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Advent 1, Cycle A

“Come! Let us walk in the light of the Lord!” This call from Isaiah 2:5 incorporates for us the essence of the four texts selected for the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of this new Church Year. We are called by the Spirit of God through these texts to make, to proclaim, and to share on this day our commitment to God to be alert, thoughtful, actively involved People of God during these next twelve months. We are called to walk always in the “light of the Lord,” open to God in whatever ways God will come to us. As we begin a new Church Year, this is the day for us to be critically cleansing our lives and our institutions, both religious and secular. We do this so that we may serve most effectively as advocates of God and of God’s cause of justice and of peace for all of God’s creatures, wherever we may be during the next twelve months. For us as Christians, this First Sunday in Advent should be far more significant and meaningful than January 1 each year. For us, this is the day to make important resolutions for the coming year and to keep them.

Psalm 122
Among the four texts chosen for the First Sunday of Advent of Series A in the lectionary that we are using, perhaps Psalm 122 has the most immediate appeal. The feeling for the community of the People of God is so vibrant in this psalm that the city of Jerusalem, within which the “house of the Lord” is built, is directly addressed or described in some way in every verse.

As we introduce this psalm, or during the message for this day, it will be helpful to comment briefly about the life situation in which this psalm was developed. The person who wrote Psalm 122 was intensely grateful when other Israelites issued the verbal invitation to join them in going up to Jerusalem, the city made holy by the house of the Lord in it. Using our God-given imaginations, we can go back in time, transcending space and time, to join with the ancient Israelite People of God in their call for peace and happiness. Then we can and should bring Psalm 122 forward into our time and place, adapting it to our congregation, substituting our city or area for Jerusalem and making other minor adjustments. We can do this, if necessary, even without use of the Hebrew text. Such an adaptation can then be sung or spoken by the person who has arranged it, by a chorus or choir, or by the entire congregation.

Isaiah 2:1-5
Although this text is placed within the basic chapters 1-12 of the Isaiah traditions, its themes are those of the restoration and dawning of apocalyptic period contemporary with Isaiah 60-62 material and with the redactors-writers who were inspired to produce 1 and 2 Chronicles. The prophetic oracle that is the central portion of this text, verses 2-4, is used also in Micah 4:1-4. Here the Torah has gone forth out of Zion, but most of the fervent expectations of this text have not yet been realized by Israel, by the Christian Church, or by anyone. These are the types of thoughts and expectations from which messianic hopes are fashioned. Jews and Christians today and Muslims and Hindus today can together share in this futuristic hope and together can long for and work to accomplish that which has not yet been experienced. Together we can join with what the Jesus of history desired nearly 2,000 years ago. When we as Christians can acknowledge that, even for us and with our Christology, our eschatology is more futuristic than realized, we can join together with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and others “to improve the world.” Our Advent season is the prime time during our Church Year to do this. That is by far the best way for us to prepare for Christmas.

Romans 13:11-14
We have reached the point in our study of this letter of the Apostle Paul to followers of Jesus in the capital of the Roman Empire in which we recognize that Paul was writing about a new lifestyle for the new people of God who were followers of Jesus whom they perceived to be the Risen Christ. Regardless of whether they had been from a Jewish background or from some other background in the Greco-Roman world, for Paul they were now a “new creation,” people who believed that by the grace of God they were now justified through faith in Jesus the Risen Christ as their Lord. Their new lifestyle, which is what Romans 12-15 as well as many other sections of Paul’s seven basic letters is all about, implies that they will put forth their bodies as a continual living sacrifice acceptable to God (12:1-8). They will have love for one another and bless even those who persecute them (12:9-21). They will submit to the civil authority of government to the extent that the authority of government is authorized by God (13:1-7). They will have no other obligation except to live together in agape´ style (13:8-10). Finally, in the text appointed for this occasion (13:11-14), they will put off all the accouterments of darkness and put on the equipment of light, that is, whatever will indicate that Jesus is their Lord. Therefore, Romans 13:11-14 is an appropriate letter of Paul reading with which to begin this new Church Year with its theme, “Come! Let us walk in the light.”

Matthew 24:36-44
According to this text, even though the Son of man may come during the “night,” Jesus’ disciples are to be “in the light,” ready and watching. Matthew 24:36-44 draws from Genesis 6-9 for a comparison to the time of Noah of conditions at the time of the parousia (coming) of the Son of man, a parousia that has been long-awaited, previously announced, eagerly anticipated by the righteous, and greatly feared by the sinners. The Lukan writer added the example of conditions at the time of Lot. Both Matthew and Luke — whether dependent on “Q” materials, oral tradition, or on each other — added to Mark’s admonitions the idea that one man and one woman will be taken along with the Son of man while another man and another woman will be destroyed.

Instances in the Synoptic Gospels of Jesus speaking about the Son of man in the third person are indications that the Jesus of history did not himself claim to be the “Son of man.” It is likely that it was followers of Jesus who believed that Jesus was alive and with God after the crucifixion who expected Jesus as the Risen Christ to come again as the “Son of man” in accordance with Daniel 7:13.

What, therefore, are we called to proclaim this coming Sunday? Shall we renew or heighten the apocalyptic expectations expressed in Matthew 24? The Matthew 24 text presents a specific viewpoint from a particular situation within one community of followers of Jesus late during the first century. We today are called to speak in behalf of God within a much more extensive perspective than that depicted in Matthew 24. We believe that God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will come in many ways during this new Church Year. Let us walk in the “light of the Lord” and look for the coming of the Lord in a multitude of ways each day during the coming twelve months and ultimately at the end of time. For this we are called.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen