Advent Scripture Commentary (RCL) – PART ONE

Welcome to our Advent Scripture Commentary (RCL) series! In this series you’ll find four separate commentaries- one for each Sunday of Advent.

Advent 1 – Isaiaih 64:1-9; Psalms 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

The theme of this Sunday is the desire for God to act definitively in a world that desperately and hopefully waits for that action. Both in (“Third”) Isaiah’s cry out of the post-exilic wasteland and in the psalmist’s repentant plea and promise of faithfulness, biblical Israel witnesses to its confidence that the God who redeemed Israel from Egypt will also redeem them from the consequences of their sin and rebellion. Paul assures the Corinthians that God strengthens the people even as they wait for the consummation of the kingdom and Mark encourages wakefulness and alertness in that waiting time.

Several pitfalls await us in these passages if we are not careful and alert to them.

  • A judgmental presentation of life with and without Jesus Christ.
    Isaiah laments Israel’s sin, uncleanness, and iniquities (vv. 5-6), while Paul assured the Corinthians that they “lack no spiritual gift” (v. 7). The contrast could also imply incorrectly that Judaism looks forward to a day of fear and trembling, while Christianity looks forward to a day when a loving and familiar Jesus returns to rule in the kingdom.
  • Presenting Israel’s hope as more limited and the New Testament’s hope as universal and transcendent.
    The visions of Mark’s gospel and Paul’s letter both center on Jesus’s return at the culmination of the kingdom, while the psalm invokes God’s selection of a new earthly king (v. 17).
  • Focusing our attention as Christians on Jesus as God’s only picture of hope and promise.
    Paul’s reference to Jesus six times in seven verses is striking. If it is set against a backdrop of biblical Israel’s hope, this can suggest that God’s only gift of hope and promise is through Jesus and that neither Jews nor any others outside of Christianity can have any hope apart from Jesus.

These carry the unfortunate danger of playing into anti-Jewish and antisemitic stereotypes that still function, often unconsciously, in our society. These include the idea that the Old Testament God is angry and should be feared. Two others are that (1) Judaism is more concerned with this world and gaining earthly advantages than it is with spiritual life and health and (2) that God abandoned the Jewish people when “they rejected Jesus” and henceforth only those who believe in Jesus have any eternal hope. None of these is accurate to Judaism or to the Christian faith.

We can avoid going down these paths by noting and even emphasizing the continuities between the faith of biblical Israel and that of the New Testament writers.

  • Both Isaiah and the psalmist anticipate a day of God’s saving grace, with mercy that puts sin and faithfulness behind them, bringing restoration and joy.
  • Mark’s vision of the day of the Lord, the coming of the Son of Man, derives directly from the prophet Joel. The book of Isaiah certainly speaks of a universal hope for God’s reign (2:2-4).
  • Paul speaks in Romans of “the form of teaching to which you have been entrusted” (6:17), implying that there are other “forms of teaching” to which God has entrusted others. This is consistent with his emphasis on God’s equal care and saving power for Jews and Gentiles and with the words of Jesus in John’s gospel that “I have other sheep who are not of this flock” (10:16).