Bible Tuesday for Advent II, 2014
Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert a road for the Lord! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God! Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain. The presence of the Lord shall appear, and all flesh, as one, shall behold—for the Lord Himself has spoken.” A voice rings out: “Proclaim!” Another asks, “What shall I proclaim?” “All flesh is grass, all its goodness like flowers of the field. Grass withers, flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them. Indeed, man is but grass. Grass withers, flowers fade—but the word of our God is always fulfilled!” Ascend a lofty mountain, o herald of joy to Zion. Raise your voice with power, o herald of joy to Jerusalem—raise it, have no fear. Announce to the cities of Judah: Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God comes in might, and His arm wins triumph for Him. See, His reward is with Him, His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He pastures His flock. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in His bosom. Gently He drives the mother sheep.
I cannot read this without hearing those marvelous tenor and alto solos from Handel’s Messiah. In my mind’s ear, what I hear is that truly glorious, ethereal music which I love, and which, for me, clouds the sounds of the Isaiah’s actual words. “When I was sick and in prison, you visited me,” says Jesus. Well, that is what Isaiah is doing. Jerusalem and all Judah with that city, has been in prison and house arrest in Babylon for a couple of generations. God has told the prophet to go speak words of comfort. “Her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated,” means that Judah has served its term in captivity and can now, FINALLY be released to go home! The content of that first tenor area, “Every Valley” can be summed up by the words, “Roll out the red carpet, the prisoners of war are coming home.” It is Yahweh, powerful and glorious, who will bring about this freedom and lead his people home.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
O Lord, You will favor Your land, restore Jacob’s fortune. Show us, O Lord, Your faithfulness; grant us Your deliverance. Let me hear what God, the Lord, will speak. He will promise wellbeing to His people, His faithful ones; may they not turn to folly. His help is very near those who fear Him, to make His glory dwell in our land. Faithfulness and truth meet; justice and wellbeing kiss. Truth springs up from the earth; justice looks down from heaven. The Lord also bestows His bounty; our land yields its produce.
This psalm is also written by the Israelites from Judah who are asking for God’s favor and restitution that they may be freed from exile and return to the land God has promised them.
2 Peter 3:8-15
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The 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. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.*
11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,12waiting for and hastening* the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him,
The author of Second Peter is addressing a very common issue among first century Christians, “When is Jesus coming back? Why is he taking so long? Some of the faithful are dying and Jesus has not returned yet. How will they join us in heaven with God?” The author attempts to answer this unanswerable question with: God’s time is not our time. Then author also conflates the Day of the Lord with the return of Jesus “coming on the clouds with his angels.” But what I perceive to be the meat of this pericope is “What sort of people out you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness waiting…” Yes, what do we do while we wait for the Lord? This author and Luther answer that question. This author says, “strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” Luther said, “Plant a tree…Sin boldly,” that is, trust in God that whatever you bind on earth will indeed be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will indeed be loosed in heaven, and move ahead in the dark as best you can until Christ is the light of all.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,*
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,*
who will prepare your way;
3 the 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.’
Mark does not begin his gospel with angels or magi, or dreams or even Mary and Joseph. No, Mark begins with the great “good news” right off the bat, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark opens and ends this story of God and creation in one line. “In the beginning” are both the exact same first words of Mark’s gospel and the Greek edition (Septuagint) of the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis tells us of this amazing God that created all and how humanity used to know him face to face but due to the fall, humanity has been groping in the dark for God since Eden, groping for one who would save us from the darkness and restore us to relationship with God. That one would be the Son of God, the peacemaker, arbitrator. In addition, since the fall, since God is not personally with humanity, people need God’s agent to lead them, govern them, protect them. That one would be Messiah or Christ. The whole of the Hebrew Scriptures since chapter 4 of Genesis is the story of people looking for the Son of God and the Messiah. This gospel of Mark tells its readers that Jesus is BOTH the Son of God and Messiah, Christ.