Jeremiah 33: 14-16; Luke 21: 25-36
Advent 1; December 2, 2018
Text 1: Jeremiah 33, 14-16The 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. 15 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. 16 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."
Text 2: Luke 21, 25-36"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. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." 29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 "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, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 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."
Reflection: Towards the end of November and into December, evening comes early. During this liturgical season we are caught between joyful expectation and the harsh realities of the present world; we are waiting for the promise of God to be fulfilled. In this North American culture, as soon as daylight savings time ends, people start to decorate their houses with Christmas lights to signify we are moving into the holiday season. When holiday carols blare from every speaker and the neighborhood is glowing with displays of lights, there is no room for darkness and little patience for prayerful expectation. Yet, there are many people living out of sync with our surroundings. In this time of a new beginning and sacred place, we are invited to reflect more deeply on the meaning of Advent, this time of living in the unsettling tension between what is and what will be.
It was some eighteen years ago in 2000, a time of crisis in my life. I was in ministry in a promising Korean congregation in downtown Toronto, but my contract with the Church had ended since the call was not offered to me. So I applied to the settlement process in the United Church to go to a pastoral charge anywhere in Canada. Then it was a matter of waiting. I would not learn of our destination until about six months later; I could be settled anywhere, from Halifax to Yellowknife or anywhere in between. The time was brutal for us, ten months of unemployment, studying at Emmanuel College to finish my Master’s degree and supporting our family with two children aged two and three. Living in that unsettling situation while facing an unknown future was not an easy task.
Sung Response: VU 7, Hope Is a Star(verse 1): Hope is a star that shines in the night, leading us on till the morning is bright. When God is a child there's joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid
One day around this time of year, while I was studying in the library of Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto, I heard beautiful music coming from somewhere. It was a familiar tune; it was slowly permeating my body and embracing me, and I reached the point when I could not concentrate on my reading any longer. So I stopped and left the library to follow the sound. It led me to the chapel. No one else was there but the music professor was playing, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, the same hymn we sang today. In the empty chapel the hymn filled me with assurance and hope for our future. There, while I was listening to the hymn, I realized I was weeping.
That was during my second year studying at Emmanuel. Because I was working in a busy Church as its fulltime minister, I always had to return to the Church as soon as any class finished, so I rarely attended the Wednesday community worship services at Emmanuel. Now, without work, I attended the service and realized I was not alone; the chapel was filled with colleagues hoping soon to be ordained ministers, and I sensed that I had found the community I needed. Even though I did not know whether I would become a successful candidate for settlement or where our family might be heading for our next pastoral charge, I had found a community there while singing the hymn with others. Together with these people I was journeying with the empowering Spirit. With the assurance of God’s presence, I would continue to journey into the future. I was living in Advent, this time of living in the unsettling tension between what is and what will be.
Sung Response: VU 7, Hope Is a Star(verse 2) Peace is a ribbon that circles the earth, giving a promise of safety and worth. When God is a child there's joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid
Jeremiah was living in that very difficult time before, during and after the Exile. His country, Judah, had been defeated by Babylon in 587 BCE. At that time the Judeans were carried into exile and the city and its Temple were completely destroyed. Living in this very hopeless situation, Jeremiah speaks the language of hope. He says, “When Babylon’s seventy years are completed I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place” (29: 10).
What does the language of hope mean to Jeremiah and his people in the time of Exile? According to today’s scripture, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel.” Jeremiah gives the people hope to imagine, in the midst of their exile, the new Temple and new life they will live in in the post-exile community. He projects a radical new vision and hope into their life in exile. His hope is not vague and not a wish list, but concrete and realistic.
How, then, are Jeremiah and the people enabled to uphold their vision and hope during the Exile? They are living without land or Temple, but in their poverty, they dream and hope for the future. The basis of hope, says Jeremiah, is not in material things like land or Temple, but in doing “justice and righteousness” (33:15). Only by living “justice and righteousness” can the people of Israel return home and rebuild their communal life in their homeland. Justice and righteousness are the foundation and cornerstone of the new community of Israel. Upon this basis only will Judah be saved and Jerusalem live in safety. In Advent we are living with the unsettling tension between what is and what will be. The people of Israel find hope and peace to build a country based on doing justice and righteousness.
Sung Response: VU 7, Hope Is a Star(verse 3) Joy is a song that welcomes the dawn, telling the world that the Saviour is born. When God is a child there's joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid
In our busy life we may wonder why we need Advent. We may think that we don’t have time to wait. Why do we need a season of Advent before Christmas? The season of Advent brings the future into the present. In my case, through the time of waiting, I became who I am to be. Advent helped me to see beyond my life, a time of disruption and instability. I was living within the unsettling tension between what is and what will be, and the tension helped me to grow. When I look back, I sense I was being led by God’s hands. In the settlement process for my future ministry I was offered the unexpected choice of going to Oxford Presbytery in London Conference rather than Manitoba and Northwest Ontario Conference. I accepted the offer and moved on.
Advent offers us the opportunity to live faithfully in the present, yet to realize the unknown future. The tension is between our sense of reality and our sense of God’s vision for our future. As we faithfully hope for a future of living justice and righteousness, the future breaks into our present. Why Advent? Advent points us to see beyond our present to our dreams for the future. At a time when it seems that only violent events are given the spotlight, Advent gives us the lens through which to see God at work. Why Advent? Advent assures us that God has secured a future for us that becomes our present, and truly changes our here and now.
As we are entering to this new season of Advent, we are invited to the communion table. Come, come to the table of Jesus. Thanks be to God who is living and working among us. Amen.
Sung Response: VU 7, Hope Is a Star(verse 4) Love is a flame that burns in our heart, Jesus has come and will never depart. When God is a child there's joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid
Coordinating Minister, West Point Grey United Church, Vancouver