Good Things Come
2007-11-27 by Scott Bryte

    It’s almost as if Advent has two personalities; two main points, as it were, that don’t seem to go together all that well. There’s the Advent that preachers see, all about the eschaton and eagerly pacing back and forth ‘til the parousia, and then there’s the Advent that just about everyone else sees, where it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Two very different personalities to be sure.  Yet they’re not like the two parts of a fractured mind, where it’s one and then the other - alternating, at odds, never there at the same time and never working together.  Advent’s two personalities are more like twins joined at the hip.  They might well have different views on the world, but they always end up going to the same place. 

     Whether we’re anticipating the second coming (which we do in Advent), or preparing to celebrate the birth of our Lord (which we do in, say, Advent), what it all boils down to is that we’re waiting for the coming of Jesus.   Waiting.  The word ‘advent’ slid sideways into the church from Latin and means something like “He’s headed this way”.  Jesus is coming and so we wait.  But Advent’s waiting doesn’t have us sitting in a lumpy vinyl chair, flipping through back issues of ‘People” magazine.  Advent is the kid of waiting that franticly straightens the couch cushions and runs the vacuum right up until there’s a knock at the door.  Thomas Edison has said “good things come to him who hustles while he waits”. 

     In a way, it’s all Advent.  All of Christian history fits between the long awaited birth and the still awaited return of the Messiah.  Waiting is what the church does.  Christ has come.  Christ will come. We hope and pray and preach and teach and help and feed. And we hustle.  And we wait.

     The Gospel lesson for this first Sunday of Advent has gotten beat up quite a bit, especially since the idea of the ‘rapture’ was invented about 140 years ago.  It gets beat up the way it does because waiting is hard work.  It’s hard to hold out hope for generation after generation, especially when the details of what you’re waiting for are so vague.  Golden streets and pearly gates are metaphors, of course, but what are we really getting?  It’d be nice to know.  We think it would make the waiting easier.  We also imagine that we could hold on better if we knew exactly how long the wait was going to be. [ Which is ridiculous, of course. If we knew for certain that Jesus was coming back in the year 3552 a.D., or if people in ancient times were certain that our Lord would return in, say, 2012a.D., then we might be lured into the illusion that his far future return wouldn’t have anything to do with us.]  And so we invent details and perform silly calculations using numbers we pry out of context. 

     “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mt 24:36) “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mt 24:42).  That day, says Jesus, will come like a burglar, or like sudden death that claims one field hand and leaves the other standing.  You know it’s coming, but it’ll still surprise you.If Jesus doesn’t even know when his return will be, what make us think we can figure it out?  So be ready.  Jesus is coming. Hustle.  Wait.





Why stop there?
2007-11-27 by Tom Steagald

At our study group today we got into a discussion as to why the lectionary committee stopped the Isaiah lesson at verse 5. In fact, vs. 5 begins a new paragraph in the translation and makes better sense in the context of the verses that follow. The vision of vss. 1-5 is a kind of light against the darkness of the balance of chapters 2 and 3, an "in spite of" vision--do not think that what we see now is all there is; a new world is coming.

Perhaps the stopping place can be read in light of the desire we all of us have to receive the blessing while ignoring the judgment, to hear the comfort absent any challenge. We want the victory without battle, the prize without cost. And so Advent long-since ceased to be a penitential season in any measure--we move from purple to blue--and though Paul counsels that we make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires, we have to confess that this time of year that is about ALL we do. Fasting? NOW? Used to, I guess, but not anymore.

We found ourselves reading passages from Bonhoeffer again, The Cost of Discipleship, where he says if grace is a general truth, that allows us to live by the standards of the rest of the world. It is an old word that seems shockingly current.

I reminded us of Barbara Brown Taylor's word that if we lose the language (and, I would say, conviction) of sin, we also lose the language (and, I would say, experience or joy) of salvation. It is the bad news that makes the good news GOOD. We may hear the good news first, but we must also hear the bad news in order for it to be all the news that is news. if you see what I mean.





Highlights from This Week's Articles in "Lectionary Homiletics"
2007-11-26 by David von Schlichten

I'm enjoying soaking up this week's articles from Lectionary Homiletics as I sit in the hot tub and sip a strawberry daiquiri. It's also great to have William Willimon with us in the tub. Scroll down to read his first blog entry as well as an exciting entry from Tom Steagald. 

In addition, huzzah for the beginning of Year A and therefore the beginning of Anna Carter Florence writing the “Preaching the Lesson” essay for each week. You can read her article for this week free of charge by going to Share It! and then clicking on Free Samples from Lectionary Homiletics.

Her essay starts with provocative questions and later makes use of compelling imagery that you will find enjoyable and elucidating.

Here are other highlights from this week's articles:

Exegesis”

A.K.M. Adams provides an insightful analysis of the gospel from Matthew. Adams teaches that we are to be thankful for a God who cares about judgment, as opposed to a God who does not care about how we treat each other or how we live.

Adams also explains that, according to this passage and Matthew as a whole, the Christian life is full of confusing uncertainties, including when we will stand before God as the Judge. Adams goes on to declare, “Our standing with God doesn't rest on knowing, but on trusting and following the way Jesus set out for us” (p.5).

Theological Themes”

Samuel K. Roberts writes thoughtfully about time and the human longing to measure time and predict the future. Roberts then avers, “There is no logic available to human minds to fathom the ebb and flow of the events of time. It is therefore better to be alert. Alertness is being open to all the possibilities that God has in store for us as we move though time” (p.6).

A Sermon”

In her sermon, “May the Dark Corners and Crevices Be Filled with Light,” Dianne Andrews writes with poedifying power about the “armor of light” image from Romans and applies it with grace to the gospel. She offers photons of eloquence such as this: “In your prayers find the dark corner for which you are going to pray [ . . . ] Go there every day in prayer with your armor of light illuminating that place” (p.11). It is wise to wear such armor while waiting for the Eschatological Advent.

Getting out of the tub to make a turkey sandwich, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Hmmmmmm!
2007-11-26 by David von Schlichten

Scroll down for Tom's intriguing proposal that we may need to wake up God, so to speak. There is certainly a biblical basis for such an idea. Quite intriguing. I need to do some serious meditating, walking, praying, studying and yielding about this.

Also, it is an honor to have William Willimon as our guest blogger this week. Scroll down to read his first entry.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





First Thoughts
2007-11-26 by Tom Steagald

I think Will's post helps set our compass to the true North of Advent...But where is God at work, intruding in the world? I think one of our challenges is to discern God's response to, God's presence and activity in the chaos that swirls around us.

At the same time, I think the task of the church is to prompt God's work in the world--through prayer and worship. Year B's Isaiah text says, "O that you would rend the heavens and come down..." The lament is that God is more silent these days than in former days. Isaiah's word for Year A (this Sunday) is that the time will come when God will intrude and reorder, re-establish and redeem many peoples. Advent is a declaration and an invocation--the time is coming, please God, make it now!

I am reminded of the Gospel accounts of the storm on the sea, when Jesus is asleep in the boat. The terrified disciples have to wake the Lord for him to do his work. A friend of mine in a Pentecostal tradition says that that is how he understands worship (and why it takes longer at his place than mine)--they are waking the Lord.

The second Sunday of Advent will summon God to rouse our hearts. This first Sunday we announce that God will rouse God's-self to do the promised work, and we plead for God to get on with it.





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