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Introduction To The Scripture For Advent 1 - Year C
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Advent 1 - Year C

        A new year begins on the calendar of Christian worship.  Advent
       is the time when we make our spiritual preparations for the
       coming of Christ by thinking first about his return in glory as
       promised throughout the New Testament.


JEREMIAH 33:14-16     Jeremiah lived seven centuries before Christ was born. 
Yet he spoke with intense hope of a time when an anointed king of David's
line would come to bring righteousness and justice to Israel and so give
the nation the security it so desperately needed and earnestly desired.


PSALM 25:1-10         The special relationship between God and Israel as well
as the personal faith of the individual Israelite form the central theme of
this instructional psalm. In Hebrew, each verse begins with a different
letter of the Hebrew language. This was done for easier memorization.


1 THESSALONIANS 3:9-13   The two letters of Paul to the Thessalonians were
probably the first part of the whole New Testament to have been written,
possibly no more that fifteen years after the resurrection of Christ.
Prominent throughout these two short letters is the expectation that Christ
would soon return to establish his eternal reign of justice, peace and
love.  Here Paul urges that continued spiritual growth and warm personal
relationships be maintained by these early Christians until that glorious
day. 


LUKE 21:25-36         The expectation of Christ's return dominated early
Christian thought.  Bible scholars debate whether these teachings came from
Jesus himself or the early apostolic church.  Many of the concepts and
images are drawn from typical Jewish apocalyptic writing found in the
Hebrew scriptures and similar writings of the period between the two parts
of our Bible. 

*************

JEREMIAH 33:14-16   Jeremiah lived seven centuries before Christ was born.
His ministry spanned four decades from 627 to 586 BC.  Two great crises
occurred during this time.  The break-up of the Assyrian empire and the
rise of the Babylonian empire changed the political environment for the
kingdom of Judah.  The resurgence of religious nationalism during the reign
of King Josiah created a new moral and spiritual environment.  Jeremiah may
well have been greatly involved in that revival as the narrative parts of
the book describe.

As the Book of Jeremiah comes to us now, it is a composite work of several
different types of literature drawn from several sources and dealing with
several themes.  But like most pre-exilic prophets, Jeremiah was primarily
a preacher, not an author.  So the book that bears his name must be
regarded as only partially his.  The lectionary passage comes from a so-
called "book of consolation" (chs. 30, 31 and 33) into which is inserted an
incident from Jeremiah's life illustrating this hopeful theme. (32)  These
oracles are probably of varied origin that offer hope beyond national
disaster.  They also show the influence of the earlier prophet Hosea and
close links with Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55)  Some of the material is
undoubtedly that of Jeremiah himself as well as from Baruch, the scribe.
(See Robert Davidson's article "The Book of Jeremiah," in *The Oxford
Companion to the Bible*, 343ff)  Baruch may have been responsible for
writing down some of the prophecies attributed to Jeremiah.

This passage speaks with intense hope of a time when an anointed king (Heb:
masiah) of David's line would come to bring righteousness and justice to
Israel and so give the nation the security it so desperately needed and
earnestly desired.  It emphasizes the prophetic faith that the nation's
fate will not be not decided by the Babylonians, but by Yahweh.  This faith
in Yahweh as Lord of history is found throughout the Old Testament, but
especially in the oracles of the great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and
Ezekiel.  It presents a hopeful faith for difficult times such as our own.

Our problem today is to recognize and accept this biblical faith that God
does indeed have a providential purpose to be fulfilled through the actual
events of human history.  This faith implies an interventionist God, but is
also open to misinterpretation found so often in some narrow theological
views that God is really on our side and against our enemies.  Such views
have frequently led to civil, international and interfaith warfare.  The
mediaeval Crusades and the Irish Troubles of the past thirty years occurred
because of such disastrous religious prejudices.  The great danger of the
present moment is to see the  extremist Islamists' *jihad* and the American
invasion of Iraq in a similar light.

It also has to be recognized that such a narrow view is evident in the
scriptures themselves.  After the global wars of the 20th century, one is
tempted to reject all theological interpretations of history.  How could we
ever conceive of a God in control of such tragic events when millions of
innocent civilians died because they belonged to an "enemy" nation or a
particular race or ethnic group?  It is at this point that the vision of
Jeremiah of the Messiah "executing righteousness and justice" becomes
relevant to our own time.  Without these qualities dominant in human
character and practiced in personal, national and international relations,
history will continue to be a record of human failure to do as God wills.


PSALM 25:1-10   The special relationship between Yahweh and Israel as well
as the personal faith of the individual Israelite form the central theme of
this psalm which is both instructional and liturgical.  It has the
appearance of a supplication for Yahweh's intervention in some personal
problem and as such was useful to anyone seeking divine help in distress.

The psalm has the form of an acrostic, however.  In Hebrew, each verse
begins with a different letter of the Hebrew language.  This was done for
easier memorization.  It also contains similarities to Wisdom literature,
e.g. vss. 4-5; 12-14.  As such, its superscription "Of David" is an
anachronism attached to the psalm to give it liturgical authority.  This
type of psalm appeared only in the late postexilic period when the worship
of  temple was highly structured by the Levitical priesthood.  It may have
come from a collection of psalms of varying age and  authorship attributed
to but certainly not composed by David.

While the implications of vss.1-2 indicate an external human enemy whose
treachery the psalmist feared, there is no reason why this could not also
refer to an inner, spiritual enemy.  The habit of personifying the
impersonal can be found quite commonly in Hebrew literature.  Mediaeval art
and some modern literary images depicting various forms of temptation as
evil angels (e.g. C.S. Lewis *Screwtape Letters*) followed the same
pattern.

The psalmist had found that obedience to the way of Yahweh led to moral
uprightness and spiritual strength when confronted by life's vicissitudes.
Dependence on the mercy and steadfast love of Yahweh yielded the power to
overcome (vss.6-10).  A note of sincere humility crept into the prayer as
the psalmist openly confessed his youthful transgressions and personal
guilt (vss.7 & 11).  He also had concern for others, that they would
reverently seek to be taught by Yahweh and reap the reward of prosperity
through keeping the covenant (vss.12-15). 

Vss.16-21 return to the original petition.  The psalm ends with a brief
reference to the need for Israel's redemption from troubles which are never
disclosed.  The personal and national distress to which the psalm gave
expression can best be understood in the light of the covenant relationship
between Yahweh and Israel.  Each Israelite, as a "son of the covenant" felt
a deep sense of personal identification with what happened to the whole
community.  Today, we can see this in the way our Jewish neighbors feel
about and defend Israel whenever they perceive some incident as threatening
to that modern state. 

 
1 THESSALONIANS 3:9-13   The two letters of Paul to the Thessalonians were
probably the first part of the whole New Testament to have been written,
possibly no more that fifteen years after the resurrection of Christ and
relatively early in Paul's ministry.  Prominent throughout these two short
letters is the expectation that Christ would soon return to establish his
eternal reign of justice, love and peace.  Paul shared this viewpoint with
the whole church of the Apostolic Age.  It greatly influenced the oral
transmission of Jesus' teachings and the writing of the earlier Gospels.

Paul's intimate relationship with his early European converts comes to the
fore in this passage.  The immediately preceding verses (3:1-5) describe
his considerable anxiety for them as they struggled to live their recently
acquired faith in very difficult circumstances.  They were Gentiles
experiencing strong persecution from non-believers of their own community
not unlike the opposition confronting Jewish Christians in Judea (2:14).
Accordingly, Paul had sent his colleague Timothy to encourage them (3:2).
Timothy had returned with good news (vs. 6).  So Paul was writing this
first letter in response to what Timothy had told him.

Thanksgiving and intercessory prayer for the Thessalonians highlight Paul's
very personal concern.  He earnestly wanted to return to see them and
strengthen their faith.  In the meantime, he urged that they continue to
grow and maintain warm personal relationships within their fellowship until
that glorious day when Christ returns.  He did not elaborate on the details
of the apostolic expectation of Christ's second coming.

In general, all NT writers concentrated on the purpose rather than the
manner of this anticipated event.  It was as if they felt that Jesus' work
of establishing God's kingdom had been left unfinished by the crucifixion.
The resurrection and promise of Christ's coming again offered hope that
what had gone before had not been in vain.  The love of God in Christ would
triumph in the end and those who refused to believe and follow his way
would be rejected in the final judgment.

The phrase "strengthen your hearts in holiness" in 3:13 offers a very
appropriate Advent text.  Instead of rushing around in consumer panic, we
need these four weeks before Christmas to prepare spiritually for Christ's
coming.  Holiness in daily life is best expressed in love for God and
neighbor.  It is not just happenstance that charities make their strongest
appeal for public support during the last few weeks before Christmas.  The
problem most of us face is how to share our resources, material and well as
spiritual, in this particular season when so demands are placed upon us.
Childhood Christmases during the Great Depression of the 1930s showed me
personally how it is that while material resources may be limited,
spiritual resources for this season can be truly unlimited.


LUKE 21:25-36   The expectation of Christ's return dominated early
Christian thought.  Bible scholars debate whether Jesus himself or the
early apostolic church taught in such terms.  Uniformly, the gospels and
Acts attribute this teaching to Jesus, although in John there is some
ambiguity whether certain sayings of Jesus referred to his resurrection
rather than an eschatological parousia.  Many of the concepts and images
were drawn from standard Jewish apocalyptic writing found in the Hebrew
scriptures and similar eschatalogical literature of the intertestamental
period. 

The prophets had much earlier declared their faith in a future historical
event, the Day of the Lord, when God's rule of righteousness, peace,
justice and prosperity would become permanent for Israel.  The earliest
gospel statement in Mark 1:15 set the ministry of Jesus as the dawning of
this new age.  Matthew and Luke shared this belief.  But the moment had not
yet come by the eighth or ninth decade of lst century CE when Luke's Gospel
was composed.  Later New Testament writers, notably the author of the
Pastoral Epistles, dealt with the delayed expectation of the church. 

Nor has that hope yet been fulfilled twenty centuries later in the
traditional manner in which it has been declared.  In the meantime, the
church's faith in the Second Coming has been variously interpreted,
depending on the approach to scripture taken by the interpreter.  Is it
specific prediction?  Or more general prophecy of God's intention?  Or is
the descriptive Second Coming more of a symbol of God's ultimate triumph?
Or are we merely discussing the personal identification of the individual
with Christ?  Or has it already taken place - at Pentecost?  Stephen H.
Travis, of St. John's College, Nottingham, England, writes: "In any case,
it is possible to affirm the basic structure of Christian hope, with its
emphasis on the second coming as the goal and fulfillment of God's past
work in Christ, without committing oneself to any precise view about its
nature or when it will be." (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, p. 686.)

That may not be a satisfactory approach for some, but it does give us a
continuing hope and a commission to carry on the ministry of God's love for
the world so fully expressed in Jesus Christ.  How each person fulfills
that commission is to be realized in the choices and priorities one makes
in the myriad human relationships which engage one's energies day by day.
For some it may mean quiet prayer and contemplation. For others it may mean
active participation in ministries that seek justice for all.  For still
others it may have extensive economic and/or political ramifications.  One
form or expression of hope does not fit all situations. To some extent,
there was truth in what former US president George H. W. Bush advocated
when he spoke of "a thousands points of light."  It would be a grave
mistake, however, to regard any specific political or military events
occurring at this or any other moment in history, no matter who may
perpetrate them, as signs that the end times have begun.  The Day of the
Lord envisioned by the prophets of Israel is always here and now.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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