Bible Tuesday for Advent I, 2015
14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
The twelve sons of Jacob did not get along well at all, and when those sons had children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on…those descendants of the original twelve brothers did not get a long either. Some of the tribes made alliances with other tribes, but almost never did all twelve tribes work in completely harmony. The closest they came was under the rules of King David and his heir, King Solomon. Once King Solomon died, the Kingdom of Israel split into two, a band of 9 tribes (plus Dan) to the north, called Israel, and a band of two tribes to the south, called Judah. There was constant disharmony between these two, even civil war, which made it much easier for Assyria and Babylonia to conquer them.
It was just as Babylon was destroying both the remains of Israel and the whole of Judah that the above passage was written. God promises through the prophet, Jeremiah, that though cities are burning and Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem, yet will God restore the Kingdom. All factions of Israel and Judah will live under one king, again from David’s line. The sins of idolatry and faithlessness will be set aside as God makes Israel and Judah a new kingdom which God, himself, will make right.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
This is the first portion of an acrostic psalm, meaning that each line of the psalm starts with a different and proceeding letter of the alphabet.
In contemporary Christian practice, this and other psalms that ask God to punish or shame some people, while being forgiving and protective to others is antithetical to what Jesus teaches. This is certainly not “turning the other cheek.” So then how do we read these psalms? While I do not believe that because the psalmists seek vengeance, we are justified in doing so also, I do appreciate the honesty with which the psalmist addresses God. The author tells God that he/she doesn’t think he/she is as bad as some people. That is bold! In the author’s discussion with God, the author acknowledges that God is “from old” meaning eternal, so the whole history of the psalmist should be addressed, but mercifully. “Do not remember the sins of my youth.” Please, God, forgive our youthful indiscretions.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
The Apostle Paul traveled for years evangelizing in a town until there were enough baptized to make up a congregation and then nurturing that congregation until it could stand on its own. Then Paul would travel on to the next community and try to do the same thing all over again. These letters that Paul wrote are to the congregations that Paul and others planted in Rome, and Corinth, and Ephesus, Galatia, Colossi, and Thessaloniki. How hard it must have been for Paul to get letters from these congregations, hear their trials and their joys, and not be there to help or celebrate with them!
So what do Paul and his traveling companions do? Pray…pray that they may be reunited again and that more ministry may be done among them! And give benediction, blessing, and commendation all in the hopes of salvation through faith in Jesus.
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
This section of Luke’s gospel is called “the Apocalypse”. “Apocalypse” means “to pull back the curtain, or to reveal”. This portion of Luke is in the same style as the book of Revelation and portions of the book of Daniel. Apocalyptic writing was very popular in Jesus’ time among Jews. It is very imaginative and dramatic, serving as political and religious punditry of the day.
In Luke’s gospel, this apocalyptic passage occurs right after Palm Sunday. Jesus and the disciples go into the Temple, see the widow putting her last two copper coins into the offering collection, and then the disciples comment on the amazing architecture to which Jesus replies, “You see all this?! It will all be brought down!” Then the disciples ask Jesus, “When?!” and Jesus replies with the above apocalyptic passage.
The challenge to understanding apocalyptic Biblical writing is that we do not know how to correctly interpret the symbols. It is rather like the Teddy Bear. Those who know the story of President Teddy Roosevelt and his hunting of the great grizzly bear which he had taxidermed for the White House know what the Teddy Bear originally symbolized. For everyone else, it is just a cute stuffed toy. In the same way, we can read biblical apocalyptic writing and we can appreciate the imagery but we are only scratching the surface on the meaning of this writing. Some Christians put a lot of energy and time into transposing the images of Biblical apocalyptic writings over current world events and then predicting the future, even the end of the world! Lutherans tend to see this as a waste of time, quoting Jesus when he said, “About that day or hour, no one knows. Not the son. Only the Father knows.”
But what do we do with the frightening images of Jesus’ words in these apocalyptic passages? We take heart in the good news that Jesus reveals. Verse 28 in the above passage says, “But when you see these things begin to take place, stand up and raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” While Jesus is describing scary things, he does not tell the disciples to be scared, but rather to be hopeful, because when these things come to pass, they signify the redemption of God for all creation. So then, we do not read these passages with fear and foreboding, but with courage, hope in God’s redemption, and faith in Jesus who loves us beyond our understanding.