Monday, December 4, 2017

Advent 2B Readings & Commentaries

In the midst of the catastrophe and despair...Isaiah comes to speak an astounding word of “good tidings” (gospel).

1st Reading:  Isaiah 40:1-11
In the midst of the catastrophe and despair of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people in a foreign land, the voice of “Second” Isaiah comes to speak an astounding word of “good tidings” (gospel).  God is neither defeated nor dead.  God is “back” with words of comfort, hope and restoration.

40:1 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.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Our psalm shares the vision of Isaiah 40: a new shalom, a time of peace (wholeness) not just for Israel but for all creation.  In glorious language and imagery, the restoration is spoken into being. The nouns used in verse ten are among the most significant in biblical thought, and in Hebrew their meaning is rich:  ḥesed (mercy, steadfast love) and ‘emet (truth), ṣedāqâ (righteousness, justice) and shālôm (peace, well-being).

1       You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
                  you have restored the good fortunes of Jacob.
2       You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
                  and blotted out all their sins.
8       I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
                  for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
                  and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9       Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
                  that his glory may dwell in our land.
10     Mercy and truth have met together; *
                  righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11     Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
                  and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12     The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
                  and our land will yield its increase.
13     Righteousness shall go before him, *
              and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

2nd Reading:  2 Peter 3:8-15a
By the time Second Peter is written, the followers of Jesus are already uncertain about Jesus’ promised return.  Why is it taking so long?  The answer begins with an illusion to Scripture:  Psalm 90:4 (“For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past”).  God’s time is not our time, and we should be grateful if it seems like there is a delay.  It is for our salvation, giving time to us for repentance and faithfulness.

3:8 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; 15a and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:1-8
To open his story, Mark reaches back to Second Isaiah for a word to describe it:  “gospel,” or “good news/good tidings.”  It was also a word used in Roman political propaganda of the day, announcing military victories and other political “triumphs.”  This good news is a declaration of a new state of affairs initiated by God, first announced by John the Baptist.  The quote is actually a compilation of Isaiah 40:3 with Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1, thus conjuring up the first prophet, Moses, and the last, Malachi.  In addition, John is clothed as the great Elijah (2Kings 1:8).  Mark wants us to know something new and BIG is happening here!

1:1 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.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2017.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use, with attribution.

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