A Reading from the Book of 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.”
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.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the 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 Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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
“Signs of endings all around us, darkness, death and winter days
Shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise.”
(words by Dean W. Nelson, Wonder, Love, and Praise, #721)
So began our opening hymn on this First Sunday of Advent. These lyrics, based on today’s gospel reading, reflect not only our current place in the cycle of the seasons, but also our place in the cycle of the church’s year. During times of difficulty and uncertainty, they may reflect also our sense of our own current place in life. We look for light and for life; but we sometimes find ourselves in darkness, confusion, and chaos, and in a sense of hopelessness. But then, it seems that that is where new life often begins. That is certainly the story told over and over again in the bible.
The first of the two great stories of creation at the beginning of Genesis envisions the primordial earth as a “formless void,” a place of total chaos, enveloped in utter darkness. But it was in and from the midst of that seemingly hopeless scene that God commanded, “Let there be light”; and light and life began.
The story told in all four gospels about the death of Jesus provides us with at least a glimpse of his followers finding themselves plunged into an inner darkness and a sense of hopelessness and despair. Their world, along with all their beliefs and dreams, had come crashing down on them; and there seemed to be for them neither a future, nor any reason for a future. But then the Spirit of God did the completely unexpected by raising Jesus from the dead.
Several decades later, at the time that the gospels were written, that feeling that the whole world was coming apart had grabbed hold of yet another generation. The great city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple had been destroyed, one Roman emperor after another had died, committed suicide, or been assassinated; and the world as they had known it seemed to be coming apart.
And at countless other times throughout human history, it must have seemed to those who were there that the world was falling apart, that civilization was collapsing, and that there was no reason for hope. Generation after generation, people of every age have found themselves at the same place that we find ourselves liturgically, here in the midst of darkness and chaos, here at the beginning of Advent.
But the message of this season is not one of desolation and despair, but one of the greatest hope. It is a message, not about a god who lives in some unreachable, remote place far removed from the world in which we live, but of the God who is present and living and at work right in the very center of that darkness and despair. It is the message of the God who, for all time, has been transforming darkness into light, despair into hope, and death into life.
Sometimes when we find ourselves in the middle of a great darkness – a darkness brought on by fear and uncertainty or by a major threat to our own well-being or that of someone we love – it can be terribly hard to see a way out of that gloom. It may seem to us that our life, or at least our life as we are accustomed to living it, may be coming to an end; and it is hard to see any good way forward. It is from that perspective that our hymn asks of God the key question:
“Can it be that from our endings, new beginnings you create?”
For biblical people, that is a rhetorical question, because we already know the answer. Over and over again throughout our history as a people of faith, God has transformed our endings into new beginnings. For our God is the God who creates: not just a God who created one time, some 13.7 billion years ago, but the God who creates anew today and always.
Perhaps that is the reason why, in today’s gospel reading, after Jesus describes the confusion and terror that strikes all nations and the cosmic shaking of the heavens and the earth, he doesn’t call his followers to run away and hide in fear. Instead he calls them: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” That is the spirit of Advent: the spirit to look realistically and directly at the current darkness that we experience but then to stand up and raise our heads because our redemption, our God, is always drawing near.
This season, with which we begin a new church year, may start in darkness; but it boldly and clearly points the way to new light. As the prophet Jeremiah insists at the beginning of our first reading today: “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.”
And in this Advent season, we echo those words. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will be with you to lead you out of the darkness into a new light. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will transform all your endings into new beginnings. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will re-create the heavens and the earth. And the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will re-create you: breathing my Spirit into you, and raising you up to the fullness of life, to a life that will never end, to the life of the new creation.