Speak Your Mind

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Change! The Righteous Lord is coming.

His winnowing fork is in His hand… (Image credit http://www.stmarycanons.org/blog/category/chapter-05)

(TLW50) Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 16, Advent 3

Theme: ABCD of Advent – Change as Christ’s coming beckons

Zephaniah 3:14-20 — The alienated ones are gathered with rejoicing.
God’s wrath over man’s rebellion is real, but so is His mercy for all who turn to Christ

Luke 3:7-18  — Whose values are we agreeing with?
John challenges hearers with the need to change their stance before God at the coming of the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire

Philippians 4:4-7 — Anxiety stalks, but praise and thanksgiving overcomes.
Knowing God through Jesus, and knowing His nearness by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice

Also: Song of Praise: Isaiah 12:2-6

SUMMARY   The Lord is taking delight in His faithful people, gathering them and bringing them home. John foretells that One greater than him will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire, warning people to get right with God. Paul reminds his churches, don’t be anxious but rejoice, for the Lord is near!

OLD TESTAMENT READING 

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – The alienated ones are gathered with rejoicing

God’s wrath over man’s rebellion is real, but so is His mercy for all who turn to Christ

14-15 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy.

“Be glad and rejoice” — a complete reversal of the pronouncement of woe and wrath earlier in the chapter, after which a remnant arises again to find God’s favour.

The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

“Taken away your punishment” – stated as if judgment day had already happened. God removes His wrath and lifts the curse of transgression through Christ.

For further study, read Romans 5:9, Rom. 8:1, Gal.. 3:13-14.

“The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you” – the true king of Israel was always the Lord, Yahweh, and other rulers were to represent Him. The NT uses this title of Jesus the Messiah, John 1:49, Matt. 27:42 and John seems to apply this verse to Jesus at His Triumphal Entry, John 12:13.

16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.

“Hands hang limp” – do not be discouraged.

17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’

“The Mighty Warrior” – Yahweh is the supreme Commander, Psalm 24:8.

“Will… delight in you” – like a bridegroom with his bride, Isaiah 62:4-5, Isaiah 65:18-19. Zephaniah was possibly a disciple of Isaiah who shared something of the same vision. His message is that when God’s people seek Him, Zeph. 3:12-13, and rejoice in Him in a relationship of trust, vv.14-15 above, the Lord is so delighted He bursts forth with celebration and loud singing.

18 I will remove [or gather] from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.

“All who mourn over the loss” – all translators agree that this is a difficult verse. The context esp. vv.19-20 below suggests this is God’s promise to make things right, by both gathering and removing those who remain rebels to God’s truth, and also gathering and bringing back those driven from Jerusalem by oppressors.

19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame.

20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes [bring back your captives] before your very eyes,’ says the Lord.

“I will rescue… gather… give honour and praise” — special favour in an intimate way for those who have held on to faith through the deprivation and shame of exile.

The weak and humble that the rebel majority abused (Zeph. 1:9; 3:1–2; cf. Ezek 34:21) are the very ones upon whom Yahweh’s justice would shine (Zeph. 3:5; cf. 2:3; 3:12)

IN PRACTICE  This week’s theme of ‘Be Prepared’ starts with a passage that is set in the context of God’s wrath. The start of Zephaniah 3 is about Jerusalem, the city of oppressors, and God’s judgment which, as always is intended to be a wake-up call and bring correction, Zeph. 3:1-7. However, following the inevitable punishment, a refining takes place and God delights in those that remain, who have kept faith in Him. In our world, we can see where God’s judgment for ‘doing our own thing’ has resulted in a dramatic fall in church attendance and prosperity. Perhaps it’s needed, so that we wake up and think again about whose church it is,  and whether we are in love with God the Father and His Son Jesus, or the traditions we are attached to. The bottom line is that God is good, He loves us and He has a real purpose for all of us – for which some discipline is also a measure of His love.

QUESTION  What does God want from us as a faith community, that is a tension with what we want?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 3:7-18 – Whose values are we agreeing with?

John challenges hearers with the need to change their stance before God at the coming of the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire

7-9 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’

“Vipers” — a way of challenging them about having become the seed of the Serpent, Gen. 3:15, in their attitudes and actions. These vipers, Isaiah 59:5 are the rebellious people of  God who turned the way of the Lord into crooked roads, Isaiah 59:8.

“We have Abraham” –  the erroneous and somewhat arrogant belief of some Jews who believed that descent from Abraham was their assurance of salvation, John 8:33-39, Acts 7:2.

“The axe… tree… good fruit” – genuine faith produces good fruit. Claiming the ancestry of Abraham was meaningless if not matched  with righteous, just and generous-spirited living including a willingness to engage in repentance responding to John’s call.

10 ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.

11 John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’

“Two shirts” – a long tunic undergarment.

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’

13 ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ He told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked Him, ‘And what should we do?’
He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’

“Tax collectors…soldiers” – probably a form of police in the employ of Herod Antipas to protect the tax collectors, a rejected community seen as supporting the Roman oppression. John preaches honesty and concern for those in need, against the fraudulent dealings and extortion that had become part of the accepted way of life.

15-16 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with [in] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with [in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

“The Holy Spirit and fire” – a holy ‘drenching’ that will transform and purify.  Fire is often used in the OT as an illustration of the judgment that purifies, exposing what is insubstantial and ‘combustible’. The Holy Spirit also reveals what is not of God and exposes our self-deceptions in a transformation that can be a fiery and radical purification.

17-18 His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

“Wheat… chaff” – the righteous versus the unrepentant. John’s theme throughout is on the need for a humility before God which brings with it a sincere dependence on God and a lifestyle of willingness to recognise and deal with everything in life which is not God’s way. “Winnowing fork” – many Jews had assumed a false sense of entitlement, believing that when the Messiah came, only pagans would be singled out, but John makes clear that judgment and punishment that judgment will come on all who do not repent.

“Proclaimed the good news” – John’s message heralded the coming of a Saviour, both imminently and also in the final judgment – a message of joy and justice for all who would receive Him but a stark warning for those who would not, both present and future. 

IN PRACTICE  The Jews were confident that they deserved favour from God because of their heritage, rather conveniently overlooking the swatches of of their Scriptures (Old Testament to us) which speak of rebellion and apostasy and the inevitable consequences which they suffered in exile and then a series of invasions. The hated (but for the most part, just and professional) Roman rule was just the latest of a number of occupations.

What about us? We live in a so-called Christian country. We may have served our church or fellowship faithfully, with others looking to us as the ones who ‘keep things going’. But has that given us a false sense of entitlement? This “be prepared” season is a good time to ask if we are holding faithfully, or perhaps just tenaciously, on to what God actually wants us to let go of, so He is able to “do a new thing”, Isaiah 43:18-19. And to be humble enough to let go of any sense of entitlement is definitely a good way to “be prepared”.

PRAYER  Lord, as I mentally line up for John’s baptism and wonder what in me has more of the hallmark of the snake, rather than the Spirit, help me to let go of attitudes that need to go, and to embrace the change and holiness You are revealing in this season. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 4:4-7 – Anxiety stalks, but praise and thanksgiving overcomes

Knowing God through Jesus, and knowing His nearness by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!

“Rejoice… always” – the back-story here is a disagreement – we might say, a church split – serious enough for the parties to be named in a letter to be read out. The enemy’s strategy is always to find ways to cause disagreement and division, and the God-given remedy is the capacity that Christians have to see beyond themselves, and find agreement. Rejoicing is an attitude of relationship with God, not circumstances, and in that relationship His way becomes clear.

5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

“Gentleness” – the quality of Christlike consideration, generosity of spirit, especially required of church leaders, 1 Tim. 3:3, Titus 3:2.

“Near” – A reminder repeated elsewhere in the NT that the next great event in God’s salvation schedule is Christ’s return. The whole span from Christ’s coming at Bethlehem to the final consummation of the kingdom is “the last time” in which, from God’s perspective, a thousand years are like a day,  . “Near” or “at hand” also speaks of the Lord’s nearness in the prayer relationship, the presence of One poised to return.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

“Do not be anxious” – because the Lord is near. Prayerful thanksgiving in every situation is the antidote to anxiety which makes way for God’s peace.

7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“The peace of God” – the assurance of those who know their sins are forgiven and, receiving God’s love, can trust Him beyond their perspective of circumstances.

IN PRACTICE The Lord is gathering those that are really His with rejoicing, not with arguing. However, we have an enemy who is utterly opposed to the love, grace and acceptance that is the heart of the Gospel, and will work on our thoughts wherever our independence from God (the short word is ‘sin’) has given him a way in… and we may not realise where it from until it is too late. Church politics, often linked to religious inflexibility, has resulted in millions that believe in God but don’t believe in His church. If, however, we are characterised as those who “Rejoice always” because we know that God is good even when things are challenging, then that is a very attractive proposition. Anxieties abound in our complex and conflicted world – and everyone is looking for the people who can deal with doubt and fear by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. A tall order? God has called us, as Christians, to live differently and has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do it.

QUESTION  The adversary, Satan, was real enough to Jesus – in the wilderness and wherever He found people oppressed by sickness or other difficulty. Have I become too rational and educated to look for these spiritual realities, and tackle them as Jesus did?

PRAYER  Lord, as I draw near to You in this season of preparation, I recognise that preparation involves change, and You are asking all of us to be prepared to check our thoughts, consider our priorities, review our responses – and give them all to You! Help me to let go of all that hinders, so I can grasp with both hands all You have for me that is lifegiving. In Jesus’ name and for His glory, Amen.

Also: Isaiah 12:2-6 – Song of Praise

2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.

The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my defence [or song];
He has become my salvation.’

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

4 In that day you will say:‘Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name;
make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.

5 ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.

6 ‘Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’

Advent 2 – Be prepared

TLW49 December 9 Advent 2

Malachi 3:1-4

Luke 1:68-79

Luke 3:1-6

Philippians 1:3-11

19 + 10vv

Theme: Advent ABCD. Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return

Luke 1:68-79 — Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation. Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John.

Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord. When He appears He will come to refine and purify.

Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance. He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’

Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us. Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.

Summary

ABCD of Advent: Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return

The messenger of the Lord will prepare the way and then suddenly the Lord, the Refiner, will come to His temple. The word comes to John son of Zechariah, to call people to repentance and prepare the way for the One to come. Christians in the Early Church are reminded that God’s work in us is always a ‘work in progress’, with its completion date the day of Christ Jesus.

CANTICLE – INTRODUCTION TO ‘BE PREPARED’ THEME

Luke 1:68-79 – Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation

Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them.

“Praise be” — Benedictus in the Latin translation.

“His people… redeemed” — Zechariah is correct about the Jewish people, but His perspective does not extend to God’s desire for inclusive salvation, Luke 3:6.

69-71 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us

“Horn” — of a powerful animal, a ‘mighty salvation’, Ps. 18:2.

72-73 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

“His Holy covenant… to Abraham” — although the original promise to Abraham had a focus on the land, this now emphasises the people of the land.

74-75 and to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

“Rescue us” — the people of Israel wanted freedom from physical, Gentile enemies, the Romans. God’s plan through His Son Jesus was for spiritual freedom from sin, from Satan and from death.

76-77 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,

“My child… a prophet” — at this dedication and naming of the baby as John, Zechariah prophesies over Him. John was the last of the OT prophets and was called by Jesus the greatest, Luke 7:28.

78-79 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

“Rising sun” — the Messiah is described in the OT as the sun rising and dispelling darkness, Isaiah 9:2, 60:1; Mal. 4:2-5.

“Path of peace” — or the way of the Lord: God’s purpose is people finding peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus, Romans 5:1.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord

When He appears He will come to refine and purify

“I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

“My messenger” – a play on the name Malachi. This messenger is Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness”, Isa. 40:3 which the NT understands as the ‘Elijah’ of Malachi 4:3, the role which John the Baptist fulfilled, at least at the first coming of Christ. It was the custom in that culture for a king to send a messenger ahead to address obstacles to their visit – one way of seeing John the Baptist urging people to repent and prepare for the greater Messenger to come.

For further study, read Matt. 3:3, 11:14, 17:10-13; John 1:14-17

But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.

“The day of His coming” – a picture of judgment and also purifying. The launderer’s work with lye soap and beating with sticks was not gentle; neither was the heat needed to raise the dross of impurities from molten metal.

3-4 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

“Purify the Levites” – the term messenger was usually applied to prophets and priests – and the priestly class of the Levites, who were supposed to be an example in serving at the altar, will be purged of their unfaithfulness. 

IN PRACTICE Malachi’s message here about the Lord and messenger of the covenant focuses on the refining and purifying aspect, particular for its guardians, the priests and Levites. Bring that into today and the NT reminds us, James 3:1, that teachers will be judged more harshly. For those given privilege and responsibility, more is expected, Luke 12:38. The priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ time were not proclaiming God’s purpose but thwarting it.

Jesus is poised to come again, and the more that reality becomes clear, the more it is plain that He simply wants His Church back. He wants it to be His church, holding His values and proclaiming the unashamed message to the various empires of man, that He is the way to salvation into the kingdom of God.

Creating our own version of temple and priesthood may be more accessible for us – but it’s not what He had in mind. It’s not the New Covenant way of knowing God that the Early Church began to work out.

Our honouring His first coming, and preparing ourselves for His return, must involve pruning back what doesn’t belong, to reveal a church that Jesus will recognise.

QUESTION  What simple changes would bring your church closer to Jesus’ intention?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance

He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’

1-2 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

“Herod tetrarch of Galilee… Philip tetrarch of Iturea. When Herod the Great died in 4 BC his sons Antipas (Galilee) and Philip (Iturea), also Archelaus, not mentioned, succeeded him as tetrarchs ruling quarters of his former kingdom. Also mentioned by Luke, Lysanias, the fourth tetrarch and the overseeing Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

“Preaching a baptism of repentance” – John heralded the coming Messiah saying that people needed to repent of their sins and prepare spiritually; the response and demonstration of repentant intention was water baptism.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.

“Prepare the way” – before a royal visit, workers would clear and level the road. The quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 was associated with the Jews’ return from exile, Ezra 1-2, and end-times salvation. The picture for Jewish hearers was of another deliverance like the Exodus from Egypt.

Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.

“Every valley… filled in” – a poetic way of saying the Lord’s purpose will not be thwarted. There are also moral overtones. The humble and lowly are to be built up, the crooked changed, and the proud and arrogant, particular obstacles to God’s purposes, will be humbled.

And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”

“All people” – Luke’s  gospel was written with Gentile believers being added to the church in mind. All four gospel accounts quote Isaiah 40:3 but only Luke takes the quotation further: “…the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” Luke, a Gentile, asserts, from Scripture, that all people – not just those included in the original covenants – would see God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. It would be 20 years after the Resurrection, at the Council of Jerusalem, that this was recognised, a huge and controversial shift of attitude, see Acts 15, Galatians 2.

“All… will see God’s salvation” – God’s intention, that His covenant people would act as a light and model of righteousness to the nations around them, was clearly set out by Isaiah, Isa. 42:6 and 49:6: “The Servant… is called… to be **a light for the Gentiles**…” “…He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a **light to the Gentiles**, and you will **bring My salvation to the ends of the earth**.’ ” Luke also reports the aged, godly Simeon’s prophetic blessing at the dedication of Jesus, Luke 2:28-32 “…My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The purifying of the Levites, Mal. 3:3, addresses their negligence of this important widening of the mission of God.

IN PRACTICE  Luke’s picture of John, the prophetic voice in the wilderness of Isaiah 40 is a call for us to be prepared for the expected order to be upset.

The Jews expected their Messiah to come to them and deliver them, as their entitlement.

We think of our church attendance and charitable actions, and feel we should be the ones lining the way for the royal visit.

God often does things differently from our expectations. In recent years there have been increasing testimonies of how God shocks people that don’t really know Him with His love. We have been challenged by His perplexing grace to those we consider, in our judgment, rather undeserving as we hear stories of prisoners in jail receiving Jesus and Muslims of harsh views having visions of the Lord.

This gospel passage emphasises our being prepared for His return in expecting – and praying for – people who are not like us, to begin to see His salvation.

QUESTION  Who, in our world and culture, are to us like the ‘Gentiles’ that Jews of Jesus’ time struggled to accept as a focus of His salvation?

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us

Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.

I thank my God every time I remember you.

“I thank my God” – Paul is writing from closely-guarded imprisonment, but his tone is thanks and joy for what God is doing among others.

4-6 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.

“Day of Christ Jesus” – His return. God (the Holy Spirit) initiates salvation, works the ongoing salvation in us needed beyond the change of heart of initial salvation, and will bring salvation for all to its conclusion on this future day. Paul writes with this longer, eternal timescale in view.

For further study, read Phil 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8)

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

“In chains or… confirming the gospel” – the Philippians stood with Paul and supported him practically and financially, despite the stigma of imprisonment in their culture. The partnership remained strong although Paul’s ability to “defend and confirm the gospel” seemed to have been removed by imprisonment. His perspective is that God is always “carrying on” the “good work” that He began through good times and hard. God always completes what he starts.

8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,

“Love may abound… in knowledge and… insight” – in knowledge of God’s Will and so able to move from the immediate picture and the judgments we make, to seeing the bigger picture of what God, in His unconditional love, is doing in others.

10-11 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

“Pure and blameless” – questioning what will be found in us on the day of Christ’s return. Harbouring wrong attitudes, especially the judgmental or resentful kind, will bring the Lord’s censure  — we are commanded to forgive, to show grace, to treat people better than they deserve and above all, to love. It’s only treating others as God treats us.

“The fruit of righteousness” — not something we can achieve by any amount of effort or discipline. Rather, it is being yielded to the Holy Spirit, such that He can grow righteousness in us, from the inside out.

IN PRACTICE  God’s timescales can be difficult for us in a world where up-to-the-minute news is on the ‘phone in our pocket, ‘instant’ drinks and food offer to save us time and we can be in another country for a meeting and back again the same day. Having to wait is challenging for us, and the waiting for Jesus’ return that the Early Church seemed to measure in years is counted for us in millennia. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the good work begun by the Lord is taking a long time to bring to anything like completion: the world has got bigger and vastly more complex. The message of this epistle is to have faith in God for all the loose ends that we see. He will bring to completion the good work that He has started, whether that is in us personally or the mission of the church we are involved in or the bringing about of a just world order.

QUESTION  What does it look like, to be filled with the fruit of righteousness?

PRAYER  Lord, we want Your glorious return but we are so unprepared. Teach us to wait actively but also to willingly put right with You those traits which have no place in Your presence. Amen.

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A for Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom

Image credit: https://lutheran-church-regina.com

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 2, 2018. Advent 1, Year C.

TLW48

Theme: Advent ABCD: Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom

INTRODUCTION  The Lord Himself will become righteousness for us, offering us a radical new relationship with God. Yet to come is the full and final redemption and its turmoil of end-time signs, but the anticipation for believers is not fear, but joy, living in daily expectation of Christ Jesus returning with His heavenly retinue.

PSALM READING

Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness. A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 33:14-16 — The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold. Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship

GOSPEL READING

Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil. Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust

EPISTLE READING

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return. Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.

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PSALM – PREFACE TO THEME

Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness 

A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full

1-2 In You, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

“I trust in You… shame” – honour and its opposite, shame, were emphasised in Jewish culture and the psalms make frequent mention of trust in the Lord as the way to avoid being shamed, Ps. 22:5, 31:1, 69:6, 71:1 etc.

3 No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

“Hopes in You… shame” – hope, unlike the weaker, aspirational English meaning, is a solid confidence in God’s good purpose, Ps. 33:22, 130:5. Hope, which is trusting in God’s covenant goodwill, answers the threat of shame.

4-6 Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long. Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

“Your ways… paths… truth… great mercy and love” – language recalling God’s covenant with His people. The Lord has promised to return again, at which time His Way will be fully established.

7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me, for You, Lord, are good.

8-10 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of His covenant.

“Good and upright” – because God is perfectly good and upright, He must extend mercy to humble, i.e. repentant, believers while not allowing the guilty and rebellious to escape judgment.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 33:14-16 –  The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold

Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship

14 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“The days are coming” – looking forward from Babylonian conquest to a time of restoration, but also to a future time beyond that. The discussion of sheep and shepherds becoming visible again, Jer. 33:12-13, leads naturally into the prophecy of the Shepherd and Saviour of David’s line to come, in what we know as the first coming of Jesus and we anticipate as the second coming of the Messiah king.

15 “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land.

Righteous branch ” – the language is very similar to Jer. 25:5-6.

16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.”

“Judah will be saved and Jerusalem…” – The Messiah’s coming will be transformational. Jerusalem – the holy community – will be so changed that it will be called by the same name as its Saviour, “The Lord our righteousness” (Yahweh tsidqenu). This is one of the great covenant names of God, prophetically ascribed in Jeremiah 23:6 to the Messiah. His work is to be our righteousness. The ones who will be counted righteous, are those who have given their lives to Jesus.

For further study John 10:9, 11:26, John 14:6, John 3:16; and coupled with the warning about God’s wrath, John 3:36.

“Live in safety” – this prophecy was given while the Babylonians were breaking down the walls of Jerusalem and removing people and property.

17-18 For this is what the Lord says: “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.”

“David will never fail” – meaning, the covenant with David (and other covenants), will not fail even in the judgment coming on Jerusalem.

IN PRACTICE  In the ABCD of Advent, we start with Anticipation, not of Jesus being born at Bethlehem (that happened!) but of a potentially terrifying time when Jesus as the heavenly host will come again. How will we be counted on that Day of the Lord? Righteous or unrighteous? Jeremiah was prophesying in the first instance about his own people, symbolised by Judah and Jerusalem being saved by the ‘righteous branch’ of David’s line, the Anointed One or Messiah. We know the Messiah with the Greek title Christ (anointed one) Jesus. Like many prophecies, this extends over more than one time and happening. Jesus will come again at an unknown future time – which we are to hold as an immediate prospect, not a distant one. However, the heart of the Gospel is in this Old Testament verse about the Lord who becomes our righteousness. The keeping of the Law was a hard path, but now Jeremiah foretells how the Lord will Himself become righteousness for sinful man. Our heartfelt response to Jesus, acknowledging Him as Saviour and giving Him the say-so of our lives is our release from judgment, not our good works. This is hard to grasp in a world whose values are so much about earned merit. At times in its history the Church has been muddled about this, where the priority of Scripture has been weak, but Jesus’ teaching that He is the gate for the sheep and believing in Him is the one requirement, is crystal clear through the NT.

PRAYER  Lord, help me to be crystal clear about what You have done for me in a way that I could not possibly have earned or merited; and help me to be clear in sharing this saving truth with others.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil

Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust

25-27 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

“There will be signs” – Jesus’ focus is now on the end times, an allusion to Joel 2:30-31, also quoted by Luke (writer of Acts) in Acts 2:20. The prophets expected arresting celestial signs at the end of age, Isaiah 13:9-10; Jeremiah 4:23,28; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10.

“They will see” – the second coming of the Son of Man will be a visible return accompanied by turmoil of the elements, and many people will be distressed, not knowing what is happening.

28 “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“When these things… take place” – in the turmoil, believers are to look up in joy and trust, knowing that these are signs of the deliverance of Jesus’ followers in the final redemption, 1 Cor. 15:53; Romans 8:23.

29-31 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“Look at the fig-tree” – leaves appear and change appearance, heralding the seasons. “When you see these things” – signs will show the kingdom coming fully.

32-33 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“This generation” – Jesus was not setting a time for the present age to end. He continually emphasised a time scale between His being present with His disciples, and His return, Luke 21:9,12,24.

34-36 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

“Will close on you suddenly” – but not unannounced, for those that will hear. For those who are not ready, “that day” is judgment closing against them. The point of the discourse is to be ready and alert for Christ’s return at any time.

“Suddenly… it will come on all those… on the whole earth” – the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would follow in AD 70 but Jesus teaches that the coming Day of the Lord will be a crisis encounter for everyone, not just the Jews.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus taught about the end times, and His language conveyed a sense of urgency and expectancy, even if He also set out the kind of eternal time scale that no calendar can represent. As believers, we are to live in constant expectation of His sudden return, although the teaching gives us the kind of warning we should expect – being watchful and observant, as country people are about weather and seasons and threats to their livestock. A for Anticipation gets us thinking about where we stand with the Lord, should He return – now! The “suddenly” He speaks of will show last-minute decisions to be false decisions. Our anticipation is about being real about what will happen and positioned to welcome Jesus’ return rather than fear it.

QUESTION  How would you explain in your own words to someone who doesn’t believe in God, that there’s a day of judgment coming, but they can turn to Jesus who has made a way for them.

EPISTLE READING

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return.

Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.

9-10 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

“Thank God… for you” – the church in Thessalonica had been through a testing time, which Paul had experienced himself, in strong local opposition and rough treatment in Philippi, 1 Thess. 2:2,14-16; 1 Thess. 3:7. Testing is part of Christian life and opposition experienced as persecution is to be expected as carriers of the Gospel, Paul has already made clear, 1 Thess 3:3-4. However, he is greatly concerned for this church of believers new in their faith.

“Supply what is lacking” – the mission team’s teaching was cut short when they had to leave suddenly, 1 Thess 2:17. Part of the purpose of the letter is to make good the shortfall.

11-12 Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

May our God… may the Lord… may He strengthen” – Paul’s lifestyle of prayer is such that he breaks into prayer in his letter. In this prayer he is in effect asking God, but in the manner of making a declaration in faith, in agreement with God’s purposes.

13 May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.

“When our Lord Jesus comes” – in Paul’s mind is the Second Coming which he will discuss more fully later in the letter, 1 Thess. 4:1-5:22. “With all His holy ones” – used of Christian believers, often translated ‘saints’, in many passages in the NT e.g. Romans 1:7. Could also refer to the angels who will accompany the Second Coming.

IN PRACTICE  The church calendar and its seasons was an idea that arose many centuries after Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica. However, A for Anticipation in the ABCD of Advent was something that Paul lived out and taught. “When our Lord Jesus comes” is a clear statement of anticipation, the sense of keeping the house clean and tidy for the important visitor expected to drop in at any time. To personalise it, we see the ‘house’ as our lives, so that ‘clean and tidy’ is about keeping short accounts with God in confessing sin and tidying up our wrong priorities.

QUESTION  In the words of v. 13, will you be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father – if Jesus comes again now? Reflecting on the Old Testament and Gospel readings and notes, how do you know assuredly that you are counted blameless?

PRAYER  Lord, show me what in me is getting in the way of the coming of the kingdom in its fullness? What is me needs to be put out of my life, put right with You, put in a better place spiritually or forgiven in my relationships with others? Amen.

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