Father Andrew Wadsworth offers a short commentary on this week's Sunday Lectionary readings.
To read the relevant Bible passage just click on the reference.
Before reading and reflecting on God's word you might like to use the following prayer:
who hast given us thy word
for a light to shine upon our path:
Grant us so to meditate upon that word
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it the light that shineth
more and more unto the perfect day:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The First Sunday of Advent
O that you would tear the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did terrible things which we looked not for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet him that joyfully works righteousness,
those that remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one that calls upon your name,
that bestirs himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquities.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not exceedingly angry, O LORD,
and remember not iniquity for ever.
Behold, consider, we are all your people.
Each Advent Sunday begins with a reading from Isaiah, for Isaiah is the great prophet of the Messiah. This reading is taken from the latest part of the Book of Isaiah. After the return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon the Jews were passionately awaiting the coming of the Messiah. They were conscious that they had sinned and deserved their punishment, but still longed for the liberation from foreign interference which the Messiah would bring. After the coming of Christ we are in much the same position of waiting for the fulfilment of the sovereignty or kingship of God. Jesus brought the pledge of this kingship by his miracles of healing, his welcome to sinners, his teaching about the Kingdom, and above all by his Resurrection from the dead. We no longer have any reason to fear death. We are conscious of our own failings, of our co-operation with evil, and long for the strength and fidelity which whole-hearted membership of God’s Kingdom would bring us. How do I need to change to become a fully committed member of God’s Kingdom, to welcome the Messiah into my life?
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh!
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
O LORD God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbours;
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock which your right hand planted.
They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance!
But let your hand be upon the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name!
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
Israel is a tiny country, the size of Wales, and yet from this small nation comes an extraordinary perception of the personal God who made the universe. It is in the book of psalms that this is particularly evident. Whilst this psalm expresses the vulnerability of Israel in the face of her enemies, the images of God are strong. God is described from the beginning as the Shepherd of Israel, but also he is above the Cherubim, a mighty Lord. He is also like a Gardener who transplants Israel a vine out of Egypt to the Promised Land. These images are positive and pastoral in essence and tell us what God is really like. A shepherd cares for his flock. Israel’s God cares for his people. This is a God who saves and rescues. A Gardener cultivates, tends and nurtures plants especially vines which produce fruit in abundance. So the God Israel cherishes supports and encourages his people. All this is in stark contrast to the idols of other nations which are violent in the devotions their priest’s demand. There is a reference to ‘the son of man whom you have raised up for yourself’ and the hand of God to rest upon him. The hand of the God, who is a caring Shepherd, a mighty Saviour and a nurturing Gardener, whom we know in Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father who comes to us as very God and very man for the world’s salvation. This coming of Jesus we remember particularly in this season of Advent and as we look forward to Christmas.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
This reading from the opening of Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians is full of the excitement of the Spirit. The young community of Christians at Corinth was full of the activity of the Holy Spirit, not just extraordinary things like speaking in tongues, but healing and teaching and guidance. Even being a good member of a family (husband, wife, parent, child) is an activity guided by the Spirit. All this was preparing for the final coming of Christ, for all Christian activity, no matter how humdrum, is given life and vitality by the Spirit of Christ. There was a freshness and enthusiasm which is sometimes lacking in our Church today. Paul does not hesitate to tell them that they were ‘richly endowed with the Spirit’. So, of course, are we. But he is going to go on and tell them that their squabbling is damaging their service of the Lord. Let us ask at Christmas for a new infusion of the Spirit which will help us to burst the bonds which keep us back from full service to the Lord.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Jesus saw his mission to be the establishment of the sovereignty of God, the kingship and rule of God over the world, even in rebellious human hearts. Using the language and imagery of his time, he described this ‘earth-shaking’ event in terms of cosmic disturbances. The coming of God, the Day of the Lord, would constitute the end of the world as we know it. As Christians we must acknowledge that the death and resurrection of Christ utterly changed the world for ever; it was the Day of the Lord. And yet the world still continues, and we have still to prepare for the Day of the Lord, when we will come into that awesome presence. That meeting can be pictured only in terms of collapse and upheaval, our word turned upside-down. At death all our familiar realities cease, even the ticking of the clock. At death, time ceases to have meaning. We do not know, and have no need to know, when or how this will occur. For all it will come, for each it will be an individual meeting, but will it be all together or each individually? The Son of Man will gather his own, in great power and glory.