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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Thoughts on the Lectionary Passages for the Second Sunday of Advent (December 7, 2014)

By Jim Ogden

Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, II Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

We live in an age and culture which seeks instant gratification.  We want our internet to respond more rapidly.  We are constantly connected so that we don’t miss something the moment it happens.  See, here’s a picture of it!  Even food must be fast.  We can’t wait.  We don’t have time to wait.  They’ve tried to move Black Friday up this year.  (Who dared to make such an obnoxious use of that name to describe a commercial kick-off of the Christmas shopping season?)

It’s difficult to heed the call to be patient.  Yet, here I am approaching my 75th birthday and I’m still waiting.  I was one of those wide-eyed idealists that lived through the sixties thinking we were going to change the world.  On many days it’s difficult to identify much real progress and hope turns to depression.  We just keep on fighting the same battles.  Even the date of this Sunday reminds us of war, the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The battles never seem to end, even though years earlier Woodrow Wilson, borrowing a phrase from H.G. Wells, declared “a war to end all wars.”

Haven’t I, haven’t we, been patient long enough?  Yet here we are again in the season of waiting---Advent, we call it in the church.  At least the word, from the Latin, speaks of something which is coming.  There is hope; it is coming; be patient and wait.  In Christian theology, it is the birth of Jesus that is coming.  In the larger Judeo-Christian heritage, this time of expectation and waiting is attached to a messianic figure and a time when all will be set right, God’s reign of peace and justice, shalom, will be realized.

Perhaps it is a season to relearn patience.  God’s plans don’t seem to involve much instant gratification.  This week’s epistle reading from II Peter begins, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”  (II Peter 3:8)  As the reading continues, it looks not at our patience but at God’s patience.  What we hope for is slow in coming because God is waiting for us.  “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”  (vs. 9)  Some of us may have problems with the underlying notion that all this waiting leads up to a Judgment Day, but we can still find hope and comfort in the image of a God who is patient with us.  Is there a patience in the very workings of the cosmos?  Romans 8:22 speaks of “the whole creation . . . groaning in labor pains.”  (And then I follow my mind as it makes and unbidden leap to the song, This Is My Father’s World by Maltbie D. Babcock, and the phrase, “all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.”  Okay, my mind does crazy things.  Your guess is as good as mine.)

This week’s texts are full of images of what it is we’re waiting for.  “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.  Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.  The Lord will give what is good . . . righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.”  (Psalm 85:10-12)  “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain . . . He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”  (Isaiah 40:4 & 11).

I’m hesitant to suggest that all will be well, but that is the hope---that everything that is out of kilter will be put right again.  The images are comforting.  The reading from Isaiah actually begins with these words, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”  (Isaiah 40:1). The picture is one of tender and loving relationships.  (vs. 2)  God “will speak peace to his people.”  (Psalm 85:8). But still we wait!  “ . . . we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”  Part of the discussion in recent weeks has been about what we are to do while we are waiting.  Maybe we are just to keep at it.  Maybe we are part of the process of making it come, whether it be in a thousand years or in a day.  We are to lead “lives of holiness and godliness . . . Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace . . .”  (II Peter 3:11 & 14)

Whatever is coming involves preparation and preparers.  The reading from Isaiah looks ahead to one who will cry out, “In the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord . . .”  (Isaiah 40:2)  The Gospel lesson from Mark applies those words to John the baptizer, speaking of it as “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.”  (Mark 1:1-4)

Perhaps we are all preparers.  Maybe when some of us look back and wonder what we have accomplished, we should look at that time as years of preparation.  The task of preparation is not yet complete.  There are those still coming who will continue preparing the way.  Perhaps we can look at each day, or each thousand years, as a time of preparation.  John speaks of something greater still to come.  (Mark 1:7) 

Watch for it; wait for it; prepare for it!  It’s Advent!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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