These words were written at the end of Babylonian captivity. It is sort of God’s pep talk to His people, to prepare them for the long journey home. The passage speaks of redemption and hope for the future. It also contains a verse which is quoted in today’s gospel lesson.
I’ve broken this passage into five sections. The Takeaway appears in each section:
- The first section proclaims to God’s people that they have been punished long enough; their “penalty is paid”. They were sent to Babylon as a punishment, and now it’s time to go home. (vv. 1-2) The penalty for our sins has been paid by Jesus’ dying on the cross.
- The next verses are a proclamation, which is cried out by “a voice”. Prepare a highway! Cut it straight through the desert wilderness! (vv. 3-5) We also need to clear a path for Jesus to enter our hearts this Christmas. Let’s tidy up!
- A new voice then cries out a reminder of our human frailty. We are as frail as grass, but God’s word lasts forever. (vv. 6-8) As I grow older, these words take on richer meaning. God’s Word is the only thing of lasting value.
- Then comes our call to action. Big things are about to happen, so we need to get to a high place, so people can hear us, and proclaim to the people that they should not fear, because the Lord is near! (v. 9) We need to share the Good News!
- This passage concludes with a sweet promise of care and comfort. The Lord will come to us, gather us in his arms, and gently lead us. (vv. 10-11) We should not fear the Lord’s coming. We should look forward to it, knowing that we will be loved and cared for.
2 PETER 3:8-15a
The letters of Peter were written to the churches to provide them with encouragement in the face of persecution. Today’s reading has an apocalyptic flavor, like those found in Revelation and Daniel. This literary form was often used to strengthen the resolve of those whose faith is being tested. This style of writing provides a “big picture” view of history. It shows that God is in control, no matter how badly things may appear at the present time.
- The first paragraph makes two interlocking points. The first is that there is a big difference between our concept of time and “God Time”. We want results in a day and a half; our creator’s concept of time is much broader. We’re waiting for Jesus’ return any moment, and God is being patient. The reason for his patience is that he wants more people to love him. (Hint: It’s our job to get more people to love God.) This reminds me of the love he has for humankind; he doesn’t want to lose any of us, so he waits. (vv. 8-10)
- The second paragraph asks a question that we should ask ourselves—“What sort of people should we be, while we wait?” We are told that while we wait, we should lead lives of godliness and holiness. (vv. 11-13)
- In case you didn’t get the point, the answer is repeated. We should strive to be ”at peace”, and to be “without spot or blemish”. I’m not sure which is harder to do, be at peace or be perfect! But Peter does say to “strive to be”, rather than that we “must be”. This reminds me of something my pastor told me long ago. He said that the word “salvation” means “God’s salvaging operation”. In other words, our salvation is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process; we are continually falling into sin. We need to be continually “salvaged” by God’s grace and mercy. (vv. 14-15)
Apocalyptic writings all seem to differ in the details. Apocalyptic writers are less concerned with accuracy. They’re trying their best to describe a cataclysmic, indescribable event. In this passage, Peter uses the words “melting” and “dissolving” to describe the event. We moderns want accurate details. The differences between descriptions might be troubling for us. While details differ, the point is always the same—the end will bring indescribable chaos, but the faithful will have nothing to fear. Because of our faith, we are protected from harm. God is our refuge and strength.
So, while we wait for Jesus to return, we’re not going to be afraid. Instead, we’re going to work on being perfect and at being at peace. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of work to do! Thanks be to God, that he is patient, forgiving, and continually saving me from self destruction.
With Mark, we get no shepherds, no manger scene, no Mary and Joseph stories. We get right down to the business of Jesus’ ministry, beginning with the story of John the Baptist.
- Mark begins his gospel with a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:3. Immediately after quoting Isaiah, Mark tells us about John the baptizer (or Baptist, if you prefer). Mark is saying that John is the guy that Isaiah was talking about! (vv. 1-2)
- He tells us of how John did his work in “the wilderness”. I always think of a mountainous forest. That is not the case here. His wilderness was more like a desert, but with a river running through it. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance and forgiveness. (v. 4)
- John is definitely a unique person, both in dress and diet. But the people were drawn to him and his message, so he must have been quite charismatic. But despite his weirdness, they came repentant, and were baptized. (vv. 5-6)
- John was clear on his vocation—he was just the forerunner, the messenger. That the one coming after him was far more important. His job was to personify Isaiah 40:3 by preparing the way for the Messiah. (vv. 7-8)
What do you do, when your expecting a special house guest? Around our house, there is quite a lot of cleaning, menu planning, shopping, etc. Jesus is coming on Christmas day. We must prepare ourselves for his arrival. How do we do this? We use the season of Advent for self-examination, repentance, and renewal; we cleanse our hearts.
Jesus is coming! He brings the Holy Spirit! Get ready!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The opening lines from today’s first reading brought to mind a sweet old Advent hymn. These words were written nearly 400 years ago, somewhere in in the mid-1600’s. These words still ring true today just as they did then.
Comfort, comfort, O my people,
Speak of peace, now says our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ’neath their sorrows’ load.
Speak unto Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell of all the sins I cover,
And that warfare now is over.
Hark, the voice of one who’s crying
In the desert far and near,
Bidding all to full repentance
Since the kingdom is now here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet him
And the hills bow down to greet him.
O make straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits his holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token
That his word is never broken.