Fourth Sunday of Advent

The last Sunday of Advent makes a transition from anticipation of God’s restoration to confidence that this restoration is actually under way. The first reading, from the book of Isaiah, presents the birth of an unnamed child as a sign that God will redeem Israel. While the prophecy is cast within its own historical period, later readers of Matthew’s Gospel found in it a picture of God’s deliverance that validated their own experience of Jesus. Although Psalm 80 is set in circumstances of national defeat, its tone of confidence suitably underscores Advent’s theme of patient expectation. Paul’s greeting to communities of believers identifies Jesus as son of David and sees in Jesus’ resurrection his appointment as the Son of God.

The First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-16
A Sign of Deliverance

In the first of today’s readings, the nation of Judah and its king, Ahaz, face a profound threat from two kings to their north, Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel. In the midst of the political crisis, Ahaz refuses to receive Isaiah’s word, perhaps in fear of its implications. Isaiah nevertheless declares that word, a sign of deliverance from the immediate threat. The promise is set within the span of time marked by a pregnancy and the newborn’s weaning. The fulfillment of that promised deliverance will confirm for the king and people what the child’s name declares, that “God is with us.” The Gospel according to Matthew, which serves as today’s Gospel reading, invokes the promise to suggest that Jesus’ birth accords with God’s faithful pattern of deliverance.

The Lord spoke again to Ahaz: “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God, be it as deep as Sheol or stretching high above.” But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, so that I do not test the Lord.” 

So Isaiah said, “Listen, then, House of David: Is it not enough for you to exasperate people, that you exasperate my God, too? Therefore, my Lord indeed will give you a sign. Here—this young woman is pregnant and will give birth to a son. She will name him, ‘Immanuel.’ He will eat soft cheese and honey, even know how to reject evil and choose good; before the lad knows how to reject evil and choose good, the land that you loathe because of its two kings will be abandoned.”

The Psalm
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
A Lament over the Destruction of the Kingdom of Israel

The psalmist bemoans the Israelites’ loss sovereignty over their land, with special reference to the Northern Kingdom (including the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh), which was conquered by Assyria in 722 BCE. In the Psalms, the one at God’s right hand (see, e.g., Psalm 80:17; Psalm 110:1) is the Israelite king. Here the king is the Davidic messiah, whom God has assigned to restore Israelite sovereignty. In some Christian interpretations, verses such as those of Psalm 80:17 have been understood to refer to Jesus, whose use of “son of man” to refer to himself can resonate with a literal reading of the Hebrew idiom in the verse: “…on the son of man you made strong for yourself.” Routinely in biblical Hebrew and early Judaism, however, the term “son of man” means, simply, “a person.” Thus, as a psalm of Israel, this psalm pleads specifically for the renewal of the Kingdom of Israel.

  • To the conductor, according to “lilies,” a testimony of Asaph, an accompanied psalm.
  • 1. Shepherd of Israel—listen!—
    leading Joseph like a flock,
    astride the cherubim,
  •      unveil your splendor,
  • 2.          before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
  •      Awaken your might,
    and come as deliverance for us!
  • 3. God, restore us;
    shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!
  • 4. Lord, God of heavenly divisions, for how long will you remain angry at your people’s prayer?
  • 5. You have fed them the bread of weeping,
    and made them drink a full measure of tears.
  • 6. You have made us an object of reproach to our neighbors,
    and our enemies snicker to themselves.
  • 7. God of heavenly divisions, restore us;
    shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!

 

  • 17. Let your hand be on the one at your right hand,
    on the one you made strong for yourself.
  • 18. We shall not turn away from you;
    give us life so we might call upon your name.
  • 19. Lord, God of heavenly divisions, restore us;
    shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!

The Second Reading
Romans 1:1-7
God’s Victory Proclamation of the Anointed Lord Jesus

Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a lengthy and unusual salutation. Having not yet visited Rome, he introduces himself and asserts his authority as a called Apostle. This assertion establishes his right to address the Roman believers and to communicate God’s victory proclamation—the gospel concerning Jesus. This salutation includes an early creedal confession, which originated in a Jesus-believing Jewish community. Paul emphasizes the scriptural grounding of Jesus’ identity, as one descended from David and announced by the prophets. He then adapts the creed with his own additions in order to articulate his particular view of God’s proclamation concerning Jesus as the appointed Son of God, which is itself an echo of the combined sonship and kingship language found in the Psalms, e.g., in Psalm 2. Paul extends grace and peace to the believers from both Jesus the Anointed and God, whom he calls “father,” invoking the father’s particular role within the Roman household.

Paul, called Apostle, a servant of Jesus the Anointed, having been set apart for God’s victory proclamation, which God announced beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scriptures concerning God’s Son, who was:
          born David’s descendant according to the flesh,
          appointed Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness—
                    through resurrection of the dead.
          This is the Anointed Jesus, our Lord,
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to accomplish faithful obedience on behalf of God’s name among all the nations; among those you too are called to belong to Jesus the Anointed. 

To all of God’s beloved who are in Rome, called and holy: Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Anointed Lord Jesus. 

The Gospel
Matthew 1:18-25
The Birth of Jesus

In recounting Jesus’ birth, the Gospel according to  Matthew characteristically refers to texts from Israel’s Bible. The Gospel, thereby, describes the birth in accord with expectations about God’s faithful deliverance that the prophet Isaiah has portrayed. Isaiah’s prophecy, quoted in this reading from the Greek version rather than the Hebrew, used the birth of a child to a young woman to assure Israel in perilous times that “God is with us.” As the Gospel applies the prophecy to Mary’s pregnancy, it assures Matthew’s community again that “God is with us.” An angel also directs Joseph to name the child “Jesus,” which means that God “shall save.”

The Anointed Jesus’ birth happened in this way: when his mother, Mary, was promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant by divine action. Her husband, Joseph, who was decent and did not wish to disgrace her, considered releasing her from the marriage privately. But as he pondered what to do, look: the Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a dream, and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, because what is conceived in her is from divine action. She will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, since he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened in order to accord with what was said by the Lord through the prophet who said, “Look: the young woman will become pregnant and bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel (which is, translated, ‘God is with us’).” Joseph was raised from sleep and did as the Lord’s messenger directed him: he took his wife and did not know her until she bore a son. And he named him “Jesus.”

Third Sunday of Advent

Among all the seasons of the liturgical year of the church, Advent is the most focused on the future, when God’s vindication of the people of God will come to fruition. This theme, emerging from Israelite expectations of divine restoration, animates Isaiah 35:1-10. That passage is set in the Babylonian Exile but looks forward to a divine rescue of the people of Israel, celebrated by a definitive change of natural as well as social conditions. Although God’s gracious action is to culminate in the future, divine mercy is already evident in God’s help of those who are oppressed (Psalm 146:5-10) and those who rely humbly on divine support (Luke 1:46b-55). Their faith looks forward to its consummation, however, in a final, future judgment (James 5:7-10); Matthew 11:2-7 portrays John the Baptist as the classic New Testament bearer of this perspective.

The First Reading
Isaiah 35:1-10
The Joy of Return and Restoration

This reading from the book of Isaiah celebrates with vivid imagery the transformation of a forbidding wasteland into a royal road for the people of Israel to return from exile in Babylon. Earth and its elements, animal life and its savagery, fear and paralysis, foolishness and confusion—all of these evaporate together with the grief and groaning of the people. As God opens the way for return and restoration, all creation is renewed and joins in Israel’s jubilation.

  • 1. The wilderness and desert will rejoice;
    the wasteland will celebrate and blossom like a crocus.
  • 2. It will indeed blossom and celebrate, with a most celebratory shout.
    The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the honor of Carmel and Sharon;
    they will see the glory of the Lord and the honor of our God.
  • 3. Strengthen the weak hands; steady the staggering knees.
  • 4. Say to the trembling-hearted, “Be strong! Fear not!
    Here is your God—
    .           vindication draws near, God’s fulfillment—
    God draws near to save you.”
  • 5.        Thus blind eyes will be made clear and deaf ears will be made to hear.
  • 6.        Thus the lame like a ram will bound and the tongue of the mute will resound.
               Indeed, water will erupt in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
  • 7.        Parched earth will become a pool and thirsty ground, springs;
    .         the haunt of jackals, an oasis; and grassland, a stand of reeds.
  • 8. There will be a high road there, that is, a way;
    it will be called the Way of the Holy One.
    Nothing that defiles will pass along it; it is God’s.
    Treading it, even fools will not go astray.
  • 9. No lion will be there and beasts will not intrude on it.
    Nothing will be found there, but the redeemed will march along.
  • 10. Those the Lord has rescued will return;
    they will come to Zion with a shout, crowned with perpetual joy.
  •         Exultation and joy will arrive, as grief and groaning fly away.

The Psalm
Psalm 146:5-10
God Protects the Righteous and Needy

God, who created the world, continues to support all in that world who need and deserve divine help: the oppressed as well as the hungry, orphans, and widows. These are classes of people who, lacking a human support network, have a special claim upon God for protection. The psalm’s conclusion reflects the hope that the good brought about by God’s reign will be eternal.

  • 5. Joyous is one whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is the Lord, their God—
  • 6.         creator of heaven and earth,
           the sea, and all that is in them;
    who stays forever reliable:
  • 7.                     doing justice for the oppressed,
  •                         giving bread to the hungry—the Lord frees the imprisoned!
  • 8. The Lord gives sight to the blind;
    the Lord straightens up those who are bent over;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
  • 9. The Lord protects outsiders;
    orphans and widows the Lord supports,
    but contorts the path of the wicked.
  • 10. The Lord will rule forever,
    your God, Zion, through every generation.
  •         Hallelujah!

or Luke 1:46b-55
Mary’s Song

Luke’s Gospel attributes this hymn, the “Magnificat,” to Jesus’ mother, Mary, at the time of her meeting with her cousin, Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist). Its title derives from the Latin equivalent of the verb “exalt” in the first line. Anticipating the significance of her child’s birth and her own role, Mary articulates the themes of God’s exaltation of the lowly and rejection of human arrogance. These themes echo those of Hannah’s song, which she sang to celebrate bringing the prophet Samuel into the world (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Thus, the Magnificat appears in the New Testament as a continuation of the psalms and prophecy of the Scriptures of Israel.

  • Mary said:
  • 46b. “My soul exalts the Lord,
  • 47.         and my spirit exults in God my savior, 
  • 48. since God esteemed me, God’s servant, in humble condition.
    So that, look: from this moment all generations will consider me favored,
  • 49. because the One who is powerful has done great things for me.
  •         Indeed, God’s name is holy,
  • 50. and God’s mercy is for generations and generations
    among those who fear God,
  • 51. who has acted with a mighty arm:
    scattering the arrogant in their hearts’ purpose,
  • 52. taking down the powerful from thrones,
    and exalting the humble;
  • 53. who has filled up the hungry with good
    and dispatched the rich away empty.
  • 54. God supported Israel as a child, keeping mercy in mind,
  • 55.          just as God spoke to our ancestors,
    . to Abraham and to Abraham’s seed forever.”

The Second Reading
James 5:7-10
A Call for Unity and Patience while Waiting on the Lord’s Arrival

The letter of James offers a view of an early community of Jews who believed in Jesus as God’s Anointed (Messiah). These Jews experienced the social tensions and divisions in Jerusalem in the decades prior to the First Jewish War with Rome. They remained committed simultaneously to the covenanting God of Israel, the Jerusalem Temple, and faith in Jesus. Through various struggles and suffering, their vibrant expectation of Jesus’ return provided them with the strength and patience to maintain their unity in faith.

Be patient, beloved friends, until the Lord’s arrival for judgment. Notice how the farmer waits to receive the best fruit from the earth, being patient with it, until it receives the early and the late rain. You also, be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s arrival has drawn near. Friends, do not complain against one another, so that you may not be judged. Even now, the judge is already standing at the door. Friends, imitate the example of the patient suffering of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The Gospel
Matthew 11:2-11
John the Immerser and Jesus

John the Immerser plays a key role in the readings of Advent, as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. But John’s question to Jesus from prison (where he had been sent by Herod Antipas) makes it clear that John does not fully understand Jesus’ identity. Jesus answers the question by alluding to a series of passages aggregated from the book of Isaiah. He then provides an assessment of John’s significance, adapting a quote from Malachi 3:1. John is a prophet, even more than a prophet. He is the “messenger” who will prepare God’s way, and yet Jesus still sees him as being a person more of this world (that is, “woman-born”) than of the kingdom of heaven that is to come. In that new realm, even the least gifted will have greater insight than John has now.

From prison John heard the deeds of the Anointed, and through his students he sent a message to Jesus. He said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” Jesus answered them, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:
           Blind people see again and the lame walk,
           people with skin disease are purified and the deaf hear,
           the dead are raised and the poor are given news of victory.
           And whoever does not take offense at me is favored.”
While they were going back Jesus started to speak about John to the crowds:
           “What did you go out into the wilderness expecting to see? A reed shaken by wind? Then
           what did you go out to see? A man attired in luxurious clothes? Look: those in royal
           palaces wear luxurious clothes! So why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to
           you, and more than a prophet. This is he concerning whom it is written, ‘Look: I dispatch
           my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, I say to
           you, there has not been raised among woman-born anyone greater than John the
           Immerser! But the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is!”

Second Sunday of Advent

Advent’s emphasis on the finality of the judgment Jesus will bring at the end of time is paired with the idea that his role was deeply embedded in the Scriptures of Israel. Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-10) relates to the “root of Jesse,” the father of King David, who is linked directly to Jesus in Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:1-16). As “David’s son” (a designation applied to Jesus in the Gospels), Jesus takes on the royal dignity and prerogatives of judgment assigned to kings in the Hebrew Bible. The use of Psalm 72 within the Lectionary endorses this royal identity. At the same time, Paul insists in Romans that Jesus’ coming as the anointed descendant of David extends his rule beyond Israel to gentiles on the basis of his mercy (Romans 15:4-13). Through the prophecy of John the Baptist, Matthew takes the perspective of the end of all time, presenting Jesus as the sole arbiter of what God will preserve and what God will destroy.

The First Reading
Isaiah 11:1-10
A Vision of a Renewed Davidic Monarchy

Isaiah looks forward to the renewed monarchy of Israel, ruled by a descendant of David (that is, a shoot from Jesse, David’s father). The vision is idyllic, as the prophet envisages a completely peaceable kingdom under an ideal ruler. In this realm even wild beasts live in harmony with one another and with human beings.

  • 1. Then a shoot will emerge from Jesse’s stock; a sprout from his roots will blossom.
  • 2. The spirit of the Lord will settle on him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
  • 3. He will breathe it in through fear of the Lord,
    so that he shall not render judgment by what appears before his eyes, nor convict on the basis
    of what falls on his ears,
  • 4. but he will judge poor people by means of what is right and render a verdict on behalf of
    common folk through fairness.
    He will thump the ground with the rod of his mouth and destroy evil by the breath of his lips.
  • 5. Righteousness will gird his hips; faithfulness will be his weapons-belt.
  • 6.  A wolf will dwell with a lamb and a leopard will take its rest alongside a goat;
    calf and lion will grow fat together, and a small child will lead them.
  • 7. Cow and bear will become friendly, so that their offspring rest together.
    A lion will eat hay like cattle [8] and an infant will play over the nest of a cobra;
    a toddler will stretch out its hand over the opening of a viper’s den.
  • 9. Neither evil nor destruction will be done on all my sacred mountain,
    for the land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea.
  • 10. In that day, nations will seek out Jesse’s root,
    standing as a national symbol,
    and his capital will be glorious.

The Psalm
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
A Prayer for the Righteous Monarch

The psalmist prays for God’s help in teaching the dynastic king to rule justly, in particular so that he will judge fairly the cases of the poor and powerless. The image in verse 7 of the blossoming of the righteous reflects the lectionary context of this reading, immediately following Isaiah 11, the first verse of which refers to the blossoming of Jesse’s roots. The final verses of this reading, 18-19, are separate from the rest of Psalm 72. Their statement of God’s power and glory provides an overall conclusion to the collection of poems that comprise Psalms 42-72.

  • Of Solomon.
  • 1. God, to the monarch dispense your justice,
    and to the monarchy, your righteousness.
  • 2. May the monarch judge your people in righteousness,
    and the powerless in justice.
  • 3. May the mountains bear peace for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
  • 4. May the monarch bring justice to the powerless among the people,
    deliverance to the poor,
    and crush any bully.
  • 5. May they hold you in awe while the sun shines,
    and then before the moon, for generations on end.
  • 6. May the monarch be like rain falling upon a fresh-cut field,
    like showers irrigating the land.
  • 7. In these days, may the righteous blossom,
    and peace, in abundance until the moon is no more.

 

  • 18. Blessed is the Lord, God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wonders.
  • 19. And blessed be his glorious name forever.
    May the whole earth be filled with God’s glory.
    Amen and Amen.

The Second Reading
Romans 15:4-13
God’s Faithfulness to Israel through the Inclusion of the Gentiles

The Apostle Paul exhorts those believers gathering in various Roman houses to accept one another based on the example of Jesus’ acceptance of them. Through a collection of Hebrew Scriptures, Paul argues that God receives gentiles alongside Israel, God’s people. These verses repeatedly demonstrate the inclusion of the gentiles with Israel (Psalm 18:49 and 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10). Further, the Isaiah citation situates the Anointed Jesus within Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the arrival and reign of the root of Jesse.

For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, so that through both the continuing support and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. And so, may the God of this continuing support and encouragement give to you the same respect for one another as is in keeping with the Anointed Jesus, so that together with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. 

Therefore, accept one another just as the Anointed also accepted you for the glory of God. For I assert that the Anointed came as a servant to the circumcised on behalf of God’s truthfulness in order to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, and on behalf of mercy in order that the gentiles might glorify God. As it is written,

    •                 “On account of this, I will proclaim you among the gentiles,
        and to your name I will sing praise.”
    • And again it says,
      “Gentiles, rejoice with God’s peoples!”
    • And again,
      “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles,
      and let all the peoples praise God!”
    • And again Isaiah says,
      “The root of Jesse will come,
      the one who rises to rule the gentiles.
      In God, the gentiles will hope.”

And so, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in this hope by the power of the holy Spirit.

The Gospel
Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist’s Prophecy of Jesus

The Gospels present John the Baptist as Jesus’ precursor, whom Matthew identifies with the voice prophesied in Isaiah as preparing God’s way (Isaiah 40:3). John’s dress and location, as well as his call to repentance, are reminiscent of the portrayal of Elijah (1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 1-2). In the setting of Matthew’s community, John’s preaching is pointed vehemently against the Pharisees and the priestly group known as Zadokites, despite the legitimately high regard for them within Judaism. By the time the Gospel was written, they and the teachers of the Matthean church were irreconcilably opposed to one another. When John the Baptist in this Gospel proclaims Jesus’ coming, the point is not simply that Jesus will come in John’s time, but that at the end of time Jesus will exercise final judgment.

In those days John the immerser came, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has approached.” He is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet: “Voice of one calling in the wilderness—‘Prepare the Lord’s way, make God’s paths straight.’” John wore clothing from camel’s hair with a skin strap around his hips, and his diet was locusts and field-honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the surroundings of the Jordan went out to him; while declaring their sins they were immersed by him in the river Jordan. Yet when he saw many of the Pharisees and Zadokites coming for immersion, he said to them, “Nest of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? So, produce fruit worthy of repentance! Do not presume to say among yourselves, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Because I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham! The axe is already put to the root of the trees, so every tree not producing good fruit is chopped down and thrown into fire. I indeed immerse you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is stronger than I am. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will immerse you in holy Spirit and fire. His pitchfork is in his hand, and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his grain into the storehouse. Yet the useless husks he will incinerate with unquenchable fire.”

 

First Sunday of Advent

Advent begins the liturgical year of the church. The season’s focus is on the future; the Latin term adventus refers to what is coming from the unknown that always lies ahead in human experience. The First Sunday’s readings epitomize this focus by reaching their climax in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Here the condition of humanity at the time of Noah’s Flood is compared to its present condition, which awaits judgment by Jesus as the Son of Man. Paul’s charge to the Romans reminds his readers that the light that comes to illuminate all things at the end of time is present already as an imperative of ethical transformation. Special consideration is accorded the Scriptures of Israel during Advent, because they articulate promises which Jesus and the New Testament insist are in the process of being realized. Isaiah, in a classic passage of prophecy, envisions universal peace and a gathering of all nations at Mount Zion. The celebration of Jerusalem in Psalm 122 within this cycle of readings conveys a sense of a glorious past as prelude to the final glory of the future.

The First Reading
Isaiah 2:1-5
A Promise of Justice and Peace

Isaiah’s vision is set at the end of a critical period of time, “after these days.” Following chapter 1 with its strong assertion of God’s judgment against injustice, it offers assurance of God’s ultimate reign. The vision shows humanity gathering at the Temple in Jerusalem, in the region of Judah, to learn God’s ways as the revealed guide for their conduct. It promises that divine justice, rendered by God among all peoples, will abolish war and even the weapons of war.

  • 1. The promise that Isaiah ben Amotz saw with regard to Judah and Jerusalem—
  • 2. It shall be after these days:
    • The mountain of the Lord’s Temple shall be established first among the mountains,
      exalted above the hills.
    • All the nations shall stream to it.
  • 3. And many peoples will go and say:
    • “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain,
      to the Temple of the God of Jacob.
    • God will instruct us from God’s own ways,
      so that we will walk in those paths.”
    • For instruction stems from Zion,
      the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
  • 4. The Lord shall sit as judge among the nations,
    • —-  —-rendering justice for many peoples.
    • They will pound their swords into plow-blades
      and their spears into pruning shears.
    • Nation will not raise the sword against nation;
      they will no longer even give war a thought.
  • 5. House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the Lord’s light!

The Psalm
Psalm 122
A Pilgrim’s Ode to Jerusalem

Expressing great joy at having reached Jerusalem, a pilgrim praises the city as a spiritual center (the location of God’s Temple) and national home (the seat of the throne of David). The psalm dates from after the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BCE), which had seen the Temple destroyed and Jerusalem devastated. It reflects the deep and continuing Jewish connection to God’s chosen city, especially the joy brought by Jerusalem’s having been rebuilt and restored to splendor.

  • A Song of Ascents, of David.
  • 1. I rejoiced when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the Temple of the Lord!”
  • 2. Our feet were standing within your gates, Jerusalem:
    • 3. Jerusalem, built up, as a city united all together;
    • 4. the city to which the tribes went up as pilgrims—
      the tribes of Yah!—
    • a witness for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
  • 5. For there sat the thrones of judgment,
    the thrones of the House of David.
  • 6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
    May those who love you, Jerusalem, find well-being.
  • 7. May there be peace on your ramparts,
    well-being in your royal halls.
  • 8. For the sake of my family and friends,
    I do pray for your peace.
  • 9. For the sake of the Temple of the Lord, our God,
    I seek your welfare.

The Second Reading
Romans 13:11-14
Admonition to Moral Alertness in Anticipation of the Lord’s Arrival

After citing hymnic material known in the Roman house churches, the Apostle Paul offers moral instruction that builds upon the hymn’s outlook on final salvation and judgment. Paul challenges his listeners to live according to the new age that has dawned with the heightened expectation that their salvation is soon to arrive.

Know the significance of this time—
          “The hour has already come for you to wake from sleep:
            Even now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
            The night is about over, the day draws near.
            So then, let us put aside the works of darkness,
            and wrap ourselves in the weapons of light.”
As in the daytime, let us conduct ourselves properly, not in partying and drunkenness, not in immoralities and indecency, not in bitter conflict and jealousy. Instead, wrap yourself in the Anointed Lord Jesus and do not encourage the flesh’s inclination to lust.

The Gospel
Matthew 24:36-44
The Unexpected Coming of the Son of Man

Advent readings point to the future as the time when God’s reign will at last be fulfilled. Still, these readings insist that God does not operate according to any schedule that people can know. Matthew’s presentation of this teaching expands on this point by comparing the present to the condition of humanity just prior to Noah’s Flood. Because people cannot know God’s timetable, one must live as though judgment is imminent, attending to God’s works and ways in the present. The passage closes with a call for such preparation.

“Concerning that day and hour,” [Jesus said to his committed students], “no one knows, neither the messengers of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Exactly as the days of Noah were, so will be the Son of Man’s arrival for judgment. As in those days before the flood people simply went about eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark, and they were oblivious till the flood came and took everyone—so the Son of Man’s arrival for judgment will be. Then there will be two in the field: one taken away and one left. Two grinding at the mill: one taken away and one left. Be alert, then, because you do not know on which day your Lord comes! But this you do know: a householder who had known the nightwatch in which the thief was coming would have stayed alert and would not have permitted the home to be broken into! For this reason, prepare yourselves: the Son of Man comes at an hour you cannot discern.”