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Advent 2 (B)
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Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

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, give 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 worldly tasks.
  • I will challenge myself: To catch the cry of comfort, to make it infectious for my listeners by sustaining my own joy.

 

2. 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 the coming.
  • Climax: 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."

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