This Sunday we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent. As we begin our second week of Advent this Sunday, the readings call upon us to think about ways: the ways to our hearts and the ways that our lives are going. In the ancient world, roads were leveled and cleared of stones as the monarch approached. Thus his way would be smooth and clear when he arrived with great fanfare. In the Gospel, John the Baptizer bursts into the world to proclaim that the King is on His way. So too we must prepare the way to and into our own hearts for the coming of our King. The repentance preached by John is required for us today just as it was required for the group of hearers gathered on the banks of the Jordan. By repentance, we remove the obstacles of sin and selfishness that block the entrances of our hearts. Only when they are removed can we truly embrace Christ as Ruler of our lives. We will then echo the cry of the prophet from the first reading to rejoice. God Himself is leading us on our way to the promised land of His presence. If we rely upon Him, He will level our path and bring us to the destination to which He has called us. The Second Letter of Peter reminds us that God does not need our clocks and calendars. He will do things in His own time not ours. We know not when Jesus will return but we are certain that He will. When He does return, will we be ready to welcome Him?
First Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
1 Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
4 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all mankind shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
[6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
I answer, “What shall I cry out?”
“All mankind is grass,
and all their glory like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.
(So then, the people is the grass.)
8 Though the grass withers and the flower wilts,
the word of our God stands forever.”]
9 Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
10 Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 40:1-2 The scene here, as envisioned by many scholars, is one of God addressing a heavenly assembly. A long and consistent Biblical tradition portrays a group of heavenly beings who hear and ratify divine decisions. Some scholars have suggested an assembly of God’s prophets among whom stands the writer. See Amos 3:7.
* 40:1 The double imperative, “Comfort, Comfort” is the first of many appearing in Isaiah (51:9, 17; 52:1; 57:14; 62:10).
The terms, “my people” and “your God” refer to the covenant bonding Israel and Yahweh (Jer 31:1,33).
* 40:2 The word translated here as tenderly can also be translated as, “to the heart of”. The heart was considered to be the organ of reasoning. God is trying to convince Israel of His concern for them. ( See Gen 34:3; 50:21; Hos 2:16) Jerusalem as used here refers to the chosen people in exile not to the city.
Service refers to the period of servitude and exile in Babylon.
“Received double” does not imply an excess of Divine anger so much as it proclaims a completion of the purifying process of sorrow (Jer 16:18).
* 40:3-5 The figurative language used here describes, in somewhat idealized terms, the return of the Israelite exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. The Lord Himself leads them and their road is made easy for them. Matthew 3:3 and its parallels see these verses as a prophecy of the Baptizer and Christ.
* 40:3 Someone speaks up from the heavenly assembly and proclaims that the Lord Himself is about to lead a new exodus through the desert. The language is theological not geographical. The days of the Mosaic covenant and God’s deliverance are presented as actualized in the current moment.
Dt-Isaiah introduced the theme of “the way” as a manner of life for Israel (Gen 6:12; Isa 55:7) and for God (Deut 32:4; Exod 18:25). John the Baptizer later announced “the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3) and Jesus declared that He Himself is the way (John 14:6; Heb 10:20). Thus, Christianity came to be called “the way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23).
* 40:5 The glory of God refers to the manifestation of God’s redeeming presence (Exod 14:4,18;16:7; Isa 58:8) especially in the Temple (Exod 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10-12). Ezek 43:1-2 visualizes the glory of God returning to a new messianic temple but Dt-Isa sees it as a worldwide theophany (Pss 96:3, 7-8; 97:6).
* 40:6-8 These verses are skipped in the reading as indicated by brackets [above].
* 40:6 In the question, “what shall I cry out,” the prophet speaks for the first time, and perhaps the only time, in his own name. The writer is following a pattern of prophetic commissioning where an objection always leads to a further explanation from God.
* 40:9-11 The cry mounts to a crescendo. Zion or Jerusalem here symbolizes the purified people of God on the way of the Lord. The writers emphasizes is not on the end of the journey but on the people Israel and their way toward redemption. The good news is not so much a message as the people whose redemption manifests the Divine Redeemer.
Second Reading: 2 Peter 3: 8-14
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. 9 The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.
11 Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought (you) to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. 13 But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 3:8-10 The doctrine of the return of Jesus was being attacked as untrue by many factions. The writer here responds with a second answer to the scoffers’ objection which had been stated in 2 Peter 3:4. The attack is refuted in 3:5-7 by an argument from history and tradition. Here the writer refutes the attack again by showing that delay of the Lord’s second coming is not a failure to fulfill his word but rather a sign of his patience and love. God is giving time for repentance before the final judgment (See Wisdom 11:23-26; Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11).
* 3:8 See Psalm 90:4.
The Divine forbearance to sinners (“slow to anger”) is a theme well established in scripture (Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; Wis 12:10; Rom 2:4).
* 3:10 As a counterbalance to what has been said about delay to allow time for repentance, the writer presents the return of the Lord as an event that is as certain as it is unknowable in its timing. The comparison to the thief in the night (Matt 24:43-44; 1 Thes 5:1; Rev 3:3) is a standard image of the early church taken from Jesus Himself.
Loud noise and fire are theophany symbols of the coming of Jesus.
* 3:11-16 What one believes must affect how one lives. The certainty of the second coming of Christ and the judgment of the world are the doctrinal basis for the moral exhortation to readiness through vigilance and virtuous living. See Matthew 24:42,50-51; Luke 12:40; 1 Thes 5:1-11; Jude 1:20-21.
* 3:12 The idea of a final conflagration was common in apocalyptic and Greco-Roman thought although this is the only New Testament passage about such an event.
Eschatology is used to motivate ethics (2 Peter 3:11), as elsewhere in the New Testament. Jewish sources and Acts 3:19-20 assume that proper ethical conduct can help bring the promised day of the Lord. See 2 Peter 3:9.
* 3:13 The image of a new heavens and a new earth probably stems from Isaiah 65:17; 66:22. The divine promises of renewal will be fulfilled after the day of judgment has passed. The universe will be transformed by the reign of God’s righteousness or justice. See Isaiah 65:17-18; Acts 3:21; Romans 8:18-25; Rev 21:1.
* 3:14 The believers are to be spotless and blameless in contrast to the scoffers who are described in 2:12-13 as spotted and blameful.
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God).
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
3 A voice of one crying out in the desert:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.'”
4 John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. 6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. 7 And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”
NOTES on Gospel:
Mark’s Gospel is based upon answers to the question,Who is Jesus? This is answered by the Father and Jesus in:
1:11 “You are my Son”
9:7 “This is My Son”
14:61f “I am the (Son of God)
It is answered by the Church through the mouth of the evangelist and the disciples and others:
1:1 “Jesus Christ, the Son of God”
8:29 “You are the Christ”
15:39 “This was the Son of God”
In verse one the word, “Gospel”, means “good news” which in Mark and Mt 26:13 is a technical term.
* 1:2 Even though Mark attribute the quote to Isaiah, the portion in verse 2 is from Mal 3:1.
* 1:3 This portion of the quote is from Isa 40:3-9.
* 1:4 Note the difference between John’s Baptism and Jesus’ Baptism in verse 8. John emphasizes the sinfulness of the people while Jesus emphasizes the action of God in those very same sinful people.
* 1:6 John’s clothing and life style is reminiscent of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8
* 1:7 Losing the sandals of the teacher was the one thing that even a student was not allowed to do for his Master but only a slave was to do.
* 1:8 See note on Mark 1:4 above.</p