Episode 1

November 23, 2023


B201 Advent 1

B201 Advent 1
By the Well
B201 Advent 1

Nov 23 2023 | 00:25:02


Show Notes

Howard and Fran discuss Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13: 24-37

We mention Sam Wells' How to Preach: Times, Seasons, Texts and Contexts

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Speaker A: You're listening to by the, well, electionary based podcast preachers recorded on the land of the Warunderi people. Hello everyone. I'm Fran Barber. [00:00:18] Speaker B: And I'm Howard Wallace. [00:00:20] Speaker A: And Howard and I are going to be focusing on the readings for the first week in Advent. And in particular, we're looking at Isaiah 64, verses one to nine, and mark 13, verses 24 to 37. So we're in Advent, so a new season, not one that we should at all really separate from what's just gone before. So we've just celebrated Christ the king. And in a sense, Advent leads us into really exploring the nature of this kingship that Christ embodies, a kingship that obviously is completely different from any worldly king we know and turns everything on its head. I am going to start talking a bit about Advent by spruking a new book that I've come across. Samuel Wells has put out another book called how to preach times, seasons, texts and contexts. And it's a book that I think is a ripper for anyone listening who's just starting their preaching journey. And it's also a really good book for someone who might be feeling a bit tired and been through the lectionary six times or something. The book has great chapters on things like how to preach in the context of disability, how to preach during times of war, how to preach politically, and so on. And then there's commentary around the nature of preaching and sermons, but then there are sermons themselves, and there's a really good chapter on preaching in the season of Advent and preaching on Advent Sunday. So I say all that for those of you interested in delving into something quite readable and very useful. But I really like what Sam says in Advent, that we can quite easily fall into fairly trite sermons and comments around preparation and waiting. Both of those words are part of what we do in advent, but that, in fact, it's a really weighty time, and it's almost like an Easter season where we're gathering in divine comings and awaitings. And in particular, Sam really speaks compellingly about tackling the big questions like time and eternity and what does the end look like and why are things still terrible, even though Jesus has come? And he even says things like why Christianity has not lived up to what it proposed it was going to know deal with these big questions, and Advent Sunday in particular invites those sorts of existential wonderings and a gospel response. And then he suggests you could do carols in the evening if people got people who still really want to sing carols a bit too early. Anyway, that's a long intro into a new resource and also a reminder to don't leap too quickly to the baby and the whole sort of preparation thing. But let's talk about the meaning of it all. [00:03:21] Speaker B: And I think Advent one, the first week of the year really introduces those bigger themes to look at, and I think holds us back a little bit from the joy of a baby arrival. [00:03:35] Speaker A: As does do the readings next week as well in Advent, too. So we're beginning with Isaiah 64 Howard, traditionally, I think, understood to be third Isaiah. But can you give us some background to remind people? [00:03:49] Speaker B: I'll say a little bit about Isaiah in a moment, but I just wanted to say something too, about the Old Testament readings over these next four weeks in Advent, because we find every year, and we're moving into year b, the year of Mark's gospel, that prophets focus are the focus in advent for Old Testament readings. And this year particularly, it's three readings from Isaiah. They usually begin each year with a prophetic passage that really brings in very large issues of peace and justice in the world. And they're often sometimes apocalyptic passages with language that sort of evokes the idea of maybe the end or the completion of creation. And that's where we find ourselves to some extent today. But then, of course, as Advent progresses towards Christmas, we find the Old Testament readings become more focused on things that are going to be picked up in the gospels. Like next week we'll be hearing some passages that are later related by the gospels to John the Baptist. And then, of course, as you get to the last Sunday in advent, your focus then moves to Mary and the thoughts of the birth that's anticipated. So there is a great purpose that works its way through the lectionary in this context. But to come back to Isaiah 64, it is, as you said, part of what we call third Isaiah. There are three main sections of Isaiah, although other smaller sections within those. And this last section, from chapter 56 through to 66, is known as third Isaiah, and comes from the period when those who had been taken in exile by the Babylonians, chiefly the Babylon, but to other places too, have been able to return to Jerusalem and Judea, their homeland. So it's a time of expectations being fulfilled. Next week we're going to hear a passage from what we call second Isaiah, when there's hope of that return. But here we find the people back in Jerusalem. And what we hear in this passage are not words of joy and excitement, of being there, but words of disappointment. The journey has been hard, I mean, you're thinking, I don't know, thousand kilometers or something on foot. They've had to come back and rebuild what was there, much of it ruined. There are people who are now occupying what was once their property, as they would have seen it. And then also, if we read the little prophet of haggai, there seems to have been a drought or really harsh circumstances in terms of weather climate at that time. So they're facing a lot of difficulties. And in this passage, which is, although we've only got nine verses set for us, it really goes back to a long lament that begins in chapter 63, verse seven, and runs all the way through to the end of chapter 64. And it's a lament over that situation. The people feel as though they've been let down by God, that God is absent from them, right at the time when they might have expected God to be fully there with them and blessing them in various sort of ways. Their hopes have been disappointed. More than that, they've been crushed, really, in many instances. And I think it's a strong reminder about hope and the nature of hope and the way in which sometimes our hopes, the way we shape them, are not always sort of fulfilled in the way that we might expect them to be, which I think is a big theme of advent. [00:08:03] Speaker A: Well, that is clearly one of those deep human questions about the gap between what we maybe expect. Maybe there's a certain entitlement for some of us thinking we've been know with some sort of contract. I think Sam well, says this, that everything will be fine and we're owed to have everything be smooth and work out. And that was never. [00:08:24] Speaker B: That's what we find the Israelites doing. [00:08:27] Speaker A: That's not it. And there's something to me very visceral about parts of this, part of this passage, because of its description of the frailty of what it is to be human, we have become one like who is unclean. So there's a recognition of who we are. [00:08:45] Speaker B: Yes, definitely. [00:08:47] Speaker A: With no sentimentality. Our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. Like, even when we try to do the right thing, it's still. We fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There's something we're at the mercy and can't save ourselves. [00:09:07] Speaker B: So you're picking up on some of second Isaiah's language there. Part of their. [00:09:13] Speaker A: I mean, we've all had, as we say, personal or family situations of loss or fear or terminal illness. We all know what it is to be that frail. And so I think this is an opportunity to really preach into the reality of that. And how do we talk about where God is in that very real situation? And then also you can obviously go more communal and global about that sense of frailty and displaced people being bombed in hospitals. [00:09:57] Speaker B: The other side of that coin is that they proclaim, if you go back to the beginning of the lament 63 seven, that God has been faithful in the past, though, they're trying to weigh up their experience of God and God's faithfulness and their own sort of realization of who they are and how this is not sort of actually gelling in present context. [00:10:23] Speaker A: That's a really important point. And I'm struck by part of the fragment of verse four, no eye has seen any God besides you, which I find quite profound, because what it says is, we have glimpsed you, we have glimpsed light, we have glimpsed glory, and if we have it, it was you, it wasn't anything else. And there's something, I think, to play with there for preachers and as christians, where we carefully read these as hebrew texts in their own context. But we see Christ being promised from them. Or we read, that line suggests that in a sense, we read back and we go, oh, that we see Jesus there, or that just as we look for Jesus in the future, we see echoes of Jesus being promised here rather than reading him back in. It's a difference of emphasis. I'm probably not expressing it very well. [00:11:26] Speaker B: I think the other thing that line is sort of saying is that we have been faithful at times we ourselves, because then it goes on to express talking about God, God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. And so there's this awkwardness between our faithfulness and our experience of God's faithfulness, and yet our present sort of circumstances, they don't gel. No, it's a reminder, I think, also about what the nature of waiting is. It's not simply a period of time, but actually addressing some of those questions, recognizing God's faithfulness, asking questions about our own faithfulness, and probing the disjunction that sometimes seems to be there. [00:12:22] Speaker A: And also it's avoiding the sort of the cynical at one level. When we're exhausted, we get quite cynical when we're really tired. And that's kind of an atrophied disappointment. And what we're called to from these texts and the season of advent and the promise of Christ is a more active, hopeful waiting. That is, paradoxically one that is an urgent one. I'm trying to say there's not a passivity. It's not a passivity that we're drawn into. And we are not called into some sort of frozen cynicism, which is easy to collapse into. And how do we avoid those? And how do these texts help us to avoid that? [00:13:14] Speaker B: I think in part the waiting is about being remoulded as people, too, thinking about those big questions about the nature of God and God's faithfulness, about our own faithfulness or lack thereof. But also, this passage is about our expectations, at times not coming to fulfillment, as we're not sort of holding God sort of to his word in a very literal sense. I mean, God's word will unfold in ways that we really do not expect. And the whole point of the baby being born at Christmas is, and that's the connection back to Christ the king, which was last week's celebration, too. I mean, we're almost on a big, slippery slide between a king and a baby, and yet in God's sort of economy, those two are the same, I. [00:14:17] Speaker A: Feel like, and I'm just going to mention this briefly because we're not spending a lot of time on it, but the epistle reading from the first letter to the Corinthians this week, that's just the start of the letter. The Thanksgiving is a terrific summary of the in betweenness that we live in another way of. It's a very concise way of describing what we're talking about, a gap, really, between what's hoped for and what really is. And Paul's talking about that we live in the in between times, between guilt and know, between what's promised and what is. But that God provides more than sufficient for us to navigate that. And I feel like that's kind of a little commentary on what Isaiah is poetically proclaiming here. Yeah. [00:15:07] Speaker B: So we've got to be careful not to turn that into too temporal a thing. So know, there's the first coming and there's a second coming that things have not worked out. I mean, we've got to wrestle with the reality of things in this context. [00:15:24] Speaker A: Sam Wells does that, too. And that's the last time I'll mention this episode, I promise, because he's got a great sermon on. I forget what the text is. It might be this one, but it's about really the distinction between the end of the world and the purpose. And I mean, this perhaps is most pertinent to the gospel reading coming from Mark, which is very much about the end, but we can get caught up in that whole prediction thing. But what really is the main purpose of the world and of God and us? And it is not really the distractions and the trivialities. It's found in the profound gestures of love and sitting beside a dying friend and in things that you can't measure and pass quickly, but they are about encounters with the divine and one another and glimpses where we saw you, where we'd sensed you, that's where you were. And the purpose of the world is. [00:16:24] Speaker B: In Christ, and encounters and glimpses that may be totally unexpected. [00:16:29] Speaker A: Yeah. And the good news is that we have seen the purpose of the world in Jesus Christ and in our relationship with Christ, and that is the hope that we reproclaim every week. So I think we might move on to the gospel, which is mark, chapter 613, verses 24 to 37. So this is Jesus final address, in a way, and a bit like the Isaiah. Reading this passage from Mark, we go backwards. So that next week we go to chapter one, next week in Isaiah we go back to chapter 40. We're seeing a glimpse of the end, or descriptions of the end. [00:17:19] Speaker B: And I think electionary is saying something to us in that, in this jumping in this first week of advent right to what we might class as the end, and yet coming back to the beginning next week. [00:17:33] Speaker A: So very apocalyptic language here. And we hear echoes of Daniel in particular, I think Daniel seven in the use of the word the son of man. I think the son of man was first used, if I'm not mistaken, in Daniel, son of man being the God who is above the nations and the kings who are all fighting. There's clouds, there's breaking open of heavens, in a sense here as well, echoes. There's days that suffering are occurring. And then we've got two little parable, well, two little lessons about the fig tree and the necessity for watchfulness. So I think it would be one where you would. Again, it's a big theme approach. Have you got parts of this passage that step out that strike you particularly? [00:18:39] Speaker B: None that strike me particularly. I think one of the things to keep in mind is that this is probably also written around the time of the jewish revolt and the squashing of a quashing of that revolt by the Romans. So there is a real sort of sense, I think, of oppression and a struggle against that in that context. So the immediate sort of social and political context is really quite sort of strong. [00:19:09] Speaker A: It's acute, isn't it? [00:19:11] Speaker B: Even though it might not been Mark or Mark's reader's immediate experience in terms of whether they're involved with it or not, they're aware of it, I'm sure. [00:19:23] Speaker A: And this is a passage too, that in some hands, as I think we've kind of inferred up to now, can be suggesting, we look for signs of the end in our own environment and look, indeed, writers and poets have do write today about the global upheavals, the climate catastrophe. Covid is not over. There's still a pandemic going on. At one sense it has ever been thus, in a sense that is the predicament of being human and frail and passing like the wind, as I says. And I think that is the invitation. This is an invitation to address that reality. [00:20:16] Speaker B: I think so. But also it brings together, I mean, we're anticipating in advent, looking forward to the birth of Jesus in some ways a beginning, and yet here we start with the end, so to speak. So there is a sense in which what we are hoping for embraces these sort of major issues that confront us in the world. [00:20:45] Speaker A: It's not about God being very far away. So we say there were predictions like this in the first century. They didn't happen. Let's not dwell on that. It's not like we treat advent as if God is still very far away. And we have to sum and overdue and we have to kind of work out what that means. But as I indicated earlier, it's like the season of Easter, where we remember a coming of God that gathers up all of those arrivals, past and future. And Christ's for us as christians is the center of that, that echoes back and forward into the future. [00:21:24] Speaker B: I think in terms of advent, I mean, before Easter and before Christmas, there are both periods of waiting, lent before Easter, of course, but we're looking for a renewal of creation. But it's actually sending us back into a remembering of past comings, the present coming of God amongst us, as well as future coming. So it sort of brings them all together. [00:21:55] Speaker A: And the watchfulness here is very evocative to me because it calls us to remember the main thing wherever we are as christian disciples. What is the core of things in this moment? What is love here? What is grace here? What is the truth to be told here? And I'm not talking about podium moments at all. I'm talking about interactions with people and really unimpressive moments of life that we all go through every day. Watchfulness is getting us to recognize those times and taking them as the important times. [00:22:38] Speaker B: It's not just looking for a time that will come. No, but it's actually reading the signs of the times now of what's going on. How do we respond to that? [00:22:49] Speaker A: Yeah. And I mean, you know, in other words, living as if the kingdom were here because the kingdom is in Christ. [00:22:55] Speaker B: It is. [00:22:55] Speaker A: It is here, even though we don't. Doesn't feel like it is. But watchfulness is living. You frowned. You don't agree with it? [00:23:04] Speaker B: Well, it is here. [00:23:05] Speaker A: It is here. But I'm saying it doesn't feel like. [00:23:08] Speaker B: I know it doesn't feel like it's. [00:23:09] Speaker A: But it is here. And that's the pastoral point. [00:23:11] Speaker B: That's a challenge, and that's a question for us as we. [00:23:14] Speaker A: Yes. Yeah. In watchfulness. Anything else from that reading? [00:23:23] Speaker B: No, not the moment. Just a note that he's gained, as well as picking up stuff from passages from Daniel, especially chapter seven. There are echoes of Isaiah going on here, too. We've mentioned them before, Isaiah 1310 and chapter 34, verse four, which speak about darkness coming upon the earth, about the stars disappearing and those sort of apocalyptic sort of images. [00:23:49] Speaker A: Yeah. So for those of you listening who might not have encountered scriptures as much as others, a lot of these quotes at this time of year come from the Book of Isaiah. And in some sense it's been called the fourth gospel. [00:24:03] Speaker B: The fifth gospel. [00:24:03] Speaker A: The fifth gospel. Sorry, I can't count the fifth gospel because it is so crucial to. It's a lens through which the people's experience of Christ was read, a primary lens, which I think is. You almost can't emphasize that too much, that Jesus did not come out of nowhere. I mean, it's obvious to say, and. [00:24:27] Speaker B: That'S true for both the birth and for the crucifixion and death, everything, resurrection. [00:24:32] Speaker A: There's a huge backstory that we're invited into, thanks to Israel and the prophets. [00:24:39] Speaker B: Yes. [00:24:40] Speaker A: Okay. Well, I think that draws our conversation to a close for this week. Thanks, Howard. By the well is brought to you by Pilgrim Theological College and the Uniting Church in Australia. It's produced by Adrian Jackson. Thanks for listening.

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