Reading Ramblings – December 6, 2020

Date: Second Sunday in Advent, December 6, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85, 2 Peter 3:8-14, Mark 1:1-8

Context: The further we move into Advent, the more we turn our eyes from the horizon and Jesus’ promised return and back towards his first advent. This week we are still rather firmly fixed towards the future, though. But unlike the prophetic readings the last few Sundays of the Church year, there is a sense now of anticipation. The language is far less harsh and dark. Certainlyt here is a recognition of the transience of our earthly lives, but also a hope that there is more than this, and greater as well. And that more and greater is not sourced in ourselves but in our God. We also get our first look at the other figure most prominently associated with Christmas – John the Baptist.

Isaiah 40:1-11 – Isaiah 40 marks the second major section of Isaiah, and a change of gears from the opening third of the book. A major theme is the restoration of God’s peopleand land after a prophesied exile, an event fulfilled over a century later when the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and take her population into exile. Isaiah conveys the Lord’s revelation that the restoration of Jerusalem and Judea will be a real and actual historical event, but it will also serve as a foreshadowing, a sneak preview of a complete and total reconciliation and restoration of all creation, something begun and accomplished in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, and yet to be fully revealed in his anticipated return. The language in this chapter is then both prophetic and now historical, accomplished in the reign of Cyrus after his defeat of the Babylonian empire. But it is also a reminder of what we look forward to, and the comfort spoken to the people of Jerusalem and Judea in exile a century after his death is a comfort spoken to all God’s people who have lived and died waiting for the final restoration of all things. This restoration will not be accomplished by his people but by God himself coming to his people.

Psalm 85 – The sons of Korah descend from the Korah of Numbers 16. He and his immediate family suffered an unhappy fate due to disobedience but his sons survived (Numbers 26:11) and became wardens at the Tent of Meeting and later doorkeepers to the First Temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem. Somehow this eventually evolves into a role as song writers or performers, and eleven of the psalms are credited to them. This psalm is a petition for help, beginning with a faithful recounting of God’s mercy and help in the past (vs.1-3) followed by the formal petition for help now (vs. 4-7). At verse 8 the voice changes from the communal voice (likely recited by the entire congregation) to an individual voice (the chanter or leader), who says he will listen for God’s response, knowing that God will respond and respond favorably while warning the people to obedience. Verses 10-13 are a poetic description of how things will be when God has answered his people’s prayer, and the extensiveness of the language leads us to understand it to be a depiction of how things will ultimately be when God answers ultimately the prayers of his people in sending his Son back in glory to manifest his victory over sin, Satan and death.

2 Petter 3:8-14 – Very important verses that remind us God’s judgment and vision are infinitely better than our self-centered, sinful and broken perspectives. God has in view all of creation history from beginning to end and therefore his timing is always perfect and always ultimately towards our benefit, even if we don’t feel it be so in the moment. Peter concludes by hearkening back to the imagery Jesus himself used to describe the last day in all it’s incredibleness and unexpectedness. We are therefore to be constantly in a state of waiting, but also waiting in peace. If we trust God’s timing is perfect we can endure the difficulties of the moment, the losses and the joys in their proper perspective and without allowing them to become idols. Only when our perspective is properly aligned with an eye constantly on the horizon can we hope our vision of the current moment will be more clear.

Mark 1:1-8 – Mark echoes Isaiah’s words, and in doing so sets the stage for his entire Gospel, a stage already set in verse 1where Mark clearly states that Jesus is in fact not only the long-awaited Messiah but the incarnate Son of God.. John the Baptist is the first piece of that puzzle, fulfilling the role Isaiah mentions and Malachi (4:5) prophesies. John the Baptist is the first indication of the Messiah’s imminent arrival, an Old Testament style prophet the likes of which haven’t been heard of since Malachi’s day. Instituting a new practice in Judaism, baptism. John not only sounds the part of the prophet he looks like it, reminiscent of Elijah’s attire (2 Kings 1:8), and the people recognize that something big is going on as not just the city folks in Jerusalem but all of Judea goes out to not only listen to him and see him but to confess their sins and receive his baptism.

John the Baptist is often quickly dealt with or overlooked entirely in many churches today, but he remains a crucial element of prophetic fulfillment and evidence that something larger was going on, orchestrated by God himself. Jesus will later attest that John the Baptist is the next most important person in all of salvation history (Matthew 11:11), a claim that surely should cause us to marvel just as much as the Judeans did 2000 years ago.

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