Advent means “coming,” and Advent celebrates God as the God who comes near to His people. This year we are using Heb. 11:10 as the thematic touchstone for the season: “For he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Summary of the texts: Hebrews describes the faith of Abraham in terms of cities and homelands. By faith he obeyed when he was called to go out to a foreign land (11:8-9). He and all his descendents died in faith, confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth, seeking a homeland (11:13-14). Had they thought about it, they may have wished to go back to where they came from (11:15). Instead, they were looking for a heavenly city, and that’s exactly what God was preparing for them (11:16). Wound through this city/homeland language are specific instances of faith particularly tied to Sarah conceiving and bearing a son (11:11) and Abraham offering up Isaac and receiving him back (11:17-19). In other words, the kind of city/homeland he was seeking is one characterized by obedience and the powerful working of God. This is faith.
In Genesis 22, Abraham is commended by God particularly because he obeyed the voice of the Lord (Gen. 22:18). As Hebrews has noted, Abraham obeys in confidence believing that God will provide one way or another (Gen. 22:5, 8). Abraham was no stoic; when God provides the substitute ram, Abraham’s worship is shaped by God’s provision (Gen. 22:14). The other thing to note is that Abraham’s test takes place on Mt. Moriah, the later site of the temple (Gen. 22:2, 2 Chr. 3:1).
In the gospel lesson, Jesus is on Mt. Moriah at the temple (12:35) watching people putting money into the treasury (12:41). He has just warned His disciples about the scribes and the city they are building (12:38-40). One of the marks of their coercive tactics is the devouring of widows’ houses, and then the gospel proceeds to describe a widow’s house being devoured (12:44). This scene can be described both in terms of the evil of the scribes and in terms of the heroism of the widow. What the scribes mean for evil, God overrides for her good (cf. Gen. 50:20). The widow is the hero of the story, putting in all she had, her whole livelihood (12:44) just as Abraham had done many centuries before, offering his son, his only son, his whole livelihood.
Jesus goes on to proclaim the judgment of the temple (13:1-2) which is coming in part because of the oppressive and hypocritical regime of the scribes, but this is also to make way for a new city, a new Jerusalem, built out of people who live by faith, who give all that they have and are to God. This will be possible because, as always, “God will provide,” and here Jesus particularly promises the Holy Spirit who will provide for His disciples even while they are on trial and being betrayed and hated by those closest to them. Instead of filling a build with the fire-presence of the Spirit, Jesus promises to fill His people so that they will be God’s holy house (1 Pet. 2:5).
Ultimately this is all possible only because God is the first to display this kind of courageous, risk-taking faithfulness. God is the greater Abraham who gives His own Son, His only Son to die on another mountain as sacrifice for sin and a display of His love and power.
Faith means seeing the end while still at the beginning or in the middle of the story. Having some idea of the end goal is necessary for every building project: family, children, discipleship, church, business, etc. Ultimately, we look to the final end, the Second Coming and the completed New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Rev. 21). These are the blueprints for the building project we are in the middle of.
Individuals: In order to “see” the coming city, we need to ask God to show it to us. He does this centrally in and through His word. We must be people of the word. But this also includes prayer. Do you spend time in the word regularly, asking God to teach you, lead you, speak to you?
Families: In the gospel lesson, there are scribes, widows, and disciples. The widow is the hero of the story, and the upshot of Christ’s prophecy is that the disciples will become like the widow (Mk. 13:9-13). While the promise of the Holy Spirit is to us and to our children (Acts 2), we must not allow family to displace the mission of Jesus. Instead, we must seek first the Kingdom and trust that all these things will be added.
Worship & Community: The mission of God is to build a city out of sacrificial widows and old men. The Kingdom is a city building project. Nothing is built apart from the Spirit. The Spirit hovers over creation, the Spirit fills the project managers of the Tabernacle, and Jesus ultimately promises the Spirit to all of His disciples. The center of the Church is worship with music and singing and gladness which is one of the central ways God’s Spirit comes upon His people (Nehemiah).