hear of Mary and Elizabeth. The task before us is to read and hear these stories in the spirit of Advent.
Advent is a time to stop and to hesitate. It is a time to dig into the discomfort and seeming incongruities Scripture presents to us. It is a time to linger with questions rather than rush to answers. These moments of delay or disruption create space to feel. In these coming weeks leading up to Christmas, may we all pause and look around. May we notice those things which are and those things we wish would be. Certainly, we believe in Christmas and the theologies of Incarnation and of God’s presence with us. But we also believe in the not-yet. We hold onto those feelings of discomfort and of doubt. We believe in Christmas, but let us also believe in Advent.
What does it mean to believe in Advent? To believe in Advent is to believe in waiting. And may our waiting be full of dreams for a better world, full of God’s justice and love made present to all. Amen.
- Compared to even a few years ago, what is your relationship with waiting? Are you more patient? Less patient? Why?
- When you find yourself becoming impatient this week – with a friend or family member, with a colleague, with God – slowly repeat this prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Michael Toy, an alumnus of Princeton Theological Seminary, has worked in Christian formation since 2013. He now spends his time writing, blogging, and trying to live out the radical call to love our neighbors.