Advent 1: KEEPING FAITH IN THE PROMISE

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SET READINGS

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Luke 21:25-36
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Psalm 25:1-9

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TRACING YOUR FAMILY TREE

Family trees and genealogies are a very important aspect of the Old Testament historical record. Have you tried tracing your own family tree?

  • How far back have you got?
  • Have you found any surprising results?.. notable ancestors, or skeletons on the cupboard?
  • Have you watched any episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?” Did you find any of the celebrities’ stories especially memorable?

When looking at our own family trees, we are, for obvious reasons, always looking backwards. While the Old Testament record also traces the genealogies of important characters by looking backwards, there is also a strong thread of Old Testament scripture that looks prophetically forward:

The offspring of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head.

The seed of Abraham through whom “all the nations of the world will be blessed”.

The one to come from the tribe of Judah who will command “the obedience of the nations”.

The future son of David whose kingdom will last forever.

  • Do you have any hopes and aspirations for those who will follow after you in your own family tree?
  • What would you like them to achieve in their lives?

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KEEP ON BELIEVING – THE COMING KING (Jeremiah 33:14-16 )

At the time when Jeremiah predicts the arrival of a descendant from the line of David, the birth of this “Righteous Branch” is still around 600 years in the future. (Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry runs from about 626 to 586 BC).

Jeremiah’s prophecy builds on previous passages of Scripture. God promised to David himself:

When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.  (1 Chronicles 17:11-12 NIV)

In the immediate context this promise refers to David’s son Solomon, but there are Messianic overtones that clearly look forward to another more distant fulfilment in the promised Messiah.

That Messianic promise is eloquently summed up by Isaiah in another well-known passage:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. ….. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

But after the reign of David and Solomon, David’s descendants became more and more corrupt, and further and further removed from David’s example, who was “a man after God’s own heart”. There were sporadic attempts to restore the nation of Judah to serving the Living God, but the general movement was towards corruption and idolatry, until Israel was judged by God, defeated and taken into captivity by Assyria, and Judah was defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar and taken into exile in Babylon.

The last King of Judah, Zedekiah, was captured, blinded, and died in exile in 586 BC (possibly the same year that Jeremiah died). By all accounts, David’s dynasty had come to an end. The tree had become rotten, and had fallen into ruin. Only a stump was left (see Isaiah 11:1). But it was not entirely dead.

Bearing in mind that both Isaiah and Jeremiah were preaching/prophesying at the time when Judah was falling into ruin and the last King of Judah was dying in exile, it must have taken a tremendous strength of faith to foresee the line of David’s dynasty stretching into the future, and to see the birth of a coming king from the line of David.

By the time Jesus was born almost 600 years has passed since Jeremiah’s prophecy. Yet there were at least a few faithful God-fearing Jews who were looking for the fulfilment of the promise.

  • Can you think of some examples? [Hint: see Jesus’ presentation at the Temple, in Luke 2]
  • What were some of the spiritual qualities that enabled these faithful servants of the Lord to continue hoping for fulfilment? How did this hope affect their lives?

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus continues to trace Jesus’ line of descent from Jehoiachin, who preceded Zedekiah as king (Matthew refers to him by his alternative name of Jeconiah) through his son Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, and other descendants whom we would never had heard of without Matthew’s genealogical record. But they all are necessary to complete a valid line of descent from King David, proving that Jesus has a perfect right to claim the throne of Israel.

[Note that although Jesus was not biologically Joseph’s son, he would have been legally considered as an adoptive son with the right to inherit Joseph’s position as a true descendant of David. It’s the legal position, not the biological relationship which is in focus in Matthew’s genealogy.]

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KEEP ON BELIEVING – HE’S COMING AGAIN (Luke 21:25-36)

Our NT readings this week both remind us that there are still Biblical prophecies to be fulfilled, and just like Anna and Simeon at the time of Jesus’ birth, we need to be ready and prepared for Jesus to come again in glory. But when that happens, just as it was when the first promise was fulfilled, the majority of people will be unprepared, and the coming of Jesus will happen unexpectedly like a thief in the night-time.

Jesus’ words in Luke assure us that the promise will certainly be fulfilled. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” We must make sure that we are continually ready, reading the signs, waiting for our redemption to come.

“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” 

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… AND MAKE SURE YOU’RE READY FOR THE BIG DAY (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)

Paul’s concern is that the believers in Thessalonica will grow in faith and maturity, that their love for one another will increase and overflow, that God will strengthen their hearts so that they become holy and blameless.

Why? So that they will be ready to stand in the presence of God the Father when Jesus comes again. Paul’s concern has a very practical purpose, but it also has eternal consequences. Those who failed to read the signs and recognize Jesus as Messiah when he came to redeem his chosen people ended up losing their opportunity for salvation. We don’t want to make the same mistake when Jesus comes again. 

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For discussion……

The New Testament readings both remind us that we should be looking forward to the fulfilment of another promise – the promise of a second coming of Jesus.

  • Almost 2,000 years has passed since the promise was made. Do you think you have the same degree of hope that Simeon and Anna had in the fulfilment of the promise of a first coming?
  • What spiritual qualities mark the kind of people who are waiting and ready for Jesus’ return? (according to the passages in Luke and 1 Thessalonians).
  • How should the expectation of Jesus’ return affect our daily lives?

Luke 21:34 tells us:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

“Dissipation” is translated alternatively as “excess”, “debauchery”,  “partying”. The attitude which is being condemned here is that shown by the rich man in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:16-21) whose philosophy is to “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”.

Maybe we are past our years of late night parties and revelry (if we ever did enjoy such things!) but we are certainly capable of being burdened and distracted by the “anxieties of life”.

  • What particular cares and anxieties are you coping with right now?
  • (If you are in a group situation) discuss how you can help one another to put aside those daily cares and anxieties, and focus your mind, during this season of Advent, on anticipating and celebrating the coming of Jesus the Saviour of the world.

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For meditation and prayer…

In Psalm 25 it’s evident that David is aware of his own past sins – “the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways”. His prayer suggests there is at least a chance that past indiscretions might come back to “put him to shame”, and give his enemies an opportunity to attack him. But David’s overwhelming attitude is one of calmness, trust and hope in God his Saviour.

Use these words to meditate, to bring you own anxieties and concerns to God, and to seek his guidance as you move deeper into your own personal relationship with this good and upright God, the God who always keeps his promises.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.

Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame,

but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths;

guide me in your truth and teach me,

 for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;

according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

(Psalm 25:1-9 NIV)