• Going Deeper: Growing in Faith and Knowledge

Bible Study Discussion Guide Fall 2018, Advent 1: Sunday, December 2

The Rev. Patrick Ward
November 29, 2018

 

We begin both Advent and a new church year on this Sunday – and transition from Mark’s gospel to Luke’s – with Luke’s own telling of the “coming of the Son of Man.” Readings from Jeremiah (“the days are surely coming…”) and 1 Thessalonians (“the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints…”) pick up the theme of pending and radical transformation of the world.

 

In the preceding verses from Chapter 21 Luke has borrowed heavily from Mark’s account of the fall of the Jerusalem Temple which we heard together in church on November 18. Luke adds in this week’s reading vivid language about “the roaring of the sea and waves” (the ancient Israelites were commonly terrified of the destructive power of the sea) and mention of people fainting. With this welter of warning signs (vv. 25-26), the kingdom of God is near. Luke in Chapter 21 speaks of the kingdom as not yet arrived, in contrast to previous passages where it has already approached or arrived (10:9, 18; 11:20; 17:20). If one reads all of these passages together, the implication is that Luke (like Mark) sees “the kingdom of God” arriving in two stages:  an initial, already-current phase and a final and still-to-come phase when the kingdom will be present in all of its fullness. As the church in the world, we understand ourselves as living in the gap between the already-arrived and the yet-to-come. Despite the chaos and the visible fear and pain, God’s plan is progressing and Jesus is, in this passage, preparing the disciples for the “the life of the world to come” Chaos, he implies, should not be cause for shock, distress or despair: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

 

Consider that, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his active ministry in a dramatic scene in the Nazareth synagogue (4:18-19) with a reference from Isaiah to the fulfillment of scripture: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  We can, perhaps, understand these words as indicators of the quality of our life to come. When Jesus interrupts his images of destruction with the contrasting image of a budding fig tree (29-33) he is asking his hearers to understand a certain shape to the story of God and God’s people (also called “salvation history”): when the tree shows forth its foliage, winter’s barrenness has ended and a new season has come.

 

  • How do you understand the season of Advent, and the traditional warnings we hear on this Sunday to “keep awake” or “keep alert”? What are you looking for as Advent begins, and how do your own life and faith practices change at this time of year?
  • Do you see a “shape” to human history or not? If you believe either that the world is getting better or getting worse, how does your faith inform your understanding?
  • Our Advent 1 worship begins each year with these words: “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light…”  What do you make of these images?

Comments

At "Going Deeper," enrich your spiritual journey by exploring our resources including videos of lectures, essays by priests, and other pieces about our faith, our church, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century.