Readings for First Sunday in Advent Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

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First Sunday in Advent Textweek

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

So we begin our preparations for Christmas, although probably we’ve already been doing some beginning of our preparations for Christmas. Today we also begin our new liturgical year, so we open ourselves anew to an encounter with the divine. We open ourselves anew, not again, because we do not walk this path in the sense of again. It’s quite good the way the church has divided up its liturgical years into a cycle of three. We were saying this morning, they’ve given them stunningly imaginative names, deeply imbued with theological significance – A, B and C. This year we begin Year C. One of the helpful things is - imagine if we only had Year A, then it might feel like we’re doing it again, we’re doing what we did this time last year. It’s important when we come into Advent that we just capture that we’re doing this anew, rather than again. The season of Advent is a time of preparation. Funnily enough it’s actually an opportunity for us to be still – think about doing that between now and Christmas, being still!

The idea of taking a time of preparation, of stillness is so we can know and also clarify our theological orientation, our orientation, our pointing toward the divine. The busyness of our culture, the many and diverse theological distortions and distractions that are constantly at work to draw us away from ourselves - step out of the door and it is amazingly easy to be distracted from yourself. If we become distracted from ourselves, then we also become distracted from any real encounter with the divine.

There are three readings today. In their simplest form if we just scan them, they give us a starting point; they’ve been chosen for us to begin our Advent preparation. They just identify themes that we might contemplate as we now turn toward Christmas and begin that journey. The three readings, if you put them together, are only twenty verses and yet they contain twenty-seven references to time. I just found that really interesting, and quite naturally there’s a focus on time. We’re beginning a new year, this is Advent, the time is surely coming, and yet if you step outside the world has got a focus on time, our culture’s got a focus on time at the moment. Daylight saving, putting the clocks forward or back or whatever you do with them.

It’s interesting because the themes do line up – the theme of time – but it’s very easy to be distracted by the one, away from where the other is seeking to draw us. Jeremiah is pointing forward – Jeremiah points forward in promise. The reading from Thessalonians is a reading giving thanks in regard to return and restoration. The reading from Luke again points forward, to what is coming and points forward to what will pass away. Around these three readings and the themes that they hold, in our everyday world there are other theologies, hinting at the same, supporting the same, distorting the same and distracting from the same, distracting us from our Advent preparation. The world we live in is a theological minefield and in Advent we might well cry out with the voice of the psalmist, in verses 4 and 5: ‘Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.’

In this minefield of theologies, we need to do some sorting, some discerning. Coles-Myer have got a very well-oiled Advent preparation machine. They change the look of their dwelling place, they clean out the old and bring in the new, bringing in that which is attractive. They identify clearly the themes that will lead them toward Christmas and then create an integrity, a oneness in their packaging, so that all points toward the one theme. They look ahead to what might be needed, what might be wanted and they seek more than they are currently getting. These are not bad Advent themes – see how easy it is for us to start to follow a theology that is led by another voice. The whole public transport system revolves around an Advent theology – it expects us to be waiting, waiting for the bus or waiting for the train and very often you hear people thank God when one of those arrives! Watching the cricket, the themes of Advent present themselves over and over: the Balmy Army are like the disciples, they travel with their team, they go where he leads. They go to where the game’s being played and they are, certainly in the First Test, an icon of hope – hope against all odds, as they sing praises, worship the cross of St George and celebrate every single run. You can hear the echoes of Advent constantly.

If you scan the newspapers on the Net, the international press, one of the things that’s very evident is that there’s very little talk about Australia in the international press, and yet today, now, at the beginning of Advent, the press around the world is filled with stories of our place in this time and they’ve picked up the theme of Ashes, our theme of Advent in the flame, the fire.

Our symbol of fire though is to recollect us not to the cricket but rather to Ash Wednesday, to Palm Sunday, to the divine voice which was uttered in the burning bush. I’m sure there’s a Middle Eastern Advent theology that looks to the burning of another bush at the same time. Wherever we look in the world in our every day, all around us what we find is theology seeping through the very fabric of life.

Everywhere we look in the weeks to come, the weeks that lead us to Christmas, we will encounter Advent theologies. The world itself revolves around these theological understandings – waiting, waiting for the birth of truth, and we, like the world, do the same. They all must have us spinning at the same rate as the planet. As the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God – that is for Christmas - so too we wait. But we don’t wait in the same sense as those in the bus queue. Rather we wait with hope, a hope that is expectant, for it is the hope of a pregnant Mary. We wait in a hope that is founded on a foreknowing, a promise, a promise of what will be when expectation is made real.

The symbol of fire and the Advent theme of hope, give us an orientation toward Christmas, toward the incarnation of the divine. As we look toward birth, may we trust and therefore hope in the Biblical promises that are told from Genesis to Revelation, that new birth is there: just as we await in Advent, so new birth awaits for us, and that birth is a promise for all – for the pregnant and for the barren alike.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris