The First Reading from Isaiah 40:1-11
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak 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.3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every 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. 5Then the glory of the Lordshall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9Get 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!” 10See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11He 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.
2 Peter 3:8-15
8But 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.9The 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. 10But 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. 11Since 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,12waiting 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? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Advent II– God is in this Relationship for the Long Haul
By Mother Beth
Last week in Mark we heard about the ending – not just the ending of the book but the end of this world. This week Mark opens with a beginning. This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God. It seems an odd place to start – there is no nativity story – no lineage – no Mary and Joseph with dreams or angelic visitations.
Mark starts further back – with a quote from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. And this is important because the truth is the good news about Jesus and it does not start with a baby in a manger – but rather with a promise.
A promise that goes way back to the beginning of all things. If you have ever had the opportunity to celebrate Lessons and Carols – you will remember that we trace the coming of Jesus back to Genesis to show that Christ is a promise right from the beginning of the world.
Jesus is not God’s back-up plan but Jesus was God’s plan all along.
And Mark makes this point about Jesus by starting his gospel with a quote from Isaiah – showing that Isaiah foretold about John the Baptist – the man who would come before the Messiah – the man who would prepare the way for the Christ.
We hear in our 2 Peter reading that “9The 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.” God takes the time and patience to wait on people – so that they would be able to come to a place of repentance – to come to the end of themselves – to hit the bottom, so to speak and realize that they need a Saviour.
The beginning of the story is the very beginning of time.
And Mark writes that it is the beginning of good news – which is the gospel – literally good news. So what is good?
And what is news in the Christmas story? We have heard it over and over again. We can tell it in our sleep. It has become nostalgic and we know it by rote.
Doing the same thing over and over is not news – Christmas brings with it a measure of memory and nostalgia – if you’re a traditionalist at heart – doing things the same you always have is comfortable and important. But what is news about that? How can we listen with new ears this year? How can we celebrate in a way that honours the faithfulness of the past and looks forward to the future with expectancy?
The Isaiah reading that we hear today is a cry to be comforted. Are we more interested in being comfortable then comforted or comforting? The Advent Conspiracy program talks about the idea that Christmas is a love story – that God pours out his love for us – in coming to be one of us – pitching his tent among us and yet at Christmas we are often celebrating another kind of love story. A weird love story that involves people pushing and shoving others at Black Friday sales or going into debt to give extravagant gifts to their children.
Think about the fact that going to the mall becomes a Christmas worship experience for many. They line up to get in and make plans and preparations for what they will accomplish while there. People look for meaning in the purchase of things. And honestly I will tell you it is hard not to get pulled into that love story and that worship experience because that has become just as much about nostalgia and tradition as the story of Jesus as a baby in a manger. We celebrate both the consumerism story and the story of Jesus alongside each other and we have become comfortable with that.
I am right there with you and I am not suggesting that we don’t give gifts to our family or friends this year. I am asking us to consider the words we hear this morning in the gospel of Mark…
What is the good news about Jesus Christ? We have heard it and we have memorized it but have we truly let it impact our lives? Have we been transformed by it?
Perhaps the only way to experience the good news is to move out of what is comfortable – and shake things up.
One Christmas we had the experience of being in a rental home with all of my treasured ornaments and Christmas paraphernalia in storage and being without those things helped me to think about Christmas in a different way. It helped me to really think about what was important about the celebration of Christ come to live among us. It helped me to think about all the people, in my community and around the world, who did not have access to all the trappings of Christmas. I am not suggesting that you all need to go and get rid of everything or pack it all away. I am suggesting that being uncomfortable or displaced can help us to experience the good news as news – as something fresh and inviting – not just the same old, same old.
The gospel of Mark reminds us that the good news of Jesus comes to a people who have been waiting and watching for a Saviour. A people who respond to the preparation of John the Baptist who calls for the baptism of repentance.
Are we waiting and watching for a Saviour? Are we calling out to be comforted? Or maybe we have been lulled into the comfortable place of nostalgia and sentimentality. Rather than Advent being a time of expectancy and preparation – of allowing the good news of Jesus Christ to transform us – we are content with the story of the innocent baby in a manger that is no threat to us or our lifestyle.
Do we recognize the miracle that the coming of Christ is? Do we recognize our own need for a Saviour? Is the nativity story just another tradition that we are happy to unpack at Christmas, along with Santa?
Do we hear in the promise of the prophets the love of God that waits patiently for us? God is in this relationship business for the long haul. I remember one day sitting in a church and looking at the nativity figures and realizing that God’s plan involved thousands of years and many generations. I thought about all those people who watched and waited – who did not lose faith despite the fact that very little seemed to change in their lifetime. I thought about how quick I am to grow tired of waiting for God to answer my prayer. How quickly I lose sight of the plan or the trajectory that God has put me on.
God’s plan is to draw all people to himself – to reach as many as he can. Can we hear in the words of the prophet, the beauty of a great love that calls to us both from a time and a place far away and from the here and now?
May God give us new eyes and open hearts to receive in a new way the message of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.
May God give us ears to hear the story of the God of love who waits patiently for his people to turn to him and continues to send messages of love.
May God give us hearts to receive in both old, traditional ways and in new, exciting ways the good news of the gospel.