First Sunday of Advent

6a00e550255d3c8833017d3e69afe8970c-320wiFirst Sunday of Advent (November 30, 2014)

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
    display your radiant glory
    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
    Come to rescue us!

Turn us again to yourself, O God.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved.
O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies,
    how long will you be angry with our prayers?
You have fed us with sorrow
    and made us drink tears by the bucketful.
You have made us the scorn[a] of neighboring nations.
    Our enemies treat us as a joke.

Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved.

17 Strengthen the man you love,
    the son of your choice.
18 Then we will never abandon you again.
    Revive us so we can call on your name once more.

19 Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved.

It really is hard to believe that another church year has passed and we are on the cusp of another season of Advent.  This marks the eight time we have finished the course on this blog. This year we will be following Year B in the lectionary.  We started on year C in 2006.  For the next three years, we followed the readings from all the weekly readings and Pam or I wrote a devotional based on all three.  At the end of that cycle (a cycle being three years,) We looked at the Old Testament readings each week.  Then when we finished that cycle, we started our most recent trip looking at the Psalms.  When we are finished in 2015, we will have completed the Psalm cycle and will begin the Epistle cycle.

As you can tell, I love the seasonal nature of the church calendar.  I am looking forward to another journey through it.  I really want to try to blog more this year on the scriptures.  Over the last year I mainly just posted the scriptures, but hoping to get around to more devotionals this year and explanations of the church year.  I always start off well, but by Easter it all falls apart.

As I write this in the early morning hours – while much of the world is shopping for Black Friday deals – I am reminded what Advent is all about.  My body is recovering from a day of feasting that was Thanksgiving.  One of the most important things I want us to remember is that Advent is not Christmas.  Advent is a season of its own – it is a season of waiting – it is a season of preparation – in the past, it was a penitential season (the Christmas version of Lent) – a solemn time – meaning it was characterized by deep sincerity.  Don’t get me wrong. I love all the celebration of Christmas, We have even already been Christmas shopping…but it is so much more than a celebration….filled with lights…trees…presents.

Many years ago on this blog, I wrote about a Christmas party we had at church.  There would be a Christmas feast and then the congregation would share gifts with each other and with the pastoral family.   One of the teens who came as part of our van ministry showed up that night and was disappointed that she didn’t get anything – she said “I only came tonight for the presents.” Isn’t that the way that most of us approach Christmas?  We only do it for the presence and yet the great irony is that Christmas is all about the Incarnation – that God (in the person of Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us…as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message, “He put skin on and moved into the neighborhood.”  God desires to dwell among his people – it’s all about his presence and not about the presents.

I am determined more than ever this year to make sure it is more about the presence and not about the presents.  With that in mind, let’s take just a few moments to reflect on today’s passage from the Psalms.   Pam and I are preaching on Sunday, but will be using the Mark passage as the basis for our sermon.  We will also be reading from Isaiah during the Advent candle lighting.

The psalmist reminds us that we are sheep…it seems we are reminded about that quite a bit in the scriptures.  Then he asks the Shepherd to come save us…to show His mighty power.  We know that we are like sheep who have gone astray – this is a prayer for God to come rescue us.  As it applies to Advent – even now – we are longing for Jesus to come rescue us.  He asks us to be prepared for His coming.  How many were not prepared for His first coming?  Not many, but we do know of a few.  The very coming of God in the flesh was fulfilled in Jesus.  John reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.  The psalmist finishes this psalm with a call for God to shine His light on us.

We are in a world that needs light – a world that needs hope – we are a world that needs Jesus – and the world needs us to be Jesus to it.  Traditionally the first candle of Advent is the candle of hope – it is also the prophet candle – Isaiah the prophet foretells the coming of Jesus – the light of the world.  I love that Advent is symbolized by the candles that we light each week.  It reminds us that the Light of the World is coming again.

I want to encourage you this year to prepare your heart for his coming – for his advent – not only the celebration of his first advent in the celebration of Christmas, but make sure your heart is ready for his second advent.

The hymnwriter Isaac Watts wrote many years ago, “Let every heart prepare him room.”  Make room in your heart for Jesus.

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