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Thursday, November 26, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, I Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

Happy New Year! (I, Jim Ogden, am back doing the blog for I'm not sure how long.) Yes, this Sunday starts a new year in the seasons of the church. It is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the cycles of life we observe in the walk of faith.

The first act of the year is to wait. When I was growing up, we started singing Christmas carols right after Thanksgiving. Today Christmas sounds permeate the culture, sometimes starting even before Thanksgiving. We don’t know how to wait!

Some congregations, including at least a couple that I served, go overboard, singing no “Christmas” songs until Christmas day, since that’s when the liturgical season of Christmas is just starting. I’m not an advocate of that practice, but we would all do well to include a little of the somber, yet joyous, waiting that is the essence of Advent. It was a time of darkness and despair for many, a time when the need for hope, for someone to turn things around, was great. An expectation that God would bring peace and justice was revived in every generation among the Hebrew people. They saw themselves as inheritors of a vision and promise of a peaceful kingdom. Perhaps now is the time. The hope was renewed with the enthronement of every new king. Perhaps he is the one. Look. See the signs. Is it about to happen? Such expectations were strong in the years leading up to Jesus’ birth, and the need was great. There was no peace, only oppression and injustice. I suggest we try to feel that reality during this Advent season.

Two of the lectionary texts address the spirit of expectation and hope and waiting.

Jeremiah talks about days to come when the promise will be fulfilled and justice and righteousness will come. Part of his prophecies later came to be applied to Jesus, rightly or wrongly. In the Christian tradition it is to Jesus that we look when we are seeking the peace and justice of which Jeremiah spoke.

The passage from Luke contains troubling, often misused (in my opinion), words of Jesus. They speak of a coming time and the signs of those times—times of distress and fear and foreboding. He says, observe the signs and let them tell you what is coming, just like the springtime sprouting of the leaves on a tree tell you that Spring is coming.

Devout people in every generation have tried to use these words to set precise dates for a time when Christ will reappear—or at least to scare us into thinking it might happen day after tomorrow. Some, I think, are almost gleeful in their attitude, seeing a promise of escape when everyone else will get what’s coming to him or her.

There is a touch—probably more than a touch—of urgency about the words Jesus speaks. He apparently expected these things to happen soon—during that generation. It didn’t, at least in the way people thought it was going to, and we still wait.

So, how are we to wait? Alertly, paying attention. Don’t be fooled, lulled into a false sense that everything is all right. Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes!

One might even say our task is to read the signs of the times. What are the significant things that are happening in our time? What do they mean? Where are they taking us? What is coming? What is it that we are most hoping for? Can we see it coming? How can we join the movement that is bringing it closer?

As was the case in the days before Jesus’ birth, I believe we live in a day when there is great fear. The left fears what the right is trying to do; the right is convinced that the left is leading us over the brink. Listening to the national conversation, and recent visits with family across the country and closer to home, has convinced me that many feel America, and its highest values, is on the verge of collapse. I refuse to buy into that fear, but there is always a darkness on the horizon that threatens to overcome the light. We cling tightly to the belief that the light will overcome and that we are called to part of the light. Advent is a time to renew that belief and prepare the way for peace and justice.

The other two scriptures may be taken as things we can do during this season of preparation and waiting. The Psalm suggests that we seek to understand and follow the path in which the Lord would lead us. The epistle reading from I Thessalonians can be seen as calling us to pray for one another for strength and love. Suppose we made the concluding words from this epistle our own and prayed them every day of Advent. “May the Lord make us increase and abound in love for one another and for all . . . and may he strengthen our hearts in holiness.”

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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