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Wrestling with the Word, episode 101: First Sunday of Advent, Year A (November 28, 2010) November 23, 2010

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First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Visionaries fascinate us. Many people stand in awe of the prophetic visions of Nostradamus to predict future events. More appropriately, we marvel at the visionary writings of Jules Verne who in the latter half of the 19th century wrote novels about traveling up into space and down to the depths of the sea. For people of faith, however, visionaries play particular roles. They portray the opposite of what we see and experience every day. In so doing, they can provide hope in dismal times, and they direct us to change the actions of our lives accordingly.

Download or listen Wrestling with the Word, episode 101: First Sunday of Advent, Year A.


Psalm 122
The psalm begins with its own claim that it is designed as “a song of ascents,” that is, for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. According to the decrees (v. 4) contained in the Torah (Exod. 23:17; 34:23; Deut. 16:16), all Israel appeared at the Temple three times each year. This individual pilgrim expresses delight at hearing the invitation issued in his village, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (v. 1) in order “to give thanks to the name of the Lord” (v. 4). The pilgrim, standing inside the gates of the city, marvels at its structure and strength (v, 3) and recognizes that herein lie the seats of justice that are occupied by the dynasty of David (v. 5; cf Ps. 72). The pilgrim then offers his prayer for the peace (šālōm) of Jerusalem (yerûšālayāim = “city of peace”) and for the prosperity (šālâ) of those who love Jerusalem (v. 6). The peace of Jerusalem determines the well-being of the pilgrim’s family and friends (vss. 7-8), and the pilgrim makes a commitment to “seek the good” of Jerusalem for the sake of the Lord’s temple (v. 9).


Isaiah 2:1-5
On the basis of the promise that God will call all people to himself and will also reconcile peoples to one another, God calls believers NOW to walk in that “future shock.”

The prophecy about the New Day is set within a host of prophecies announcing judgment on the people, particularly on the leaders because of their sins.  The central role of the Jerusalem temple is a key theme in the preaching of Isaiah, along with the election of the Davidic king.  For background on these themes, see Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol 2 (The Theology of Israel’s Prophetic Traditions), tran. D.M.G. Stalker (New York:  Harper & Row, 1965):  147-175.

Key Words
V. 1.  The heading appears to be a heading for a collection of prophecies, perhaps a collection within a collection which might extend as far as 4:6 or 9:7 or even 11:16.

V. 2.  be’achrît hayyāmîm = “in the latter days”:  a technical expression for the Day of the Lord on which God would establish the New Reign. Variants are “on that day,” “in those days,” or “the days are coming.”

V. 2.  wenāharû ’ēlāyw kol-haggôyîm = “and all nations shall flow to it”:  For Mount Zion as the place of pilgrimage for the nations. see also Isa. 49:18, 22-23; 45:14; 60:3; Hag. 2:6ff.; Zech. 14:10, 11, 16, 20.

V. 3. lekû wena‘aleh ’el-har-YHWH = “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord”: The expression on the part of the nations sounds remarkably similar to the one made by the people of Israel as they assembled to make their pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Ps. 122:1).

V. 5. wenēlekā be’ōr YHWH = “let us walk in the light of the Lord”: The place of the summons immediately following the vision sends the message that people of faith live their present lives not on the basis of what already exists but on what God promises. At Ps. 36:9 the worshiper confesses to YHWH that “in your light we see light,” admitting that the light of God inspires believers with hope and direction. That same teaching occurs in the long wisdom Ps. 119:105 regarding the word of God as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” That same divine light can also become, like the holiness of God, the fire that brings judgment (Isa. 10:17). Ultimately, of course, the sequence of created phenomena in Genesis 1 indicates that God provided light (perhaps even “was” the light) for three days prior to creating the sun and other heavenly luminaries.


Romans 13:11-14
On the basis of his conviction that the New Day has dawned in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul admonishes the Christians in Rome to live as though they know what time it is.

After discussing the doctrine of justification and its implications in the first eleven chapters of the epistle, Paul began in chapter 12 to discuss what was expected of those who were justified.  In chapter 13, immediately prior to our pericope, he wrote of the relationship of Christians to the governing authorities and then summed up the law with the words “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Key Words
V. 11.  kai touto eidontes ton kairon = “besides this, you know the appointed time”: The mention of time is not chronological (chronos) but eschatalogical (kairos). The timing is that of the Reign of God that fulfills the prophecies about the Day of the Lord (see Isa. 2:1-5). In the NT, note the significance of kairos in the preaching of Jesus and in the writings of Paul: Mark 1:15; 1 Cor. 7; 2 Cor. 6:2.

V. 12.  hē de hēmera ēggiken = “the Day is at hand”:  While the references to the coming Day of the Lord are numerous and of varied forms, the phrase here is identical to Zeph. 1:7, 14 (LXX).

V. 12.  endysōmetha de ta hopla tou phōtos = “put on the armor of light”;  The “put on” appears to be a baptismal formula derived from the apocalyptic battle of the end time; cf. 2 Cor. 6:7; 10:4; Eph. 5:11; 6:13.

V. 13.  hōs en hēmera = “as in the Day”:  The reference is not to “daytime” but to the Day of the Lord, the Yom YHWH expected by the prophets. As in the prophecy from Isa. 2:1-5, the vision of the end time determines present behavior among the faithful.


Matthew 24:36-44
Jesus warns that since the end time will come upon ordinary people doing ordinary things on what appears to be an ordinary day, every one needs to be on the alert at all times for the extraordinary Day.

The situation in which the saying occurs is described in 24:1-3.  Jesus was walking away from the temple when his disciples came to him pointing out the impressive buildings.  At that point Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple, and that prophecy led the disciples to pursue the questions “when will this be” and “what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”  This discussion with the disciples occurred while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple and the entire city.  Immediately prior to our pericope Jesus exhorted them to learn from the fig tree:  how it gives the sign of summer’s coming by the appearance of its leaves.  He also indicated the present generation would not pass away until these end-time events took place.

Key Words
V. 36.  Peri de tēs hēmeras ekeinēs kai hōras oudeis oiden = “But concerning that day and hour no one knows”:  The words “day” and “hour” appear to be used interchangeably in apocalyptic.  Note that v. 42 says no one knows the “day” the Lord is coming, and v. 44 indicates the Son of man is coming at an “hour” no one expects. (Recall the same interplay between “year” and “day” at Isaiah 61:2.)

V. 37. outōs estai [kai] hē parousia tou huiou tou anthrōpou = “so will be the coming of the Son of man”: While “the parousia of the Son of man” occurs again in this passage at v. 39, Matthew has already used the expression in verses 3 (the question about “your parousia) and 27. Therefore, the repetition of the expression is directly related to the disciples’ question that Jesus is answering.

V. 42. Grēgoreite oun, hoti ouk oidate hēmera ho kyrios hymōn erchetai = “Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”: Virtually the same warning about watching appears at 25:13 (see Mark 13:33, 35, 37).

V. 44. dia touto kai ginesthe hetoimoi = “therefore, you must be ready”: Luke uses the same expression at 12: 40 immediately following, as here, Jesus’ words about the preparedness of the householder for the thief. More obviously than Matthew, Luke’s version appears to connect to the preparation for the Passover, especially in his reference to having “loins girded” (Exod. 12:11). The same Greek word for “be ready” occurs also at Exod. 19:11 where the Lord instructs Moses to see that the people at Mount Sinai “be ready, for on the third day the Lord will come down … in the sight of all the people” (also v. 15).