Bible Study

Bible Study: Advent 1 (B) – 2011

November 27, 2011

Isaiah 64:1-9

This reading is fantastic! Presented here as a song, Isaiah starts proclaiming God’s awesome power and glory, and somewhere in the middle he realizes that in the presence of that glory, we all messed up! “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.” We finish this song not proclaiming God’s glory, but rather begging for his grace. What starts out as a song of praise becomes a lament and apology, and we, along with Isaiah, realize how far we have fallen.

As we work our way into Advent, it is tempting for us to see Jesus as we imagine him at his birth: perfect, glorious and beautiful, but also sweet, fragile, and powerless. Isaiah’s prophecy then is critical here because it reminds us that even the most faithful among us falls short in the face of the fullness of God’s glory.

  • As we approach Advent (and Christmas), are we really willing to let ourselves be God’s clay?
  • What are the awesome deeds God has done in our lives this year? Are they awesome enough to encourage us to give up a little bit more of ourselves to God?

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

Psalm 80 is an incredibly rich text, and it echoes many of the messages found in the reading from Isaiah. Let’s focus on verse 3 (repeated in verses 7, 18): “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” This should be our hope and prayer, that the Lord will show us His light, so that we can find salvation. If we are to truly use Advent as a time to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ arrival, we need to consider the prayers offered in this psalm. We can’t be truly ready for Christmas if we haven’t restored our relationship with God.

  • Before we are ready to welcome Jesus into the world, what needs to be restored within us? Who have we fed with the bread of tears? Which of our neighbors have we derided? Have we been laughing at our enemies?

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

In the middle of the lectionary, right where we need it, and when we least expect it, we are given this gift of grace. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us of the strength given to us through our faith, and that this strength will ensure we are blameless on the day of our Lord, which is rapidly approaching. Step back. Breathe. Have faith. God loves you.

Mark 13:24-37

The readings for the First Sunday of Advent are a reminder of the constant cycle of sin and redemption that we, as humans and as believers, are party to. We strive for righteousness, fall short, beg God for assistance, are lifted back up, and then fall down again. It is only through Jesus’ grace that we achieve righteousness. These readings always strike a dissonant chord for me in the liturgical season of Advent; but as our professors remind us in seminary, Dissonance is good! Listen to it!

We close out today’s readings with a meditation on the end times: Sun darkening, no light from the moon, stars falling from the sky, the very powers of heaven shaken. These do not sound like good times. What’s more is that these do not sound like particularly appropriate messages for Christmas! Whose idea was this? Didn’t we get enough penance in Isaiah and today’s psalm? Where is our happy, hopeful, celebratory message to get us ready for the next four weeks?

Well, we should always be a little unsettled about the prospect of Jesus’ return. Just as Jesus’ birth was unsettling in his time; being born to an unmarried couple, far from home, into a politically volatile world that he was destined to destabilize. Perhaps this reading encourages us to consider a new way celebrate Christmas?

Instead of hymns and presents, maybe it should be about considering whether we are ready for Jesus?

Instead of celebrating the birth of the Savior, maybe we should take the opportunity to question whether we are really living up to the life that same Savior has called us to?

  • Rather than giving thanks for all the wonderful things Jesus has given to our world, perhaps we should take a second look at Mark’s words here and remember that Jesus is the master of his House. It is his world; are we really doing all we need to do to keep it up, so that we are ready for his return?

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Christopher Sikkema


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