Weekly Liturgy booklets
Notes on the Service for November 29, 2020
Isa. 64:1–9a • Ps. 80:1–7, 16–18 • 1 Cor. 1:3–9 • Mark 13:24–37
The church year begins with longing for redemption. The words wait and watch appear in the first reading, epistle, and Gospel as they assure us that salvation is coming. Coming is in Latin adventus. During the 6th–9th centuries, Advent ran for 40 days, like Lent. Advent’s sober violet or blue color suits the waiting, not the shopping, season.
Written for the 1549 Prayer Book, today’s collect is made of antitheses: cast away darkness/put on light; mortal life/life immortal; great humility/glorious majesty. To cast off darkness, we ask the help of the One who said “Let there be light,” and who “works for those who wait.”
In a passage we read last Sunday, Ezekiel had promised that God would be a Good Shepherd to bring home exiles. But when the exiles did start returning in the 530s BCE, they found ruins. Two lines past today’s excerpt say “our holy and beautiful house where our fathers praised thee, has been burned by fire.” This lament was written by a returned exile (often called “Third Isaiah”) who was disheartened at the desolation. Have we not suffered enough? he asks. “Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father... remember not our iniquity forever,” he pleads.
“How long wilt thou be angry?” is asked also by today’s psalmist. Psalm 80 is thought to have been written on the occasion of an earlier defeat when in 722 BCE the northern Kingdom was devastated by Assyria, but one could imagine its being used by the returnees of Third Isaiah’s time. Their refrain, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts...and we shall be saved,” appears in vv 3, 7, and 18. “Stir up thy strength and come and help us,” v 2, will be Advent’s mantra, as in the Advent III collect, “Stir up thy power, O Lord,... and come.”
Just as the faithful in the Hebrew Bible were those who waited for God, so the congregation being addressed in this first epistle of the new year is the ones who “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that in this letter’s opening paragraph Paul writes “called” four times: saints are those called by God and those who call upon God.
Like its parallels from Matthew read on previous Sundays, today’s Mark passage is from the section in the Gospels just before Jesus’ arrest, where he tells his followers to watch like doorkeepers for his, the Messiah’s, unscheduled but certain second advent on judgment day. Jesus warns his followers to be alert. His saying that “this generation will not pass away before all these things come to pass” puzzles many who wonder if Jesus were mistaken, or Mark were.
—Rev. Stephen Weissman | St. Louis, Missouri
Reprinted with permission.
November 29, 2020