Reflection on This Week’s Readings


When discouragement is so thick that we can’t see a way forward, what helps us to move once again? What can rekindle our hope? God led the Israelites out of Egypt the long way around. When we can’t see ahead, we may need a voice that creatively pulls us outward, or backward.

The earliest generations of Christians, like their enslaved and exiled ancestors, were surrounded by self-congratulatory nonsense. The Roman world was awash in announcements of the “good news” of imperial victories, favors, and festivals. One widely copied text celebrated the birthday of “our God” Caesar as “the beginning of good news for the world because of him.” Gospel writers reached outward to take up the Roman empire’s language and bend it. The title of Mark’s gospel, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” took something familiar and made it startlingly new.

God led the Israelites out of Egypt through the sea. Centuries later, the prophet Isaiah reached back to that story to proclaim a new exodus, out of Babylon through the desert. And centuries later, John the Baptist reached back to Isaiah’s fulfilled promises to say a new thing. “All” the people of Jerusalem and people from the “whole” countryside responded. That’s a lot of people! Whatever their numbers, they could act knowing that they were not alone. Community provided comfort and strength. Those who broke routine to trek out to the desert, confess their sins, and be plunged into the River Jordan were retracing the routes of their ancestors by going back to the waters and symbolically crossing again—together.

In Advent, our countercultural season, we also reach out and reach back. Together we begin our church year by returning to the beginning of our life in faith: holy baptism. In Isaiah and Mark we hear voices speaking comfort, crying out, heralding good tidings. And then, even in wilderness, we begin to find and make a way.


Second Sunday in Advent

The origin of Advent as a season of fasting to prepare for baptisms at Epiphany is evident on the second Sunday, which introduces the preaching and baptismal ministry of John the Baptist. God comes, in the past in the history of Israel and the incarnation of Jesus, in the present in the word and sacrament of each Sunday, and in the future at the end of all things. The preaching of John the Baptist calls us to prepare for God—perhaps in many ways quite different from our preparing for Christmas.
By connecting John the Baptist with Elijah, Isaiah, Malachi, and the Jordan, Mark introduces Jesus as the culmination of Jewish tradition. This reading exemplifies the reason that Christians have continued to proclaim the Old Testament, without which countless New Testament references make no sense. So John the Baptist is not a crazed wild man, but like the prophets of old is the mouthpiece of God. The Christ who came, who comes, and who will come brings God’s Holy Spirit to us.
The passage is chosen to proclaim the Isaiah passage quoted by Mark. We too are like grass, soon to die. Yet we hear the comforting promise that, as we wait for the end of our sufferings, God will care for us like a mother sheep her lambs.
After hearing God’s promise in Isaiah, we sing together Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, a prayer for God to forgive and restore us. Just as God forgave the Israelites, so we too ask for God’s peace. The psalm concludes with a reference to the pathway prepared for God’s arrival.
The excerpt from 2 Peter contains both “law” and “gospel”: the earth will come to an end, until which we are supposed to live in perfection; but, mercifully, God promises a new creation. We taste the beginning of that new creation at holy communion today.
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