“Happy New Year!" (First Sunday of Advent)
(Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44)
Today we enter into the season of Advent, so it is appropriate to exclaim “Happy Advent!” Today is also the first Sunday of the liturgical year, which means this is the first Sunday of the church calendar, so we can also shout “Happy New Year!”
Celebrating a new year brings to mind the desire for renewal and transformation, as we seek to leave unhealthy lifestyles in the past in favor of living a better way, much like we do when we make New Year’s resolutions. I suggest this is what we find happening in today’s scripture readings-a desire to transform the past and present into something new and hopeful.
Today’s reading from Isaiah (2nd chapter) is preceded by Isaiah offering words of warning and judgment in the first chapter. Remembering that God formed the nation of Israel to be a light among the nations, Isaiah sees the opposite at work; injustice, idolatry and violence prevailing among the people. So in the 1st chapter we find Isaiah addressing the past and present (see Isaiah 1:4, 17 as examples). However, in the 2nd chapter (today’s reading) we find not a reference to the past, but of Isaiah’s hope for the future (see Isaiah 2:2-5, which includes “He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths”, and “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”) So again, it is appropriate that on this New Year’s Day (church calendar) we sense Isaiah looking at the past and present while yearning for renewal ahead.
The Matthew reading includes Jesus looking toward the future, but his words are preceded by an examination of the past and present, and he doesn’t like what he sees (read the “woe unto you” verses in Matthew 23:13-29.) Jesus’ words in today’s passage were prompted by this question from the disciples: “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Read Matthew 24:1-3 for context.) In today’s reading we find part of Jesus’ reply to this question as he looks toward the future-the coming of a Kingdom established through Christ; Jesus implored us to be ready for it in verse 44. So as is the case with Isaiah, in these words from Jesus we find both a looking back and a looking forward (appropriate for this “New Year’s” Sunday.)
Today as we acknowledge Isaiah and Jesus’ desire to renew the past in favor of a future more reflective of hope, mercy and justice, it is good for us to do the same. When we look around at our current state of affairs as Isaiah and Jesus did, what do we see? Do we see Kingdom building happening? Do we see the church as a light unto the world? Along with looking around we need to look inward as well. Where have we been in the past year? What needs redemption in the future?
Happy Advent to you, and happy (church) New Year too! May we be transformed and renewed as we journey through the season of Advent, toward the promise of Emmanuel at Christmas.