The First Week of Advent: Instructions from those gone before

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” ( 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 [Emphasis mine] )

In the Christian life one is always growing and maturing. Sometimes that process calls on us to re-learn and re-commit ourselves to our faith and beliefs. And it is good to receive instruction, guidance and teachings from those who have gone before us. These we find in the third set of readings each week – the Epistles. Sometimes from the apostle Paul – because he wrote so many letters. But also from others of the disciples. Especially during this Advent season they call us to faith, and re-call us, and make us recall what our faith had been.

During Advent, while waiting to celebrate Jesus coming to us, we do not sit idle. But we grow and learn. So that when Jesus comes to us again, we are ready. This week’s Advent Epistle reading is a “love letter” from Paul; and a blessing from Paul. For all of us flaws, Paul knew how to speak/write a blessing. And what better to receive while we start to wait than a confirmation of our strength and determination in our Christian lives. It makes us want to do better, be better people and people of God.

Grace and peace to you, beloved reader, as we continue on in this first week of Advent. Selah!

The First Week of Advent: Restoration

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbours; our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.“

The second scripture passage in the weekly lectionary is usually from Psalms or another book from the Old Testament (occasionally from the New Testament) that functions as a praise, prayer or petition spoken from God’s people or behalf of them to God. Many times the theme of the Old Testament reading, which is the first in the set of four, is echoed in the “Psalms reading”.

Today’s reading from Psalms 80 is a plea and petition for God to save and restore God’s people to their former condition. Yesterday was a plea and invitation for God to come down from the heavens. Today the reading expands upon that, giving specifics of what the people of God need – restoration. And the assurance that God is with them. The second portion of the reading, verses 17 to 19, asks that not only God be with them as the transcendent God, but that God’s presence be with them as the imminent God – or the one that is at God’s right hand.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” (Psalms 80: 1-7, 17-19)

But be aware that when the psalms passage was written, it was not Jesus Christ that was imaged and foretold at God’s right hand. The psalmist had another person in mind. This is one of the characteristics of the Revised Common Lectionary – that scripture is re-purposed to serve a theme or a series of themes. This passage could just as easily apply to Christ as it could for the person the psalmist originally had in mind. In fact, some might say that Christ more perfectly fulfills this verse – restoring life and giving new life to God’s people.

Remember I said Year B’s theme is a renewal of purpose and devotion? As we see our needs, we call on God to fill those needs; to fill the empty places in our lives. And to restore us to the life that God first called us to. We meet God again during Advent as we await the coming of Jesus Christ.

May God restore you, beloved reader, more and more each day and week of Advent. Selah!

The First Week of Advent: Beginning Again

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity for ever. Now consider, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:1-9 )

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipating. The underlying premise of Advent is that we are not sure what we are waiting for. While we know intellectually we are waiting for Christmas, spiritually we know we need but not sure what we are in need of. Intellectually we know we need Christ, and by extension, God. But spiritually as we look within our selves, we come to see what are needs are. And we hope that these needs can be filled and addressed.

Year B (which is the year of the Common Revised Lectionary which we move into for Advent) is the year when scripture passages call back the faithful for renewal of purpose and devotion. There is a Year A which marks the first year of the cycle, so we are actually starting mid-way through the cycle. But as the first year that “A Simple Desire” is commenting on the scripture passages of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) I think it is a good symbolic beginning. Recommitting ourselves to considering and studying scripture is always a good spiritual practice.

All of you, my beloved readers, have seen and marked many Advent seasons (although they may have not called it such). But journeying through Advent, week by week with these scripture passages, you and I may discover spiritual ideas. Or perhaps re-discover then. It is my hope that you join me in the simple task each week of reading and pondering on each of the four scriptures passages found in the RCL. Consider it “a simple desire” to take up (or continue) a spiritual discipline. As we move through the weeks I will talk more about the types of scripture passages that make up the weekly lectionary. And once we come to the end of the Advent season, I will talk more about my plans for the new year.

Most of the time the first reading is from the Old Testament. It sets forth what has happened in the past to God’s people. By looking back at the past we might better understand the present and be more ready for the future.

We start with Isaiah 64, verses 1 to 9. It is an invitation to God to come down amongst the Lord’s people. It also acknowledges that the people of God have not always acted and lived according to God’s laws and precepts. So it is also an invitation for us, God’s people, to come before God with humbleness and contrition. The writer of Isaiah admits where God’s people have gone wrong, and why it seems like God has been absent. But God has always been there; it is God’s people who have closed their eyes and looked away. But now God’s people look to God and look for God in their daily lives.

May you beloved look for God as you start to look towards Advent. Selah!