The readings for Sunday, December 3, 2017:
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 (Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 NRSV)
Show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. (Ps. 80:7)
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
First of all, happy New Year! For those of us observing liturgical years, this Sunday marks the start of a new liturgical year. This year, many of the Gospel readings come from Mark, believed to be the first of the Gospels written (about 70 years after the death of Jesus).
Advent is a time that stresses that the liturgical year exists often in stark contrast to the calendar year. Stores have been decorated for Christmas for months, and we're only just beginning (the strictest liturgical traditions don't decorate for Christmas until after the last Sunday in Advent--that's much closer to Christmas than most of us would like). Worship planners field many complaints about not singing Christmas carols before Christmas Eve--and yet, we're observing Advent, not Christmas, so technically, Christmas carols aren't appropriate.
The readings for Advent will often seem jarringly out of place with the festive atmosphere one encounters in the secular world. Look at the Gospel for today. What an apocalyptic tone! Stars falling from the heavens and such tribulations as haven't been seen since the beginning of creation. This end times language is how we count down to Christmas?
Yet in many ways, this apocalyptic tone is appropriate. Watch and Wait. That seems to be one of the lessons for the day. Look at how many times the word Watch is repeated in the Gospel. Like a pregnant woman, like Mary, the people of God keep watch for God's presence in the world while we create new life on earth (with God's help). Perhaps we should take a cue from the Gospel and carve some time for meditation during this busy holiday season. We get so caught up in the frenzy and the festivity that it's easy to lose our focus on what the season should mean to us. Watch and Wait. Light a new candle each week as we watch for the Messiah.
Of course, the Messiah has already come--our salvation is assured. The idea of the end being contained in the beginning is part of our Advent readings as well. We hear the story of the preparations for Jesus' birth with readings that are often interpreted as prophecy about a Messiah (found in the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah) along with Bible readings that remind us that Christ will come again.
Christ is coming (as he has come before, as he is present with us now)--are you ready? Take some moments this season--quit buying Christmas presents, quit cooking, quit racing from party to open house to family reunion. Listen to the voice crying in the wilderness. Think about the promises that God has made to us, the commitments God asks from us. How can you prepare? For the Kingdom of God is at hand.
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