The Second Sunday in Advent
6 December 2020
To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.
Lord, you were favourable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you pardoned all their sin.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.
The word SELAH occurs 71 times in the Psalms. What does it mean? I have now read six articles on the subject, both devotional and scholarly, and they all boil down to the same thing: to quote Saint Paul (2 Corinthians 12: 3): I do not know. God knows.
Isaiah 40: 1-11
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
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.
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
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.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
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.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
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!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
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.
2 Peter 3: 8-15a
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. The 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. But 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.
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, waiting 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? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him.
Mark 1: 1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power
and come among us,
and with great might succour us;
that whereas, through our sins and wickedness
we are grievously hindered
in running the race that is set before us,
your bountiful grace and mercy
may speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honour and glory, now and for ever.
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again
as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God.
Thought for the week
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” ’,John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
There can by now be no doubt about it – the scientific cavalry is almost here. The advances in vaccinations and treatments for COVID-19 are remarkable. In the hope and belief that they will be effective, the government has procured hundreds of millions of vaccine doses to be made available across the UK, the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. We are preparing for a nationwide vaccination programme to be deployed at an enormous scale across the whole country.
Odd, isn't it? Not since, I suppose, Christmas 1944 have we been in a better position to appreciate the emotions of those people who flocked to the Jordan valley to see the strange new prophet and his good news of hope.
I am not suggesting, by the way, that Boris Johnson is a mighty prophet and God's own cousin. But what he is offering in the introduction to the Government's Winter Plan is, as he says, hope and belief; and in that he certainly has a distinct affinity with John the Baptist.
But seriously, folks. What did those people go out into the wilderness to see? A prophet, Jesus said, and more than a prophet. John told them two things; that a greater one was coming; and that they must repent and have their sins washed away.
Which is precisely what Advent is all about. It's why Advent Sunday is the Church's New Year's Day. We are bidden to start our new year with a period of cleansing, so that we can greet the arrival of our Saviour in a state of grace – just as, after Baptism, we started our lives.
That's not easy in modern times, when Advent is the time of year when the pressures of a consumer society are most insistent. We get, in our half-American family, what ought to be a good start with Thanksgiving. It was most peculiar this year, with portions of turkey and pumpkin pie being delivered around the district and a virtual dinner party across different households, but we still had a lot to be thankful for. It's a lovely festival, and at exactly the right time of year.
But, as you may have noticed, Thanksgiving (always a Thursday) is followed by Black Friday, the start (in the USA at least) of the Christmas Shopping Season. From now on, the blandishments of advertisers are unavoidable. Even a couple of centuries ago, dear old William Wordsworth deplored it:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
How difficult it is, in a modern Advent, to get our hearts back!
And so, paradoxically, this year's restrictions and lockdowns and tears over tiers may in fact be just what Christians need; a time out of the world when we are not constrained to rush round the shops, when we are actively forbidden to gather in merry bands to consume or celebrate; a time to think, a time to prepare, a time to make straight in the desert a highway for our God.