Today in the Spirit: Advent 1A

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First Advent Sunday is like New Year’s Day in the life of the church. This day and week finds the church inviting us suddenly, after the long Pentecost season, to take stock of our lives as we live them at one point in time in view of the comings of Jesus Christ over time. Having been prepared over the last four weeks of Pentecost, a period sometimes called Pre-Advent, with readings focused on wakefulness before judgement and signs of the end time, our attention is turned, first, to Jesus’ second coming in glory and then, just before Christmas, to the events leading to his birth as Lord incarnate. But in the supporting Old and New Testament readings this week there is conjoining contemplation on the comings of Jesus Christ into our lives individually and corporately in the interim period of the Spirit. By this we are reminded the comings of Jesus are not events to look forward to in the future and to be remembered in the past but to be expected in the present. Advent now.

The Collect

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Walk in the Light (Isaiah 2:1-5)

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”…
O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
    in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:3, ).

Note the repetition of the verb walk (same word in Hebrew too) in this passage. As a way to encourage the people of Judah and Jerusalem to move from their state of persistent rebellion described in Chapter 1, Isaiah’s oracles are arranged so as next to present a grand vision of God on Zion by which the people walk in his paths, and then to say (these maybe the prophet’s own words) now let us walk. Think in terms of what is needed to assemble a piece of furniture newly purchased in a box from Ikea. To follow Jesus Christ in a wayward world, we need not only a list of instructions but also a picture of the finished product (like the airbrushed image on the Ikea box) to spur us on in the right direction to completion. This is what is happening in this reading from the prophet Isaiah. Today, Holy Spirit, taking Isaiah’ vision of God on Mount Zion, alongside Jesus’ picture of his coming again in great glory, encourage us to walk in the light of the Lord.

O Jerusalem (Psalm 122)

I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet have been standing
    within your gates, O Jerusalem! (1-2).

This pilgrim song reads like the enthusiastic recollections of any believing person who has looked forward to a great religious event only to find the experience of it even more wonderful than they could imagine. Here the recollection is of a festival in Jerusalem. The city itself is remarkable—her walls and towers; but the people, the tribes gathered, is really what captures the psalmist’s attention.  Throngs from everywhere, all one in Yahweh! Our pilgrim happily joins the festal shouting in the streets or the temple courts: Peace be within your walls [Jerusalem]..peace be within you! And finally there comes the personal dedication (similar to signing a commitment card at the conclusion of a conference): I will seek your good. Today, in the Spirit, caught up in Advent anticipation of a new Jerusalem in the company of a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev. 7:9), we commit ourselves to the cause of Jesus Christ to bring peace with God to the world.

Make No Provision (Romans 13:8-14)

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:12-14).

Or, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh (NIV). When we “make provision” for something, we intentionally prepare–mentally, physically, emotionally, in whatever way necessary–to achieve what we want. To make no provision (Greek: literally, make no foresight) for the flesh means to put aside not only the act of gratifying the desire of the carnal self but also the foresight, the thinking about how to gratify it. So if drunkenness is the desire we cannot control, we don’t simply refrain from putting cup to lip but from entering the liquor store or bar and buying the alcohol in the first place, whatever prior action that will surely cause us to fall. Today, at the apostle’s urging, with the help of the Spirit, be honest with yourself, admit weaknesses that lead easily to sin, and take the practical steps necessary to make no provision.

Be Ready (Matthew 24:29-44)

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:42-44).

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent in any year is Jesus’ prediction of the glorious coming of the Son of Man. Our Lord’s stern command Stay awake (or Keep watch NIV) should honestly cause us no little uneasiness. Isn’t it true that most of us who believe in and look forward to the Second Coming also fully expect to die “a natural death?” We might ask ourselves if truthfully that expectation does run counter to our remaining ready as Jesus says. No need to tear up your will or cancel your life insurance, but ask yourself: How would I be behaving differently now if I really was unsure about when Jesus was coming, or about how my life would end–naturally or with a loud trumpet call? Today, in the Spirit who never stops whispering understand the present time and wake up from your slumber (Rom. 13:11, in the assigned Epistle), assume nothing about when with regard to the Lord’s coming, be ready, and see what happens.

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

November 21, 2022

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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