Advent 1A: Just Start Walking

Light in the darknessOLD TESTAMENT:  Isaiah 2: 1-5

Read the Old Testament Passage

The writings that we know as the Book of Isaiah is more than likely three separate groups of writings.  (1) Chaps. 1-39, probably written about 8th century (bce) (742-701), which more than likely includes the words of the person that we know of as “the Prophet Isaiah”. During the time leading up to the exile, the people had developed a sense of God as creator of the whole world and this is reflected. (2) Chaps. 40-55, probably written at the end of the exile (About 540 bce), reminding the people that God’s word can be trusted for redemption, for recreation, and (3) Chaps. 56-66, which are more than likely Post-exilic, written about 520 bce, when the Jews began reshaping their community after the exile.  When reading the Book of Isaiah, it is important to try to view this without our Christian “hindsight” lens reshaping what it was meant to be (or the idea that the book contains a prophetic telling of the coming of Christ centuries later).  It is a story of God’s deliverance and redemption, but the notion of Christ as the redeemer was imposed by later New Testament writers.

The prophet Isaiah (who probably wrote the words of the passage that we read) was the son of Amoz and was probably active in Jerusalem through most of the 2nd half of the 8th century bce.  This would have been during the reigns of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.  During most of Isaiah’s lifetime, Judah lived under the threat of Assyrian domination and the conflicts that surrounded that threat.  The writer seemed to see the coming destruction of the temple and the community’s way of life.  During this time, king after king failed to give the people the security and the prosperity that they needed, so the community began to look to the hope of the Messiah, which they believed would come if they could just trust in God.  At this point they saw that they were beginning to lose what they knew.   The passage that we read announces the elevation of Zion and the establishment of peace among all nations.

There is a marked similarity between this passage and Micah 4:1-4.  We’re really not even sure which prophet said it first.  Even though there is no specific claim of authority (such as “thus says the Lord”), there is no doubt that the prophet is doing what he is supposed to do—proclaim the coming reign of God.  The sequence of events is important.  First, the mountain of the Lord’s house (Zion) will be exalted.  This probably should not be taken literally since Mount Zion is really a tiny little hill surrounded by larger ones. Then there will be a holy pilgrimage of all peoples to the mountain. The people will call upon the Lord to teach them new ways.  And the word of Yahweh will go forth from Jerusalem.  Yahweh will then bring about a permanent reign of peace.  Essentially, the writer Isaiah speaks beyond the present.

There is a timelessness to this passage.  It reminds us that our world is not separated from God’s eternity.  What we do is already part of our eternity.  All that we see and all that we are is leading up to this.  This is not some sort of naïve utopian vision laid out by the prophet.  This is not the stuff of dreams.  This is what will be when we are swept into that timelessness, into what is beyond ourselves.  So, what  would it mean to want this so desperately in our deepest selves, to awaken to God’s vision for peace and shalom?

In verse 2, the prophet depicts all the nations streaming toward the holy mountain, all the nations and all the peoples of the earth walking together toward peace and justice and God’s vision of what we were all meant to be.  Maybe this verse is the crux.  Maybe it’s about time we start walking, start following the light of the Lord.


  1. What images, for you, does this passage evoke?
  2. What vision of eternity do you have?
  3. What does that mean for you?
  4. What does it mean for our Advent season?



NEW TESTAMENT:  Romans 13: 11-14

Read the New Testament Passage

The main theme of Romans is that God’s gospel unveils God’s righteousness.  Many Jews of Paul’s day recognized that the story they knew from the Hebrew Scriptures that promised the reign of God had still not concluded.  They believed that their faithfulness to God determined that conclusion but as long as they remained under pagan rule, God’s reign could not come.  So in this letter, Paul concentrates on the Gentile audience, not because he thought the Jews had denied Jesus but because he truly thought that for God’s reign to be ushered in to fullness, the whole world must come into the picture.

The passage that we read is set in the context of knowing what time it is.  For Paul, it is almost daybreak.  The Reign of God is about to be ushered in.  The belief held here is that while the Resurrection of Christ has seen the dawn of a new age, the fullness of the day has yet to come.  Paul assumes, though, that history is reaching its climax.  Here, the “night” depicts the evils of the world.  Paul assumes that the believers will understand what “time” it is—not a chronological, but kairos—God’s time.  He urges readers to move away from what they know into a new life with Christ.

This is one of those passages that is easily sectioned off into “good and bad”, light and darkness”, “the “ins” and the “outs”.  I actually think that’s a dangerous road to traverse.  After all, who says what is good or bad.  Who declares who is in and out?  This Scripture is not meant to divide but rather to wake us up to the Reign of God as it is ushered in.  And the God of all Creation would certainly not leave the darkness behind but gather it into the Light.

William Long equates Advent to an “echo chamber” that heightens our senses, that makes us realize that those small sounds of salvation that we hear are all around us.  Salvation is not something “out there” or, even worse, “up there”.  Whatever you may think that heaven or whatever is next is, it is not way up ahead.  It is not shielded from view.  It is all around us.  The air is thick with its presence.  The only reason it is veiled is that we have too much clouding our view.


  1. What does this image of time mean for us?
  2. What does it mean to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light?
  3. How can we keep this vision alive more than 2,000 years later?


GOSPEL:  Matthew 24: 36-44

Read the Gospel Passage

It is interesting for our first reading of Advent, our first reading of the year, that we would start toward the end of the Gospel According to the Writer Matthew.  That sort of contributes once again to the “timelessness” of it all.  In the passage, the comparison with the days of Noah is probably not talking about wickedness but, rather, the fact that life was going on as normal.  There were no mysterious signs pointing to the approaching judgment.

This particular passage is one that fuels the whole view of modern dispensationalists that understand this as those who are “taken” being temporarily or permanently removed from this world at the rapture.  Matthew does not have this idea in his eschatological understanding.  Those who are “taken” refers to being gathered into the saved community at the eschaton, just as some were taken into the ark.  For Matthew, to be a believer is to endure what is to come; not to escape from it.  Once again, we have the repeating them—Keep alert and watch!

What if the surprise turns out to be that Jesus was here all along, that ahead of time himself, he has been calling and gathering and enlightening and sanctifying all along? Quit guessing—just do it.  (Bonhoeffer—“he really means for us to get on with it.”)

And, again, think back to last week’s Scripture.  We were again given the image of Jesus hanging on the Cross, minutes away from death.  And there, there beside him was the thief.  “But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” The thief was not left behind but instead was gathered into the Reign of God.  Advent is not waiting to see whether or not you make the cut but rather waking up to the glorious Gathering that is happening all around us.


The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.


You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.


The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.


The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.


But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of you somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.


(“Advent”, by Frederick Buechner, available at



  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. Do you read this as a “negative” warning? What effect does that have on the “Good News” of Christ?
  3. What does the idea of “end times” have to do with Advent?
  4. What does the whole notion of being awake mean for you?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

A dreamer is one who can find [his or her] way in the moonlight, and [whose] punishment is that [he or she] sees the dawn before the rest of the world.  (Oscar Wilde)


Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. (Arundhati Roy)


We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn. (Henry David Thoreau)




Our God is the One who comes to us in a burning bush, in an angel’s song, in a newborn child.  Our God is the One who cannot be found locked in the church, not even in the sanctuary.  Our God will be where God will be with no constraints, no predictability.  Our God lives where our God lives, and destruction has no power and even death cannot stop the living.  Our God will be born where God will be born, but there is no place to look for the One who comes to us.  When God is ready God will come even to a godforsaken place like a stable in Bethlehem.  Watch…for you know not when God comes.  Watch, that you might be found whenever, wherever God comes. Amen.


(Ann Weems, “The Coming of God”, Kneeling in Bethlehem, p. 13.)

Proper 14C: One Direction

Lighted Path Image.jpgFIRST LESSON:  Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Read the Passage from Isaiah

Chapter 1 of the book we know of as Isaiah is made up of a series of small oracles, possibly coming from the prophet we have come to know as Isaiah, who prophesied in the last third of the 8th century BC in and around Jerusalem. At that time, the Assyrian empire, centered on the Tigris River far to the north east, was on the rise and presented a major threat to the peace and well-being of small countries on the Mediterranean coast like Judah and Israel. Early in Isaiah’s career, about 734 BC, he had advised the then king of Jerusalem, Ahaz, on this political problem. Judah’s neighbors to the north, Israel and Aram wanted to resist the Assyrians. Ahaz weighed up this risky strategy with the equally risky one of submitting to the Assyrians. Either strategy could cost his land and his people dearly. On the one hand he could find himself in conflict with his neighbors, and on the other, with the mighty Assyria.

The oracles in Isaiah 1 would seem, however, to come from the very last years of Isaiah’s prophetic work, around 701 BC, when a more faithful king, Hezekiah, is on the throne. The theme is one of judgment on a disobedient people. The Lord has brought up the people like children.  And, yet, they do not seem to grasp the covenant.  It’s not that they didn’t understand its intellectual meaning.  It’s that they did not have a sense of themselves in it.  They had forgotten to whom they belonged.  But for the prophet Isaiah, judgment and hope are linked.  This word of judgment that is handed down to these covenant-forgetting people is also one of hope.

Isaiah calls them to hear the word of the Lord, the teaching (torah) of their God—not just read it but hear it, digest it, make it part of you.  The prophet is telling the people to start paying attention to who they are and who they are supposed to be.  And this is not just calling for the removal of bad practices, but also pointing to those religious practices that have perhaps become excessive and no longer resonate with who God is and who God calls the people to be.

You can read this as a calling not to be religious people, but to be faithful.  And being faithful is about living a life of justice and mercy and compassion for others.  It is about rescuing and defending, about being advocates for those who cannot speak for themselves.  It is about getting out of yourself and becoming who God calls you to be. The prophet is demanding what is essentially a new reality for the people.  It is a call to perhaps admit that we need help, that we need God, that we need a reminder every now and then of who we are and who we should be.

But lest you think this is some sort of colossal game of hide and seek, the hiddenness of God is what draws us in, compels us to move, to change, to follow.  If God were obvious, all we’d need is religion to show off to this obvious God.  But a hidden God?  Now THAT requires real faith.  Maybe that’s the whole point.

I love the line in this passage about arguing.  You can just hear God.  God has had it.  “Fine,” God says, “go ahead, argue all you want.  You’re going to lose.  You’re wrong.  You’re so wrapped up in your frenzy of religion and tradition that you have forgotten what it’s about.  So, let’s argue.  Let’s look at all sides.  Hmmm!  Sacrifices and perfect worship versus lives of justice and mercy and love…high holy days versus inviting everyone in…meetings versus relationships.  Yep, thought so…I win!”  (And that means you do too!)  Because God wants the best for God’s people.  And God wants God’s people to want the best for each other.  You see judgment is brimming over with hope!


  • What is your response to this passage?
  • What is your image of “judgment” or of a “judging God”?
  • Why do we shy away from the idea of “judgment”?
  • In what ways is judgment a sign of hope?



NEW TESTAMENT:  Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16

Read the passage from Hebrews

Frederick Buechner says that “faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find that we are loved.  Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.”  Faith is knowing that all the madness of this world will not be the last thing standing.  Now keep in mind that this letter was to a faith community that was struggling.  It’s hard for us to fully imagine, but their lives were filled with persecution.  But the writer reminds them that this suffering is but temporary.  The writer is not belittling their suffering; just promising that it would not last.

Now we don’t really know who the writer of Hebrews is.  Third century theologian, Origen said that “only God knows” who wrote Hebrews.  When you think about it, that’s actually pretty appropriate.  The passage reminds us that there is an unseen reality that is greater and beyond where we are.  It acknowledges that life is sometimes hard.  In fact, that life can sometimes seem almost unbearable.  Sometimes our lives just don’t seem to “fit”.  We seem to be strangers in a strange land.  But we are reminded to look beyond. That is faith.  There is always something more, always something beyond what we can see and feel and touch, always beyond even what we know.  This is not just looking beyond our sufferings.  It is not just looking on the “bright side” of life.  It is knowing that there is something more.  It is hope.

And we are reminded that we are not the first ones to walk this walk.  Those that came before us have walked the same road.  We both follow them and journey with them.  And this is more than just hoping against hope that things will look up.  It is knowing that there is something beyond this.  It is not a calling to be superhuman.  Life happens.  We will grieve; we will suffer; we will wander aimlessly.  But trust.  Trust that God is there.  And dare to hope beyond the hopeless, know beyond the unknown, and see beyond the visible.

The end of this passage speaks of a new homeland.  It is that vision of the New Jerusalem.  I hesitate to think of it as a “place” but rather a new way of being.  Because if it was a place, we would have to wait until we arrive.  But a new way can seemingly seep into your life when you let it.  That vision of God is already here for the taking—or at least the believing.  We’re not just waiting for things to improve; we’re actually letting ourselves believe that this new reality has already begun to emerge.  And faith is not blindly following but is itself a new way of seeing this new reality even as it comes to be.

On some level, we live in a world that trains us as skeptics.  Now that’s not all bad.  Questioning and, for that matter, even arguing with God is what gives us a chance to grow.  Faith is not about just accepting something that makes no sense.  That’s what the Marxists would call the “opium of the people”; instead, faith  is about living a life that is filled more and more with meaning, a life that doesn’t just believe in this new vision, this new reality, but believes it into being.  C.S. Lewis once said that “it is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one.”  Perhaps faith means that we quit pursuing a dream of glorified self-improvement and begin to see ourselves in this new way of living that is both already and not yet.  Because what fits into that way of being is what we’ve dreamed of all along.


  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What does “tradition” mean to you?
  • What does “faith” mean to you?
  • What does it mean to you to “carry on”?



GOSPEL:  Luke 12:32-40

Read the passage from the Gospel According to Luke

Do not be afraid…sell your possessions…get ready…stay alert.  Well, that’s enough to stress anyone out!  And yet, we are told not to be fearful and anxious.  But that is the stuff that our society and our economy is made of!  I mean, really, without fear and anxiety, where would we be?  What would the stock market do then?  What would the newscasters talk about?  Who would buy insurance?  And, sadly, how would some of our churches sustain their attendance?  And, besides, if we quit worrying, we would lose the last bit of control that we actually have! But Jesus tells us not to be afraid, not to worry.  Rather, we are to pay attention and stay tuned for what comes next.

Now, of course, there are gobs and gobs of things that are based on the idea that if we’re not good little boys and girls, God will come and take only the good ones and the rest will be left behind.  Truthfully, that’s just bad theology.  God is not picking and choosing who gets to go live with God and who doesn’t based on our spiritual resume. God is just calling us to be ready, to pay attention so that we don’t miss what God is offering us.  After all, God is always and forever dropping into our life unexpectedly—if we’ll only pay attention.  God just doesn’t want us to miss the life that is envisioned for us.

This passage comes right after the Parable of the Rich Fool that we read last week.  So, now that you know that you don’t need all this stuff to survive, Jesus tells his hearers to let go of their worry and to focus on what is important.  In other words, shift your treasure toward God.  And if that is your treasure, then what is there to worry about?  I don’t think it’s about staying alert, staying focused as you wait for God.  I think it’s saying that staying alert, staying focused is the WAY you realize God’s Presence that is right there with you now.  In other words, the unexpected hour is now, whether or not you expect it.  God is offering home.  It is where we belong.

Now notice that Jesus doesn’t say to sell ALL of your possessions.  He doesn’t say to give everything away as alms.  He really is just saying to pay attention, to shift one’s priorities from worrying about money and stuff and what’s going to happen with our life to realizing that God is offering us life itself.  Keep the lamp burning.  Keep the vision before you.  We’ve been handed a Kingdom.  You just have to open your eyes to see it.  Don’t worry.  It’s there.  It is God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.  God WANTS to do this, wants to with every essence of the heart of the Divine.  Shhhh!  Quit worrying.  It’s already here!  You don’t have to earn it.  You don’t have to be someone you’re not.  You just have to be.  So why are you worrying?  So, maybe worrying is the last of the stuff that we need to get rid of.


  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What is your image of the Kingdom of God?
  • What “alternative” to what we know could you imagine?
  • What does worry and fear play in your life?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.  (William James, 19th century)

The opposite of faith is not doubt; it’s indifference. (Elie Wiesel)

Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.  (Martin Luther King, Jr., 20th century)



God of Revelation and Mystery, You have opened the door of Your mystery and invited us to enter and explore.  Open us to your guidance and give us the faith to follow You with the passionate expectation of the wonder you will reveal and the mystery that you hold that forms and feeds our faith.  In the Name of the One who opened the door and showed us the way.  Amen. (S. Williams)