Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 1st Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

Today’s Readings are for the First Sunday of Advent, which means this is the first Sunday of a new Liturgical year and the beginning of a new lectionary cycle, “Year A” or the year of Matthew. Each cycle in the three-year Lectionary cycle focuses on a different Synoptic Gospel. Year A is the year of Matthew. Year B is the year of Mark. Year C is the year of Luke. Passages from John appear in all three cycles, especially during Lent and Easter. Thus, preachers and teachers, for their own edification, preparation, and as a spiritual discipline, might read the entire Gospel of Matthew as soon as practical. You might also read a brief and broad theological commentary on Matthew, all in preparation for a year of preaching, teaching and liturgy.

I used to think of Advent as a bi-focal season. On the one hand, we look back and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, or his first coming. On the other hand we, we look forward and preparing to welcome Christ at his return, or his second coming. I have recently come to think of Advent as a tri-focal season. With the Hebrews we see a longing for the first coming of the Messiah. With Christians throughout the centuries we also rejoice and celebrate the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, but we also prepare to welcome him when he returns.

How do these three foci influence our interpretations of Advent Readings? Can we focus on each reading using all three lenses or do some readings lend themselves to one lens more than the others? Are we perhaps missing anything by consciously or unconsciously limiting ourselves to only one or two viewpoints? What other viewpoints might there be that we have not considered?

Speaking of celebrations, this blog post marks the third time for me to ruminate on the first readings in the three years cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary, thus the name change from Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 to Lectionary Ruminations 2.5!  About the day and hour when I will no longer write and post my ruminations, no one knows. Until that unexpected hour, I am glad to begin Year A with this First Sunday of Advent post and to initiate the new Liturgical Year with Lectionary Ruminations 2.5.

ISAIAH 2:1-5
2:1 I find it interesting that biblical prophecies are introduced in a variety of ways. Some prophets receive a word, some hear a word, and others see a vision. How does Amos “see” “the word”? Does it make any difference that Isaiah was the son of Amoz?
2:2 Does “in the days to come” set this Reading in the Apocalyptic genre? From our perspective, have these days yet arrived and passed? The mountain of the Lord being established as the highest of the mountains is probably a comment about the mountain’s political and religious stature, not its geographical height, which is around 2,500 feet above sea level. What does it mean that “all the nations” shall stream to the mountain of the Lord?
2:3 In that Jerusalem is sacred to three faiths and people make pilgrimages there, this prophecy seems to have been fulfilled. How does this vision inform the teaching ministry of the church and the church’s involvement in higher education?
2:4 What is a plowshare? What is a pruning hook? How can Christians in an urbanized setting far removed from any agriculture find meaning in implements of war being transformed into agricultural tools? Perhaps a modern image might be “They shall transform their nuclear weapons programs into building nuclear reactors for producing electricity.” or “They shall transform their handguns and semi-automatic weapons into gardening tools.”
2:5 What does it mean to “walk in the light of the LORD”? How does the image of “walking in the light” add to our observance and celebration of Advent?

PSALM 122:1-9
122:1 This verse seems to echo Isaiah 2:3. Does this first verse establish this Psalm as a Psalm of Ascents? As worship attendance declines it seems that more and more people are not glad to be invited to go to the house of the LORD.
122:2 Is this an allusion to standing on holy ground or within a protected environment?
122:3 What is the meaning of “firmly bound together”?
122:4 Note that here “the tribes go up” whereas in Isaiah 2:2 “all the nations shall stream” to the mountain of the Lord. The Psalmist may have envisioned only Jews going up to Jerusalem, yet today adherents of three faiths, and non-adherents as well, go up to Jerusalem. How does one give thanks to the name of the LORD when the name of the LORD is not to be pronounced?
122:5 Why is “thrones” plural? Who sits on these thrones?
122:6-7 Jerusalem certainly needs our prayers today. Do you ever pray for the Peace of Jerusalem? What is the meaning of “Jerusalem”? Think “salem” and “shalom”.
122:8 Are the Psalmist’s relatives and friends living in Jerusalem? Do you know anyone presently living in Jerusalem?
122:9 How does one seek good for Jerusalem? As we pray for Jerusalem and seek its good, does it matter that the Temple still lies in ruins?

ROMANS 13:11-14
13:11 The phrase “Besides this” suggests we are missing the previous point. Can we properly interpret this passage without reading what came before? The salvation alarm clock is ringing. While the final clause is true, how much closer is a mere two thousand years compared to an unknown timeline?
13:12 “The day is near” points me back to Psalm 112:9. What are “works of darkness”? What is the “armor of light”? Why am I thinking of the Dead Sea “War Scroll”?
13:13 While “drunkenness” stands alone, note the pairing of “debauchery and licentiousness” and “quarreling and jealousy”. What is debauchery? What is licentiousness?
13:14 Is the admonition to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” a reference to baptism, or something else? How can we realistically “make no provision for the flesh”? Is this a call to asceticism? Is there a difference between maintaining health of the flesh and gratifying its desires? Why am I hungry for a Graham Cracker and a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes?

MATTHEW 24:36-44
24:36 “that day and hour” certainly places us in the apocalyptic genre. There is an interesting juxtaposition between not knowing “that day and hour” and its context within a liturgical and secular calendar. While no one knows “that day and hour,” we all know that Christmas is now only less than a month away, and still most of us will not be fully prepared when that day finally arrives. Is “the Son” that does not know the day and hour the “Son of Man”?
24:37 How will the “days of Noah” be like “the coming of the Son of Man”? Those with a theological education will undoubtedly understand the “Son of Man” reference but I wonder how most people in the pews and in the Church School Class will hear and understand it. How much do teachers and preachers need to translate theological terms and phrases and theological baggage such as “Son of Man” when we encounter them in Scripture or can we simply gloss over them? See Daniel 7:13.
24:38-39 These verses partially answer the question about the “days of Noah” and “the coming of the Son of Man” comparison, but what do they teach us?
24:40-41 More agrarian imagery that we may need to translate into a postindustrial and more urban context. At one time these verses seemed to be some of the favorite among apocalyptically minded evangelicals employing “the rapture” as an evangelism tool. Since I have lost touch with that segment of the church, I wonder if they are still popular passages. It seems that in both verses people are still going about their daily routines in spite of Christ’s assumed imminent return.
24:42 This is good advice regardless of one’s position on the theological spectrum. On the other hand, I am also familiar with Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried wolf.
24:43 How does this follow from what proceeds it? The Lord might come like a thief but he is not a thief. The emphasis is on being spiritually awake. We want the Lord to break into our homes and lives.
24:44 The phrase “be ready” seems synonymous with “keep awake.” Consider again the question I raised regarding Luke 22:37. There seems to be a tension between being told that the “Son of Man is coming” but not knowing when he will come. It sounds a little like making an appointment for repair service in the home on a certain day but not knowing what time the repair person will arrive, or knowing that UPS or Fed-Ex will deliver a package on a certain day but not knowing what time. What is a healthy balance between certainty and ambiguity?

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my blog posts have also appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and Appalachian Trials.

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