2nd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

....so we are still waiting. And this week there is a bit of focus on the preparation we can do while we are waiting.
There is a really interesting textual question found in this week's lectionary reading (at least we find it interesting): In Isaiah 40.3 the text reads "A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God'" and in Mark 1.1-8 the text reads "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 hte Lord, make his paths straight.'"

This is a moment where having English degrees is frustrating. Look at how the quotation changes. Isaiah implies that we should prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness and Mark implies that the voice is crying out in the wilderness that the way of the Lord should be prepared, while at the same time, preparing the way for "you" (us?). Sure, we could read Isaiah as assume that the voice is crying out while in the wilderness, but that is not exactly what it says. And the reality is that in the land of Palestine that surrounds Jerusalem the difference between the protection of the city and the wilds of the wilderness is sometimes just a couple of miles.

Now what difference might this make?

This portion of Isaiah is written to the Israelites that are in exile in Babylon in about 550 BCE. They have been defeated and exiled and that is interpreted to have happened because of their disobedience to God. These are people who are wondering if God is going to leave them out to dry where they are or if they will be able to gain some power in the world (and their homeland) again. These are people that understand the wilderness as a part of their national history and as a part of their recent history of having to make the march from Jerusalem to Babylon. And this passage offers a lot of hope there will be a chance of better days to come. It seems that hope comes as a result of the preparation that was put upon them in their defeat and exile.

The passage in Mark is written primarily to a newly forming Christian community around 60-90 CE who may or may not have witnessed the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem (it depends on which historical placement you give to the authorship of Mark). Either way, they are living in a time and place where Jews / Israelites were not totally free to be themselves, and followers of Jesus were certainly not totally free to be themselves (at this point they were not even really sure what that meant). And all of these folks are living with a more distant memory of their people living in the desert. Of course, they are still geographically quite close to the wilderness, but Jerusalem itself had further developed and there were officially "city dwellers" that had little concept of the wilderness.

Both of these passages have in common a yearning for someone to somehow create a safe enviornment where they can live. Both of these messages are written to people who are hurting and scared and not sure who to trust any more and not sure what is safe any more. And God speaks through both Isaiah and John the Baptizer to bring some comfort and encouragement to the people. And in both passages there is a requirement put on the people of what their role is / has been in preparing for the whole situation--Isaiah tells them that their defeat and exile has been their recompensing punishment, and John tells folks that it is their responsibility to repent...to turn away from their old ways...so they will be prepared for the coming of the One that will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Both the 2 Peter reading and the Psalm continue with the theme of preparation. The Psalm is both a praise and a petition - a hopeful interpretation of a return of good fortune and petitions for continued good circumstances. In order to continue in God's favor, the people should be prepared for his intervention.

The writer of the Peter passage spends some time with some philosophical conjecture and then heads right toward the practical advice: "while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish." This is clearly a reinforcement of last week's lesson from Mark...it is our job as Christians to "keep awake," but not in a fretful, anxious way. Be ready but also be present.
Are we preparing for a New Day? How so?
Are we watching for God in our midst?
Will we recognize when we are prepared?

"People Get Ready" -Curtis Mayfield

People get ready
There's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage you just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesel comin'
Don't need no ticket you just thank the Lord

People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is key
Open up the doors and board them
There's hope for all among the love the most

There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose choices grow thinner
There ain't no hiding place from the Kingdom's throne

People get ready
There's a train a comin'
You don't need no baggage you just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesel comin'
Don't need no ticket you just thank the Lord

I believe, I believe, I do believe
I believe, I believe, I do believe.

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