Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16 * Psalm 25:1-10 * 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 * Luke 21:25-36

Here, at the beginning of the Christian year, notice the theme of God keeping God’s promises and how this is tied to the idea of God’s coming among us. In the Jeremiah text, God fulfills God’s promise to raise up a righteous Branch who will execute justice and righteousness in the land. This will result in Judah’s “salvation.” In the psalm, the psalmist counts on God’s “steadfast love” (hesed) for his salvation. He asks God to teach him God’s paths, which are “steadfast love and faithfulness.”

Our New Testament texts take us into the eschatological future and anticipate God’s coming. Paul prays that God will increase the Thessalonians’ love and holiness so that they will be blameless before God at the coming of Jesus. And the Luke text is one of those apocalyptic passages that seemingly combines a prediction of near-term calamity (in the OT prophets, cosmic turmoil represents the downfall of earthly political powers) with the eschatological arrival of Jesus.

What to make of all this? I argued in my six-part series on the gospel that the gospel is good news because its central focus and starting point is God’s action, not me and whether I end up in hell. These passages reflect that belief. Throughout the Bible, one of the writers’ major theological convictions is that God is righteous precisely because God keeps God’s promises (or shows hesed, steadfast love). God keeps God’s end of the covenant even when we don’t. As the psalmist declares, God’s mercy and steadfast love are “from of old.”

This theological conviction is also central to the New Testament. For example, Matthew regularly declares that certain events in Jesus’ life happened to fulfill OT Scripture. All the writers, in one way or another, interpret Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection in terms of God’s action in the world. Thus, in light of Jesus’ resurrection, the early Christians came to believe that he was God’s promised Messiah. God keeps God’s promises.

And one of those promises is that God will come among us in such a complete and final way that justice and righteousness will have complete sway over the earth (see, e.g., Rev. 21). God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, dwelled in the tabernacle during the wilderness wanderings, directed Israel through the giving of the Torah, took up residence in the temple, and, Christians believe, dwelled among us bodily in the person of Jesus and dwells among us still through the presence of the Holy Spirit. All these are signs and promises of God’s eventual coming in fullness and power.

So here, at the beginning of the year, we remember that God kept God’s promise to Israel by sending them the Messiah, and so we remember Jesus’ birth. But this annual Advent reminds us of that Advent that we ultimately wait for, and that we anticipate here, now, as we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Amen.