The Rev. Jim McDonald
St. Andrew’s, Mountain Home
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
I won’t asked for a show of hands, but how many of you noticed that we started our new church year last Sunday with a reading from the 13th Chapter of Mark and today we began the second Sunday of our new year with the first eight verses? Seems odd, doesn’t it?
We are now in Year B of our lectionary in which the Gospel of Mark is our principle Gospel for our Sunday readings. Yet, we began near the end of it, and then jump back to the beginning. Next Sunday we’ll be reading from the Gospel of John. Clearly our lectionary was not designed to take us through the gospels verse by verse – so just what are they leading us to discover, or remember this Advent Season?
Advent is a season of preparation, the question is: “preparation for what?” The easy answer might be the birth of Christ, but that would only be partially correct.
The end of the church year is the Season after Pentecost (often referred to as “Ordinary Time”). In it we focus on growing in faith and we read about Jesus’ life and ministry. As this past season drew to a close, we read multiple accounts of Jesus making references to the Day of Judgment. Last Sunday you heard Father Tom read from Gospel of Mark of the “Son of Man coming in a cloud.” That passage was a continuation of what we had been hearing from the Gospel of Matthew, yet it was an Advent lesson.
Hearing on the first Sunday of Advent about the Son of Man coming reminds us that we not only preparing for the birth of Jesus, the messiah, God in the flesh. We are also preparing for Christ’s return. For us, then, our preparation for the arrival of the messiah is synonymous with our preparation for his return.
Early Christians began preparing for Christ’s return almost immediately after his ascension. They believed the second coming was imminent. Yet after a generation of waiting, Christ had not returned. People mocked them, much like those today who prophecy the impending apocalypse are ridiculed. Nearly 2,000 years later, we continue to prepare for Christ’s return.
Second Peter was written to those who could not understand why Christ had not returned, it addressed this period of waiting. Whether this letter was written by Peter immediately prior to his death or written by his followers as a tribute to Peter as many scholars believe is a subject of debate. But what is not in question is the fact that this letter addresses the concerns of early Christians who were being mocked by people because Christ has not yet returned.
Peter, or the author of this letter, makes two extremely important points in this passage. First, he turns to Scripture, using Psalm 90 to make the point that God’s time is not our time. Verse 4 of the 90th Psalm says, “For a thousand years in your sight is like yesterday when it is past.” Peter rephrases this and says, “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.”
That’s all well and good, but why? Why did they – and why do we suffer so long, why doesn’t Christ come sooner? The answer, according to Peter almost seems contradictory: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you.” So God’s patience is merciful, Peter continues: “[God is] not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
Here we have it! God does not want anyone of us to perish, so God waits for us, God allows us time to see the error of our ways and repent. Culturally, Americans tend to view the world as it relates to ourselves individually, us refers to you and me. But the tribe of Israel understood that God, the shepherd of the people of Israel, is waiting for God’s people (the tribe of Israel) to return to him. Yes, many people suffered and died as they have waited, but the tribe of Israel, God’s people, includes their ancestors, you and me, and those who have not yet been born. Their view of the world is much broader than our own.
Thus, God is waiting on each of us to do our part to bring about God’s Kingdom. As we do our part, then humanity is one step closer to realizing that new heaven and the new earth for which we are all created.
Turning to today’s Gospel, we note it begins with a paraphrase from today’s opening passage from Second Isaiah. Mark writes:
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
`Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,'”
John the Baptist is the voice who cries out in the wilderness, he is not only beckoning us to prepare the way; he tells us what we need to do – ask for forgiveness and open our hearts for a baptism by the Holy Spirit!
Looking more closely at the reading from Isaiah, we also note that Jesus is, for the people of Israel, the fulfillment of the prophecies and we learn that our God’s power is found in God’s mercy. Listen:
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!”
See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
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.
We know that Christ is the Good Shepherd who will gently lead the mother sheep – who will gather us like lambs in his arms and carry us in his bosom.
Christ comes with power and might and uses this power to gather us unto him. Christ’s love is reconciling. John the Baptist tells us much the same thing – Christ is coming to baptize us with the Holy Spirit. As with Isaiah, he reminds us of the importance of preparing ourselves – to make the path to our hearts straight, so that our sins do not serve as an impediment to the Holy Spirit working within our lives.