The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday of Advent – December 6, 2020
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
One of my favorite songs from Godspell is “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” For nearly fifty years, I have clapped and danced to the tune, and love to hear it in church. In the first scene from Godspell, John the Baptist is calling to people who are going about their business. Something is happening, a new world is on the horizon. Make haste! A way is being made where there was no way! The Holy One is coming! Perhaps God’s revealing one is already here. God comes to save and heal. Those who hear John’s message drop everything to follow John’s message of creative transformation.
When we hear the words of John and Isaiah, let us clap our hands, open our hearts, and go to work to prepare for God’s new age. Of course, our preparation is problematic today, just as it was 2000 years ago: we prepare during difficult times just as John the Baptist and the prophet Isaiah did. In many places, we will be worshipping on Zoom and trying to reach out to those who don’t use social media. COVID has turned everything upside down and leveled the playing field. No family is immune from COVID and we all need to be careful. Oppression abounded in John’s and Isaiah’s time; it still does; racism was normalized then, it is now as seventy million USA citizens voted for a candidate who overtly blows the racist dog whistle.; polarization characterized religious and political relationships, the same applies today; leaders had little care for the common people and perpetuated poverty and the gap between the wealthy and poor, and put making money ahead of survival, and they still do. And, yet we live in hope on a new dawn, a day of justice, of the uplifting of the poor, and the liberation of the captives. While Joe Biden does not represent the Coming of Jesus, a new president ushers in an array of healing possibilities after four years in the wilderness.
Isaiah 40 continues the theme of preparation, characteristic of the Advent season. Something amazing is about to happen, something that will change everything, and the way for God’s coming needs to be prepared, in the highways and byways and in our spiritual pathways. God’s glory is on the horizon – can you see it? – and it is not just for Jerusalem; it is for all creation. Isaiah 40:1-11 plays with a lot of images: comfort and restoration, punishment and amnesty, a reversal of fortunes, global revelation, human mortality and divine immortality, divine strength and divine tenderness, shepherding and power. Beyond destruction and loss is comfort and recovery. The whole earth will proclaim God’s reign of healing and transformation. Love will abound in a glorious new age for Israel and the whole Earth. The offer to share in God’s glory is given to all; wake up, get ready, and join the parade.
The words of Psalm 85 proclaim recovery and renewal. The wayward nation has been pardoned and justice is transformed to healing and unity. A new people is emerging, free and joyful, and in communion with its liberating God. Mourning is over; let’s celebrate!
2 Peter begins with an affirmation of divine and human temporality. God’s timetable is beyond our fathoming. We are finite, God is infinite. We are mortal, God is immortal. God’s moral arc flows through human history and challenges every nation toward justice. There is no need to create timetables for the end time; each moment is a time of God’s coming. The divine infinity dwarfs our imagination and makes our apocalyptic calculations as foolish as they have been inaccurate for two thousand years.
Our days are like grass – we are like mayflies, living a moment, and thinking it to be ninety years – in light of God’s infinite, interstellar, intergalactic journey. Having just passed my 68th birthday, I realize how quickly it all passes, and how insignificant it seems in light of our multi-billion, multi-galaxy cosmic adventure. Yet, this is the moment of transformation, forever changing the universe, infinitesimal, yet ever-lasting in impact.
We don’t need to wait for God’s coming: we need to be God’s coming people NOW! Each moment is holy in a God-filled universe. Yet, no moment is final or all-encompassing. Still, we need to be awake for we might miss God’s blessings by being too preoccupied with our own small agendas. In the language of Paul Tillich, this day might usher in the divine Kairos, the in-breaking of divine infinity and dynamism in the course of our moment-by-moment existences.
The day of God’s Kairos is like a thief in the night. It comes unexpectedly when we are making other plans. It comes as we are Christmas shopping online and baking for gifting and small holiday gatherings. But it is always in this holy moment, hidden yet ready to spring forth, in surprising wonder, beauty, and demand. The reality of God’s moment by moment coming – the Kairos of this very moment – calls us to be self-aware and mindful and to be people who already live “on earth as it is in heaven.” In this fleeting moment, treasured in God’s everlasting life, we ought to live holy and pure lives, indeed, godly lives.
What might such a holy, godly, and pure life mean? Could it be our one wild and precious earth-life, spoken by poet Mary Oliver? Or the joyful exclamation of the Psalmist, this is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it? Certainly, it is not the affirmation of killjoy asceticism, but, a deeper, passionate, fiery asceticism, passionate for God’s pathway of wholeness. to live a holy life is to live wholly, immersed in God’s timely and revelatory presence. It is be whole persons, body, mind, and spirit, living justly and lovingly. Second, to be pure is to live by love, to seek the well-being of all and let self-interest be blurred with God’s vision. To be godly is to seek the god’s eye view of your life and every situation, connecting every moment with God’s dynamic and everlasting, ever-living and ever-changing vision of healing love. Purity is not just about sex; it is also about money, institutional morality, earth-care, and governmental policy. We rightly condemn sexual misconduct and harassment and the evils of persons in power exploiting those who work for them, but we need the same passion in challenging greed-based consumerism, separating of children from parents on USA borderlands, America first politics, retreat from environmental concern and climate denial – these too are sins, and they destroy lives!
Mark’s Gospel cuts to the chase. John shows up without historical introduction. There is no angelic visitation, pregnant mother, perplexed father, Gloria from on high, or magi from the East, simply, the telling of good news by a wild and crazy prophet. Mark’s earthiness precludes such esoteric revelations. Mark, the healing gospel, is down to earth, and loves God in the world of the flesh, hurting, sinful, excluded, and broken flesh. John the Baptist tells us to get on the road. He reveals our spiritual GPS and tells us to set our feet in the direction of God’s new age. John challenges us to spiritual decluttering, get rid of excess baggage, focus on what’s essential, and get moving on the road God is preparing for us. (For more on healing in Mark’s Gospel, see my “Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel.)
In the few weeks remaining till the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth, there is much to do. we live between lamentation and celebration as COVID tears through communities, services are cancelled, and yet we revel in Christmas carols and Hallmark movies. Yet, these few weeks participate in God’s everlasting journey. The Christmas spirit is more than buying gifts; it is a transformed mind, changed heart, and caring hands. We need this now more than ever in our transformed times. The restrictions we experience may be openings to new possibilities. It is becoming Christ-like as we await the advent of something amazing out on the horizon. . (For more on lectionary readings from Mark, see Bruce Epperly “Mark’s Holy Adventure: Preaching Mark’s Gospel for Year B”)
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over fifty books, including 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR GRANDPARENTS WORKING FOR A BETTER WORLD; THIN PLACES: 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS WITH CELTIC SPIRITUALITY; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; and THE JUBILEE YEARS: EMBRACING CLERGY RETIREMENT