1. Isaiah 40, 1-5 and 9-11
- Today, a week after
Advent officially started, I am presented with words that could most fittingly open the season, words with which Handel began
The Messiah. Indeed I can take my cue from that oratorio and its forthright style.
- I hear three oracles
that are loosely connected, and that build toward encounter with God in Zion. The first message is as clear and assuring as can be. Comfort, give
comfort. I hear these encouraging words of deliverance, placed in God’s voice,
and I will find the way to bring them up to date for our congregation.
- Then comes another
voice that cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! I
think of the vast road building projects of the Roman Empire and the Camino Real in Spanish America, each of which linked
scattered populations with the great metropolis. Today we remember those who were scattered after the Babylonian
exile, and God’s command for them to return to the Promised Land. I will use my voice today to remind
our own scattered people to walk home in spirit through filled in valleys, lowered mountains and
hills, and flattened plains.
- Finally we acknowledge the presence of
God with the whole people in Jerusalem: Here comes with power the Lord God. Why
shouldn’t I dare to Cry out at the top of your voice? Amid the secular noise of
pre-Christmas that ends in mere exhausted emptiness of yuletide glitter, we bear witness to the God who is always present
with the people of the covenant.
- High point: It comes at the beginning with the repetition of Comfort,
- Climax: A new and more imposing theophany than the people ever knew in the days of the
two kingdoms. Here is your God!
- Message for our assembly: Let us
regain our focus on the faithful God who came to share our humanity, at a time when we are exceedingly distracted by other
- I will challenge myself: To catch the cry of comfort, to make it infectious for my listeners by sustaining my own
II Peter 3, 8-14
- I share the scholarly consensus that this letter, although attributed
to Peter, appeared long after that apostle’s death, and is one of the latest in the Bible.
- The passage presents
an alternative picture of the time to come from that contained in the first reading. It cites several familiar
images from the apocalyptic genre: the day of the Lord, the heavens passing away and the elements
dissolved by fire. I emphasize the fact that every-thing is to be dissolved,
and as I do it I appeal to our general attachment to material objects and benchmarks. I want to shift our
attention to God’s time as I read.
- From the beginning, we have held that this world will pass
away and have hoped for the coming of Christ. And so I dare to speak today of our deeper hope, with bold
confidence and without a trace of fear mongering.
- The calm conviction of my reading may lead to a more sober assent by my listeners, as they
realize the need for holiness in conduct and devotion and a life at peace in God’s sight.
According to the apostle, it is a matter of the Lord’s coming but also our waiting for and hastening
We await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
- The message for
our assembly: We are encouraged to prepare the way by our lives of holiness and devotion, being always at
peace with each other.
- I will challenge myself: To aim not for terror but for a spirit of watchful waiting,
for a new heaven and a new earth.
Gospel. Mark 1, 1-8
- The beginning
of Mark is obvious to everyone: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
- Mark opens with a prophecy
(As it is written…) and finishes with its fulfillment (John the Baptist appeared…).
This pattern is typical of all the Gospels, and I can vary my presentation to make these two sections evident.
- All the Gospels
begin the narration of Jesus’ public life with John the Baptist. Mark makes it clearest of them all
that John lived in the desert and renounced worldly comforts to await the Lord’s coming. I hear these
details: clothed in camel’s hair, meals of locusts and wild honey.
- But most of all I hear
John’s message: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Two things
went together and should always be so: the people were being baptized by him as they acknowledged their sins.
- I hear that a lot of people
went to John: the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I note
that here no one goes with the intention of challenging John, as the other evangelists report. And this,
despite the novelty of John’s ministry of cleansing outside of the temple ritual. It is more closely
connected with prophetic imperatives (hear the quotes from Malachi and Isaiah) than with Torah prescriptions.
I should express surprise and fascination with his innovative ministry.
- The Climax comes early, from John’s tie-in with the ancient
prophecy: A voice of one crying out in the desert. I’m not so concerned with the
correct grammar (look at the first reading today) as I am with the direct and controversial actions of John along the Judean
frontier. I hear a second climax in the final verse, in which John announces the coming mission of Jesus,
with actions that are equally innovative and controversial because they also take place outside the temple ritual: He
will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
- Message for our assembly: The church, following in John’s steps, invites us to seek
an inner and outer cleansing of mind and body, in all times and places.
- I will challenge myself: To make this gathering of the poor of
Israel along the Jordan ring with significance for those members of my congregation who have not had the chance to really
listen to this reading until now.
Word to Eucharist:
This procession is the high point of our week, but something is still missing. Let us recall our proclamation: "until
you come again."