Advent is a Gift
2 December 2018 – First Sunday in Advent
Advent is not Christmas. Advent is a waiting time, expectant, readying, looking to the ultimate last things in order to make sense and value the present. Advent is a counter to the secular calendar, giving Christians a way to live a little askew. Because we observe Advent (by not singing Christmas carols yet, by hearing in God’s word events that help us contemplate death and disaster –– “wars and rumors of wars”), we mature in our ability to maintain a healthy perspective on our lives. Advent is a great and unsung gift. –– Melinda Quivik
Like a film that begins at the end of the story to show how some startling events came to be, the first gospel reading of Advent (in all three cycles) centers on the words of Jesus himself speaking of the great end that will come suddenly, but not without warning. Coming after Jesus’ predictions of natural disasters, persecution and the destruction of Jerusalem (vv 9– 24), the lection presents Jesus’ vision of the end (vv 25–28), his parable about reading the signs (vv 29–31), and his charge to watch (vv 32– 36), each concluding with assurance: the kingdom of God will come near with the appearance of the Son of Man (vv 27–28, 31, 36). Luke’s audience most likely would have known of the destruction of the temple and would therefore have confidence in these other predictions; likewise, they inform our reception of all other readings in Advent.
While some might use the word apocalyptic for these predictions, many of the features of that genre are not present here, so it is better to speak of eschatological themes that resonate with Old Testament prophecies of the Day of the LORD: signs in the heavenly bodies (Isaiah 13:9–13; Joel 2: 10–11, 30–31), roaring and tossing seas (Isaiah 5:30), and terror of the people (Isaiah 13:6–11). Most importantly, these pictures of the Day of the LORD are linked to the advent of the Son of Man who comes in the clouds (Daniel 7:13–14; cf. Isaiah 19:1) as a revelation of God.
Whereas for many the Day of the LORD produces fear and foreboding (v 26) the followers of Jesus are to hold up their heads in confidence as they await redemption. Then, disciples were to understand the fall of Jerusalem as only one example of distress that will eventually engulf the whole world; now, believers will remember that the kingdom is “near,” already here and yet still coming in fullness at any time. They will therefore . . . heed the call to watchfulness and prayer as they work for peace and justice, God’s shalom (vv 34–36, cf. 22:40, 46). –– Paul E. Koptak
While this text encourages us to hold fast to God’s promise in the face of contradictory circumstances, it also insists that God’s engagement with this world is moving steadily toward a real practice of righteousness and justice. Preachers can call for social structures that prevent some from taking advantage of the vulnerable, but also for growth in personal character that protects the structures from corruption. –– Paul E. Koptak
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
The epistle sets prayer and action in the life of a holy community. The circles of care grow wider; if holiness (v 13) is one mark that sets the church apart, love, not just for one another but for all (v 12) sends it out in witness and mission. Although the world may respond with rejection and even persecution (a theme in the gospel text also), prayer, especially communal prayer, connects the entire community to the source of strength. –– Paul E. Koptak
Paul E. Koptak is professor of communication and biblical interpretation at North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.
Melinda A. Quivik, an ELCA pastor and former professor of liturgy and homiletics, is the Editor-in-Chief of Liturgy. Her most recent book is Remembering God’s Promises: A Funeral Planning Handbook (Augsburg Fortress, 2018).
Homily Service 40, no. 1 (2006): 5-14.