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The Start of the Church Year
Advent is the start of the church year. We get a head start on the secular world! Much of the church (along with Daily Lectionary Readings) uses a three year cycle of readings; each year of the cycle makes primary use of a different Gospel. Tomorrow begins Year C, the year of Luke. Many (although not all) of the Sunday and weekday Gospel readings will be from Luke's telling of Christ's story. Luke was a physician who accompanied Paul on many of his journeys. He is also the author of The Acts of the Apostles, which we usually just call Acts. The two books are one continuous narrative, with the Gospel covering the life of Jesus and Acts covering the beginnings of the church after the resurrection. Both are also addressed to Theophilus. If you take apart the Greek, you get Theo-, a prefix referring to God (and from which our word theology comes) and -philus, meaning friend or lover. It's the root in Philadelphia, my adopted home town, which calls itself the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection).
Advent is a good time to renew your commitment to the values of the Gospel. Here are a few words from the introduction to Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals that might help some of us.
Movements throughout history have gone to the desert, to the slums, to the most difficult places to follow Jesus. For some of us that means remaining in difficult neighborhoods we were born into even though folks may think we are crazy not to move out. For some of us that means returning to a difficult neighborhood after heading off to college or job training to acquire skills—choosing to bring those skills back to where we came from to help restore the broken streets. And for others it may mean relocating our lives from places of so-called privilege to an abandoned place to offer our gifts for God's kingdom.
Are you such a person? Thank you! Do you know such a person to whom you could offer prayerful, and perhaps other, support? If not, ask your pastor to help you find someone who is living out the Gospel values in a difficult place and offer that person support.
What's ahead in the Bible readings for this week?
In the northern hemispheres, we're in the season where darkness seems to prevail. Several of our Scriptures this week have reminders that light will come again and bring fresh leaves. In the Sunday Hebrew Scripture God promises through Jeremiah that a righteous branch to spring up for David, which we take as a sign of Christ's coming. In the Monday Hebrew Scripture, God is tiring of the mumbling of the elders and provides a sign of Aaron's office: Aaron's staff blooms overnight, but none of those of the other elders does. And in our Sunday Gospel, Jesus tells us that the time of the coming of the Son of Man will be as obvious as the fig trees blooming.
Our lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures during the time of preparation come from the Book of Nehemiah. However, it is actually Ezra who is speaking. Their books, now divided, were once a single book. Ezra recounts, through twenty-five verses, how God remains gracious to the people despite their turning away again and again. Our God is a patient God, who waits for us to repent. As our Monday Epistle lesson says, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Two of our Gospel lessons, on Saturday and Sunday are from Luke's twenty-first chapter. They concern signs of the coming of the Son of Man. The Sunday lesson suggests that it will be as obvious as the leaves budding out on fig trees. Our Epistle lessons on Thursday (from Paul) and Monday(from Peter) both say that the day of the Lord will arrive like a thief in the night. I don't think we have to resolve every apparent contradiction in Scripture, because sometimes they are there to provide a tension that keeps us thinking. In this case, though, I don't think there is a contradiction. How often do we fail to notice what is right in front of us? Suddenly a friend expresses anger that's been building for weeks, but we just haven't noticed, and it feels like the anger is coming out of nowhere. I suspect it that the coming will be like that.
The Friday lesson, which in the text follows right after the Thursday lesson, suggests that we ought to be doing things in the here and now. Here's what Paul says:
Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
May your Advent be a special time with our Creator. Thank you for all that you do to further the reign of God.
If you know someone who could deepen his or her commitment to being a Christian through these readings, why not forward this blog post to that person? Here is a link that leads to the sign up form: Sign up link If you don't make a donation to the Google Grant Campaign, you can do this to help expand the number of folks exposed to God's word.
Links and summaries for the week ahead
Thursday to Sunday Psalm 25:1-10 I lift up my soul to you.
Thursday: Preparation for the First Sunday in Advent
Nehemiah 9:6-15 God's help to the Israelites
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Friday: Preparation for the First Sunday in Advent
Nehemiah 9:16-25 God did not abandon the Israelites, despite their disobedience.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 Paul urges the Thessalonians to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing.
Saturday: Preparation for the First Sunday in Advent
Nehemiah 9:26-31 The people are regularly disobedient, but God did not put an end to them or abandon them.
Luke 21:20-24 Jerusalem will be devasted.
The First Sunday in Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16 God promises that a Righteous Branch will sprout from David's line.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Paul prays that the Thessalonians may abound in love for one another and for all.
Luke 21:25-36 The signs of the coming of the Son of Man
Monday to Wednesday Psalm 90 Prayer for life from God
Monday: Reflection on the First Sunday in Advent
Numbers 17:1-11 Aaron's staff buds, but those of the other elders do not.
2 Peter 3 With God, a thousand years is like a single day, and a single day is like a thousand years.
Tuesday: Reflection on the First Sunday in Advent
2 Samuel 7:18-29 David's prayer for his progeny.
Revelation 22:12-16 Jesus is the fulfillment of David's line.
Wednesday: Reflection on the First Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 1:24-31 Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
Luke 11:29-32 No sign will be given to this generation of the coming of the Son of Man except the sign of Jonah.
The links become active at 3:05 a.m. on the designated day. Of course you can look the readings up in your Bible if you want to read ahead.
*Denominations have different ways of designating the weeks during the year, so your church may refer to this week by a different name or number or both. Regardless of the name or number, the readings are the same. Here is an explanation: Calendar Explanation
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