Second Sunday of Advent
This too-familiar Advent reading can be interpreted as a drama. The drama requires four voices, a band of exiles, and a speaking choir. Voices 1,2,3, and 4 are gathered in a heavenly council high and near the center of the chancel. The band of exiles is visible to one side on the lower level and appears defeated. The speaking choir is opposite the exiles.
Voice 1 to voices 2, 3, and 4: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.
[Voices 2,3, and 4 move toward the exiles]
Voice 2 to the exiles: In the desert prepare the way for the LORD, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Yes, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
[Exiles look up and listen, but do not move]
Voice 3 addresses voice 4: Cry out!
Voice 4 responds to voice 3: What shall I cry? All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.
Voice 3 responds to voice 4: The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. Yes, the word of our God stands forever!
Voice 4 addresses exiles: You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, "Here is your God!"
[Exiles respond by standing, moving toward the advent wreath, surrounding it with raised hands]
Choir: See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
[Exiles and voices return to places while congregation sings "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" [PsH 194, PH 3,RL 169,TH 197)]
The exiles were coming down with a case of amnesia. Their fifty-year exile was causing them to forget whose they were, who they were, and why they were. They wondered if they belonged to Babylon and its idols.
But God sent Isaiah, the prophet, who said "Comfort my people." That is covenant family talk. Do we still belong to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem." Jerusalem? Is that where we're from even while we dwell in Babylon? Are we still named for the city of God? "You who bring good tidings." Is that why we're here? Are we still here to bring the good news of God to the cities of Judah and beyond? Whose are we? Who are we? Why are we? These are still urgent questions for God's covenant people.
2 Peter 3:8-15a
What is the meaning of the delay? Why does it take so long for the Lord to fulfill his promise? It is difficult to be steadfast in the faith when questions of faith themselves are part of the difficulty.
The delay means that the Lord is patient, not slothful. God's patience is born out of grace that seeks the salvation of all.
Peter turns the question in a different direction. The question is not when but what are we looking for? If our hope is for the new order, the new creation in which righteousness dwells, then that hope will give shape to our discipleship. Practicing the new creation now is the order of the day while we wait. When that becomes our way of life, then the "forbearance of our Lord" serves not only the salvation of others, but of ourselves as well.
Mark writes a no-nonsense gospel. He gets right to the point. He compresses everything into a few words. John the Baptist's ministry is "the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
In verse 14 "Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God." Was that the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ? No, according to Mark. The gospel began with the ministry of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for Jesus by preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
John preached as though a new exodus was about to happen. Just as Israel passed out of Egypt through the water to the promised land, so a new exodus was about to take place with the coming of Jesus Christ. Passing through the water of baptism was not only preparation for salvation through Jesus Christ; it was already participation in it. So it is with us. We live on the fulfillment side of God's salvation in Jesus Christ. But our baptism and repentance are not just preparation for the glory that is yet to be revealed; through them we already participate in the good news of Jesus Christ.
When we prepare for Christ's coming, we are already participating in the gospel of Christ.
About the cover...
The healing is not yet complete. Our lives are still torn with hurts. As we wait, we are preparing for his coming. But what is the meaning of the delay? Why does the Lord take so long to fulfill his promises? We wait expectantly, knowing he will come.
The bulletins and banner were designed by Chris Stoffel Overooorde as published in Reformed Worship 29 (Fall, 1993).