Old Testament: Jeremiah (33:14-16)
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.”
The Response: Psalm (25:1-9)
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 Epistle: 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.
The Gospel: Luke (21:25-36)
[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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
On Thanksgiving Day, our two older children, their spouses and children joined us for dinner. It was good to have everyone together.
That afternoon, before they arrived, Judy asked me to suggest an appropriate thanksgiving prayer to use before we ate. I pointed out one titled simply “A General Thanksgiving,” which you can find toward the back (p. 836) of The Book of Common Prayer. It begins by offering thanks for all God’s blessings, for the beauty of creation, and for the gift of family and friends. It then prays: “We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.” So far, so good. But it then continues with words that don’t usually come so easily and that can be surprising: “We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.” How often do we give thanks for disappointments and failures? How often are we able to look at and through times of darkness and loss in our lives and recognize them as gifts and then see light and hope beyond them?
In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is doing just that. Up to this point in the story, Jeremiah has been predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, along with the rest of Judah as well. He has been condemning the nation’s leadership, including its top leader, for their corruption and for trying to delude people into thinking that their perverted practices and policies made the nation great and secure. Jeremiah knew better. And, in response, those in power had him locked up in prison in a vain attempt to silence him. It wasn’t that Jeremiah supported the nation’s enemies, the Babylonians, as Judah’s leaders claimed he did. He abhorred the suffering and destruction that they were going to cause and was deeply pained by the horrors to come. But he knew that he had to speak out in opposition to what was going on and tell the people clearly about the inevitable consequences of the nation’s actions.
A dreaded darkness was about to engulf the nation, and Jeremiah made that abundantly clear. Yet, in today’s reading, the prophet was able to look beyond the coming destruction to envision a new beginning (33:15-16): “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.” Jeremiah faced squarely the reality of suffering and loss, yet he was able to see new possibilities beyond them. And so he called the people to persevere in their trust in God.
That message is very much in keeping with what a later prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, would proclaim 600 years later. Each year on this First Sunday of Advent, we hear in our gospel reading one of the three parallel versions of Jesus’ words about the coming end of the world as the people of his time and place knew it. First, Jesus is pictured as describing the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple which took place in the year 70. Then, the passage continues with a poetic description of the end of all things – or at least what appeared to be all things.
But Jesus insisted that that destruction was not the end of the story, but only the transition to a new and marvelous beginning. His was a message that we encounter time and time again in the pages of the bible. It was not, for example, until the fleeing Israelites found themselves hopelessly trapped between the pursuing Egyptian army and the waters of the Red Sea that God rescued them and brought them to a new beginning. It was not until the Babylonians had utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and Judah’s entire way of life that God led the remnant of Israel to a completely new way of being God’s people. And it was not until Jesus had been destroyed, dead and buried, that God raised him to a new life: a life to be shared by the rest of the world. Over and over again, it seemed that God waited until the situation was absolutely hopeless. Then he or she rolled up the divine sleeves and announced “Now I have something to work with!”
Through those dark and seemingly hopeless times, the prophets of God have called on people to join in the opening words of today’s psalm (25:1): “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you.” These are sometimes easy words to say, especially when we are desperate; but they are rarely easy words to mean and to live.
One major obstacle that we face in living them is the fact that what we often want is for God to put things back the way they were, the way things used to be. But the simple reality of life is that there is no going back. What is past is past. The new beginning is always, it seems, going to be truly new.
As Jeremiah describes the new beginning that will come after the destruction and the exile, he makes some significant changes from the past. He never, for example, mentions the temple being rebuilt, even though, at least in the popular mind, it had been the very center of the people’s and the nation’s life. Judah and Israel’s past was past. The future will not be a return to the way things used to be. It will be something different: it will be God’s new creation.
His message is clear: you can’t just trust in your old ways of thinking and of living; you have to let go of them and trust in God alone. That is probably the biggest challenge in trusting in God: trusting enough to let go of the past, of the way things used to be, in order to allow God to make of us and of the world something new.
The hymn that we use every year to open our worship on this First Sunday of Advent is, pointedly, the very first one in Wonder, Love, and Praise. It asks that eternal, and eternally important, question of God: “Can it be that from our endings new beginnings you create? Life from death, and from our rendings, realms of wholeness generate?”
That is the focus of Advent: endings leading to new beginnings. And this season that starts a new church year confronts us with the ancient question: “Are you willing to let go of the past, of fantasies about returning to the way things used to be, and instead trust in the God of new beginnings?”