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Readings: Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9 * Philippians 1:3-11 * Luke 3:1-6

This week the theme of righteousness plays a prominent role in the readings. In Malachi, the messenger of the Lord purifies the people until they “present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.” In Baruch, the people are exhorted to “put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God.” Paul picks up this theme in Philippians, praying that they may abound in love so that on the day of Christ they may be “pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” And in Luke, we see John the Baptist fulfilling the role of the messenger by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

It’s interesting to note that in Luke, John is connected to Isaiah’s “voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” declaring that the valleys should be filled and the mountains lowered so that the way of the Lord is prepared. The end result is that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” In Baruch, it is God who orders that these things be done so that “Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” The end result is that “God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.”

This week we are reminded that Advent is about more than waiting for a baby in a manger. We are waiting for the day that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” God sends messengers to announce God’s own coming. John is one such messenger, but note that Luke associates him with Isaiah’s prophetic voice rather than Malachi’s. In this way we are encouraged to see Jesus as Malachi’s messenger, for he rather than John is the one able to purify us in righteousness. And finally, we are reminded that Advent waiting is hardly passive waiting, for as Matthew 28 and Acts 1 tell us, Jesus has made us his messengers. Will we go into all the world, trusting that God has already gone ahead to prepare the way?

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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.

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