Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 29, 2009

Here are the passages for November 29th, 2009, the First Sunday of Advent (Year C).  Although the month of November isn't even over yet, it's New Year's time on the liturgical calendar.  This is because the liturgical calendar starts with the season of advent: the four weeks prior to Christmas.   If you've been accustomed to using these weeks before Christmas to tell and retell the story of the birth of Jesus, you might be in for a surprise as you read the Scriptures assigned to Advent, which is a period of "waiting" in more ways than one.

All lectionary links are to the NRSV via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead.

Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • A common theme throughout Advent will be “something is coming.”  Especially for the Old Testament passages, it's worth remembering that these passages were written in anticipation of Jesus Christ’s coming, but without the full awareness that we have 2000 years after Christ’s birth.  In that vein, consider this short passage from Jeremiah.  Something is coming.  God declares that promises will be fulfilled, and that these promises are for all of God’s people, a fact underscored by mentioning both Israel and Judah, the divided kingdoms after Israel split a couple of generations after the reign of King David.  The fact that David’s name is invoked in this prophecy harkens back to happier times when God’s people were united in one Kingdom.  What does it mean to God’s people that God’s promises should be fulfilled by a “righteous Branch” out of David’s line?
  • We also see in this passage one of what will be a number of different names for the one that is coming to fulfill God’s promises.  Here, this figure is called “The LORD is our righteousness.”  What is the significance of specifying this title as a name in this way?
Psalm 25:1-10

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • As Paul writes this letter, it is obvious how much he cares for the people to whom he is writing.  Still, although Paul is using very warm language, he still indicates that the Thessalonians are lacking something in their faith.  What do you think Paul is referring to?
  • At the end of the passage, as Paul encourages the Thessalonians and writes of his desire to see them, he sends a message.  Something is coming.  Specifically, Jesus Christ will be coming, and apparently he won’t be coming alone.  Who do you think the “holy ones” are that Paul refers to?  Why does Paul make it a point to mention Jesus’ second coming at this point, right in the middle of his letter?
Luke 21:25-36
  • Like the 1 Thessalonians passage we read before this one, this passage of Luke takes the “something is coming” theme in a bit of a different direction than we might normally expect for the Advent season.  This is most definitely not the birth narrative that most of us have grown so accustomed to.  Why have the framers of the Revised Common Lectionary chosen these passages for us to reflect on as we begin the season of Advent?  
  • It may also be worth nothing that this is the second time in the past few weeks that we have read a Gospel passage where Jesus talks about events that many have associated with the end times.  Do you think that Jesus is talking about the “end times,” or did he have something else in mind?  Notice that Jesus gives specific signs that will occur in the times to which he is referring.  What do you find striking about these signs?  Is there anything about these signs that you don’t see happening in the present world?  How would Jesus’ followers 2000 years ago have seen the signs?
  • In verse 32, Jesus says that this generation would not pass away until the things he mentioned in the former verses have happened.  What does that mean for us?  Have we missed the coming of the kingdom?  What is Jesus talking about when he says “this generation will not pass away”?

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