For Dec. 4, 2011: 2 Advent, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 40:1-11

The book of Isaiah was written during and after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of Israel to Babylon. In the chapters that precede today’s reading, Isaiah explains these disasters as richly deserved punishment. In chapter 40, however, Isaiah’s gift for striking metaphor is lavished on imagery of hope: it is God’s will that God’s people are done suffering, and it’s time to call them—and us—home. Listen for these themes in today’s other readings.


The Epistle            2 Peter 3:8-15a

Since the second letter of Peter has been dated to the end of the first century A.D., it is unlikely that the Apostle Peter was the author. Whoever wrote it explains straightforwardly to the first Christians—and to us—why the return of the Lord has not come as soon as the first Christians expected it: this is not tardiness on God’s part, but generous patience.

Further thoughts

Advent sounds two notes in the believer’s ear. The first note is the note of judgment. Three of last week’s readings made the case that repentance is both necessary and urgent: we are so far short of God’s standard of purity that, left to our own devices, about all we can do is numbly mark the axe as it falls. As this world lurches toward the longest night of the year, it can be hard to believe in an outcome other than doom, and next to impossible not just to give up.

But the God who made us, knows us. The second and stronger note sounded by Advent is the note of hope. We are not left to our own devices, and the axe is stayed from falling—not because we deserve any such thing, but because of the abounding love of God.

This is the message that rings through the reading from Isaiah: comfort, pardon, good news, God coming not to condemn but to save. It’s worth noting that Isaiah 40:1-11 figures heavily in the libretto for Handel’s Messiah, which Charles Jennens so ably compiled from the Old and New Testaments: in fact, it opens with the tender and grace-filled recitative “Comfort ye” (Isaiah 40:1-3), followed by the inspired and inspiring “Every valley shall be exalted” (Isaiah 40:4) and the all-out praise chorus “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” (Isaiah 40:5) I think this beginning accounts for a good deal of the appeal of Messiah, just as it is much of what makes A Christmas Carol so irresistible: like Charles Scrooge, we hear the very good news that all is not lost—and, given such hope, we can then dare to undertake the repentance to which 2 Peter and John the Baptizer call us.

Dec. 4, Sunday: 2 Advent, 9:30 am
Intercessor: Judy Brown
Second Chalice: Larry Burns
Lector 1: Linnea Lagerquist
Lector 2: Penny Park
2 Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

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