(I am in a jury trial that will last into next week. The trial having recessed for this evening, I think I’d better take advantage by sending this email about Sunday.)
The standard scripture readings for this second Sunday of Advent are from the very beginning of Mark’s gospel and Isaiah 40.
My question, before looking more deeply at this scripture, was why Isaiah 40 is included at all as an Advent reading. Somehow, I had always thought that its inclusion was a bit of a reach, an attempt to find some Old Testament prophesy that might be said to refer to John the Baptizer. I thought that Isaiah 40 was selected because John was a voice preaching and baptizing “in the wilderness,” and because he prepared the way, so to speak, for the coming of Jesus, all of this echoed in verse 3 of Isaiah 40.
And, we are accustomed to hearing Isaiah 40 at funerals, due to this passage’s reference to the frailty and inconstancy of human life, and God’s word of promise that we “will mount up on wings, like eagle’s.”
So, why is poetry about the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon, six centuries before the coming of Christ, an Advent reading?
But then I noticed that Isaiah 40 figures prominently not only in the beginnings of the gospels of Mark and Matthew and Luke, but also of John’s gospel, which comes from a different tradition than the other three.
So I took a new, long look at the gospel begun to be proclaimed in Isaiah 40 (“glad tidings” in verse 9 can also be translated “gospel”) and now am persuaded that it is a most fitting Advent companion to the “good news” (also translated “gospel”) whose beginning is announced in the first very verse of Mark. In fact, some commentators persuasively call the portion of Isaiah beginning with chapter 40 the “fifth gospel,” to go along with the first four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
As my eyes, ears, mind and heart are opening to the profound meanings of this passage of Isaiah, meanings parallel with the meanings of the Advent coming of Jesus, so I may God begin to open your eyes, ears, mind and heart in DiscipleChurch on Sunday.
The scripture readings:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 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. 5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 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.
(Notice the festive Christmas colors of red and green. We’re really going all out here.)