First Sunday of Advent
The words of this lesson arise from a lament (63:15-19). God's people hurt. The people are out of the exile, but the exile is not out of the people. Those who return home face devastation and the experience of God's absence. In their hurt, they long for God to intervene, to come and make things right (64:1-2). They long for the experience of God's saving presence. In their longing, they remember the Exodus and Mount Sinai (64:3). When they remember, their trust in God is reborn (64:4). Trust frees them to see their relationship to God for what it is, and the language of lament turns to penitence (64:5-7). The lesson ends with hope (64:8-9).
All the major themes of Advent and of the church's life are contained in this lesson: hurt awakens longing, longing brings remembering, remembering revives trust, trust leads to penitence, and penitence ushers in hope. Advent preaching that begins with "rend the heavens and come down," and ends with "Now consider, we are all your people" (NRSV) will help the people find hope in the hurts.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
To hear the hope in this lesson it is helpful to read through the entire letter and then return to these opening words. The church in Corinth was troubled, confused, and unfaithful. The truth is that we probably would not trade our church troubles for theirs (though they sound disturbingly similar): factions, incest, prostitution, lawsuits, greed, gluttony and disorders at the love feasts, competitive chaos in worship, and false teaching plagued this congregation. Reading the letter first will prepare us for the surprise of verses 3 and 4: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus."
The hope for the church in Corinth and in North America lies here: God is faithful, God has called us into the fellowship of his Son (v. 9), God has blessed us with every spiritual gift (v. 7), and God will sustain us to the end. Living in Christ and in Corinth at the same time is not easy or simple, but hope comes to those who "eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed."
Thirty years ago the death-of-God theology was built on the experience of God's absence. What was remarkable about that theology was that it treated the experience as though it were new.
"Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away. . . ." That is where we live. We live in the Master's house when "he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task." Watching, then, is the task of caring for the house in the absence of the Master.
Like the disciples, we would like to know when the Master will return (v. 4). We would like to know when to get busy and clean house. But the test of disciple-ship is in the experience of the Master's absence. This is the time of discipleship. Not knowing when the Master will return is the opportunity for faithfulness.
For those who are puzzled by Jesus' "irrelevant" details of "in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn," follow those as clues in the remainder of Mark's gospel and note the conduct of the disciples at each of the designated times: evening (14:17-18), midnight (14:34), when the rooster crows (14:72), at dawn (15:1; this verse marks the disappearance of the disciples from Mark's story). The disciples failed, but the Lord who went to the cross for them and for us will surely come again.
About the cover...
Advent is a season for hope—-hope that empowers us and allows us to prepare, anticipate, wait, and watch for Christ to return. God's promises thread their way through the Scriptures and through history. As God's people, we will find hope in the hurts and disconnectedness of our lives.
The bulletins and banner were designed by Chris Stoffel Overvoorde as published in Reformed Worship 29 (Fall, 1993).