Ask your presider to tell your listeners (or tell them yourself):

First Sunday of Advent, Year C, November 29, 2015

Before the first reading:

In the memory of Israel and Judah, their early king David had set the standards for all later kings. The people thought their national fortunes rose and fell with the virtue of their kings. In a time of national peril, Jeremiah predicts what a new, good king, descended from David, will do for the nation.

After the psalm, before the second reading:

Saint Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians at an early time when he and they believed Jesus was soon to come again. Here Paul gives them two ways to get ready.

Before the gospel acclamation:

Today's gospel also preserves a memory of early Christians' expectation that the Son of Man would come again, to judge the world. Hear the differences between what the prepared can expect and what the unprepared must face.

First Reading, Jeremiah 33:14-16

The Historical Situation: Scholar Peter F. Ellis, in The Collegeville Bible Commentary -- Old Testament (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992) lists these among the highlights of Jeremiah's career. "He grew up during the reign of King Josiah (630-609 B.C.E.), when Judah was at peace and when king, priests and people were engaged in a revitalization of Mosaic faith and worship... During the forty or so years he served as a prophet (626-580), the kingdom of Judah went through one religious reformation (626-609); three wars (against Egypt, 609; against Babylon, 597 and 587); three exiles (597, 587 and 582); and five Davidic kings..."

The prophet made enemies among his own people during his long career. Today's passage is from one of the points where he's imprisoned in Jerusalem, which itself is under siege. Yet Jeremiah has a hopeful message.

Understanding the Details: He specifies a promise made to both Israel and Judah because the once united tribes of Israel had split into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms, which still maintained much in common culture and religion.

What does it mean to raise up for David a just shoot? David was this people's first great king, and he became the standard by which subsequent kings were measured. "Shoot" is an image from farming or gardening, meaning a young growth off a mature plant. In the minds of these people, their fortunes were linked to the justice of their king. So a just shoot for David means a new king, descended from David, whose justice will have positive effects among the people.

Just as we formally name our infants at baptism, the time of their rebirth, and just as some monks and nuns take new names when they adopt the new life of their orders, Jeremiah says this reborn people will get a new name: "The Lord our justice."

Proclaiming It: Emphasize the future tense verbs (which are all the verbs), because the events promised contrast so completely with the current reality of Jeremiah and the people. Slow down and pronounce solemnly the last sentence with its new name for Judah/Jerusalem, "The Lord our justice."

Second Reading, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

The Historical Situation: Readings in early Advent always carry forward the theme of Jesus' coming again from the last Sundays of the previous year. At the time Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (rather early in his apostolic career) he and they believed Jesus was to return soon. His coming will mean the end of history and the judgment of all peoples. So the long first sentence of today's reading means, in short, "grow in love so you're ready to stand before God when Jesus comes."

Proclaiming It: In your proclamation, break up that long sentence with pauses and changes in your tone of voice.

The second long sentence, and the third with it, just say in effect, "keep up the good work, as I taught you." This, too, is a challenging mouthful to proclaim intelligibly. You might practice with a family member who has not read the text ahead of time. Proclaim it to this listener until he or she can paraphrase it correctly, as above.

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Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

A 2015 painting by Mike Holdinghaus, of Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A. Used with permission. See more of Mike's work here. And click here for a larger version of this painting.

Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.

This page updated October 4, 2015