My apologies for not posting my thoughts for last week’s readings. I had a very busy schedule last week and did not make the time to share my sermon preparation with you.
Last week, the Church entered the season of Advent. While the popular understanding of Advent is that it is a countdown to Christmas (complete with calendars), the true purpose of Advent is to point us forward in time. The hope of Advent finds its fulfillment not at the first arrival of Christ, when Mary gave birth to Jesus, but the second arrival of Christ, when Jesus will return to Earth as the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven. On that day, the Lord will fulfill all of the promises given to us: resurrection; forgiveness and justification before the throne of God; and salvation and eternal life in the Lord’s kingdom, the New Jerusalem on Earth.
On this upcoming Sunday, we also have a baptism scheduled, which narrows the focus for sermon preparation. While I will give my thoughts on all of the readings, it will be evident that my sermon will focus on one particular reading this week.
As always, I invite you to leave your comments and questions below. I would especially appreciate your feedback this week as I missed my weekly text study meeting due to an unexpected issue. I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Isaiah 40:1 – 11
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
6 A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"
10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Isaiah 40 is a classic Advent passage. “Prepare the way of the Lord…” But the true hope comes in the second half of the passage: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Even if all created things die and fade away, the Lord can (and will) create all things new and gather all things within the flock of his sheep. This is the message of hope that we can proclaim from the top of mountains (and other places, too).
Psalm 85: 1 – 2, 8 – 13
LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah
8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
The connection between Psalm 85 and Isaiah 40 likely comes from verse 13: “Righteousness shall go before the Lord and shall prepare for God a pathway.” But you can also look at the first two verses in Psalm 85 and the similar blotting out of sins and the forgiveness of old iniquities. It’s almost as though Psalm 85 addresses a people preparing to return from exile, the time that Isaiah 40 describes.
2 Peter 3:8 – 15a
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.
9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,
12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?
13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish;
15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
2 Peter 3 proclaims that the Lord views/experiences time much differently that we do; this makes sense, for time is something created by the Lord. While we may experience the Lord as “slow” to fulfill the Lord’s promises, we remain patient because the Lord is not bound by time. However, one must wonder what the author means when he asks “what sort of persons ought you to be in…hastening the coming of the day of God…” What can we do to make the Lord appear sooner rather than later? 2 Peter 3 seems to suggest that the Lord is waiting for all to repent. Others suggest that the Lord is waiting for a global conflict between certain powers, and the Lord will return during that conflict; this is similar to the belief of Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who stated a belief that the 12th Imam would return during a great conflict with Israel. This question of what it looks like to “hasten” the day of the Lord is something I want to investigate, if only for my own curiosity.
Mark 1:1 – 8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'"
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Mark 1 is a presentation of John the Baptist as the messenger sent by the Lord to be the voice in the wilderness crying “Prepare the way of the Lord!” At that time, many people practiced baptism as a ritual for repentance. John seems to be leading this type of ritual (especially in the accounts in other Gospels), but he points to another leader who will bring a different kind of baptism, a baptism with the Holy Spirit. This is the baptism we will witness on Sunday. Yes, this baptism involves water, but the key action is not my action or the parents’ action(s), but the Lord’s action through this water, sealing the child by the Holy Spirit and marking (with olive oil) this child with the cross of Christ Jesus forever.