Sunday November 27, 2016 The First Sunday of Advent
2 Pet 3.1–10
The text of the readings follows after the comments.
In Advent we spend a lot of time looking at the Last Days.
We start with Isaiah, the great Hebrew prophets who lived in the time when the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were threatened by the Assyrians in the 8th century. In the passage we hear both the word of the Lord and comments from the prophet. Israel and Judah and Jerusalem (Zion) are described as a rebellious nation, who are corrupt and have cut themselves off from God. In the understanding of the Book of Isaiah, and in accordance with the theology seen in the Torah, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings, this kind of disloyalty has consequences. The assaults by Assyria and the wasting of the land are seen as the action of God to bring the disobedient back to God.
Actions have consequences. This is a theme that also runs through to the New Testament as well. Some people like to contrast the Old Testament with the New as if in the Old God is a vengeful judge and in the new the Divine is merciful and forgiving, full of love, but that is a gross misreading. Actions have consequences in the New Testament as well – those who exploit the poor, rule unjustly, refuse to have mercy and do not forgive, oppress the widows and children, those who are hypocrites and liars – they will be judged as well. If they are not judged in this life, they will be judged at the resurrection of the dead, which is the day of the Lord, when the Son of Man comes in glory.
The implication in the second and third readings, from 2 Peter and Matthew, is that while the Day of the Lord has been postponed, it will come, and that it will come suddenly, catching people by surprise.
How do we interpret this? Some of us functioning in a pre-enlightenment perspective will read this literally, and wait with expectation for Judgment Day which could be soon or sometime afar off. Some, contrary to the reading, will develop very complicated timetables and will mislead people by claiming to know more than other people. Others will adopt a liberal modern understanding and say that, of course, we cannot read this literally, but that following Bultmann we must demythologize this expectation. Thus, we see the last days as being this day – even if we don’t believe in a literal Day of Judgment, that Jesus will return, we interpret it spiritually. Thus today is the Day of Judgment, determined in how we relate to God and our neighbor, or the day of our death is the day of judgment.
I like to think of myself as post-modern, which means I hold both the pre-modern and modern in paradoxical tension and accept the unresolvability. It matters less to me what the metaphysical truth is of these narratives, than the fact that there is a truth and a reality in them that speaks more loudly than a tables and chairs understanding of the cosmos. Despite the unbelievable nature of what is being suggested, I find it to be a pragmatic truth that helps me know what it is that I am to do in the world.
And this is the truth that I know – that actions do have consequences, and that I must live as though Judgment Day is upon me. God calls me to repentance, to turn to the Divine, and, in the words of Micah, “to seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with my God”.
God be with you in this Advent season.
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.
Ah, sinful nation,
people laden with iniquity,
offspring who do evil,
children who deal corruptly,
who have forsaken the Lord,
who have despised the Holy One of Israel,
who are utterly estranged!
Why do you seek further beatings?
Why do you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
and bleeding wounds;
they have not been drained, or bound up,
or softened with oil.
Your country lies desolate,
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
aliens devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And daughter Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a shelter in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.
If the Lord of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we would have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah.
2 Pet 3.1–10
This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!’ They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
[Jesus said]‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.