Advent 2 December 7, 2008 Scripture Introductions by Stewart Clarke[It seems to me that introducing the Scripture Readings can show respect for the Bible and for the congregation's interest and intelligence. An introduction is not intended to inflict a personal bias, but to remind or inform the congregation of the context in which the passage was written, and to foster understanding. (BTW, if you don't want these, please let me know, so I can do something about it. RSC.) So, the following are offered with the invitation to check for and remove any errors or bias or anything of mine that seems inappropriate. There is also the invitation to use them as spoken introductions during worship, or to have them available in print. And there is the hearty invitation to use them as a reference from which you prepare your own.] (There are bits in brackets which contain perhaps-incidental details and you may want to skip them or revise them quite severely.) Today's readings are linked by the thought of announcement or anticipation of good news. The first reading comes from Isaiah, Chapter 40, and marks a major shift in the focus and style of that book. Isaiah of Jerusalem, the "first Isaiah," had warned of danger and impending disaster. You can still hear it in Chapter 39. Then, without a hint of transition there is a vividly new tone::a command from God, "Comfort, Comfort my people." The message comes from hard times, the Exile, when the leading families of conquered Judah were moved to Babylon, a stark means of control. (If we see possible parallels in Terrorism, Genocide, Uprooting of refugees, the impact of HIV/AIDS, economic chaos or even, in Canada, the present game of "King of the Hill" in lieu of government, the message of hope may be like a drink of water in a parched land!) (At the end of Chapter 39, King Hezekiah (715-687 BC /BCE) was still playing games, caught between the powers of the Nile and Mesopotamian valleys. In 586, the Babylonian army overran Judah and took Jerusalem. The leading citizens were taken into Exile in Babylon, where some eventually settled in, becoming, in effect, successful Babylonians, as Jeremiah had written. But significant questions hung over the exiles: "Who were they?" "Had God abandoned them?" and how could they "sing the Lord's song in a strange land." It was a full generation later, around 540 BC/BCE, that the new prophet spoke. "Comfort," which, in English, can speak of encouragement, and translates a Hebrew word for "compassion." The word translated as "warfare" can, and perhaps should mean, "hard service." It may speak of atonement, since the prophet may have accepted the assessment of Jeremiah and Ezekiel that their Exile was the result of their rebellion as a people.) The prophet's message calls for a freeway for God's victorious march, in which God leads and even carries God's flock back home. Imagine a disheartened people hearing this proclamation! And verse 3 was seen in the Church as a prediction of John the Baptist.. Its regular repetition makes us see this as the primary or even only meaning for us. Let's listen, and may God speak to us in: Isaiah 40:1-11 (You may save your thanks and praise until after the Gospel, or share some here, or, perhaps, say something like: May we know the comfort of God's presence, even during times of challenge and difficulty, Amen.)
The Psalm echoes the theme of forgiveness and restoration, and may have been written after the return of some of the exiles from Babylon. (If so, with the holy city and the Temple in ruins, and the people living in the land opposing their return, they are in need of divine assistance and encouragement!) (The reference to "Jacob" is to the people: with their sense of a "corporate personality," they identified so closely and with their ancestors that their ancestors' stories were their own stories. "Jacob," of course, became "Israel!") Let us.. Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 (VU, p. 802)
The Epistle that we know as Second Peter was apparently written around 150 AD/CE, perhaps 120 years after Jesus' death and resurrection. Anticipation of his return has been declining among some of the people: the new age is taking longer and longer. The author writes encouragement and a new way of understanding the vision, but still looking forward to the new heaven and new earth. Let us listen to this word of hope: 2 Peter 3:8-15a May we realize that Jesus is present with us now! Amen.
As the second "Isaiah" announced good news without preliminaries, Mark plunges into his Gospel. He roots his message in the Older Testament (Hebrew Scriptures, or "Tanakh") and specifically in the prophets, linking the Good News of Christ with its Jewish roots. . (He is so keen to get going that he apparently omits the article and starts, "Beginning," which everyone makes more polished as "The Beginning." ) (The reference to Isaiah may reflect the high esteem in which the book was held. In fact, the first quotation is from the book of Malachi [ 3:1]. The King James Version apparently follows an alternate reading, referring simply to "the prophets." [The RSV, REB, NIV, Jerusalem Bible, J.B. Phillips, American Standard, Today's English, Louis Segond, and the "Five Gospels" all read "Isaiah," as does my Greek NT.] The first quotation is not found in either Matthew [3:3] or Luke [3:4], and may be a later insertion. Since both Matthew and Luke relied on Mark, it is interesting or strange that they would not have included both quotations. ) John made a deep impression on those who waited for Messiah, and many apparently accepted him as Messiah. This passage explains how the followers of Jesus have seen the importance of John and his vital message. Let's rise to honour and be open to the Good News for us in: (Or Let's listen closely for the Good News for us in: Mark 1:1-8 May our baptism fill us with the passion and energy of the Holy Spirit. Amen. It is appropriate for an expression of thanks and praise to follow the readings. (Comments to Stew at firstname.lastname@example.org.)