Advent 2B

 
 

92: December 7, 2014

  1. Mark 1:1-8
  2. Isaiah 40:1-11

Featured Musician: The Steel Wheels

Tasty Wafer: Blue Christmas or Longest Night Service

  • A liturgy that can be modified or adopted, creating a holy space for those who mourn or struggle at Christmas.

Exegetical Notes

 

Mark 1:1-8

Initial Thoughts

  • Mark is great for Advent, but not so much for Christmas.  Although many clergy know that there is no Christmas story in Mark, many lay people are surprised when they learn this.  

  • United Methodist Book of Worship’s service of Lighting of the Advent Candle (page 262) has the second advent candle being the symbol of “Christ the Way.”  Week one was “Christ our Hope.”  Week three is “Christ our Joy.” Week four is for the “Prince of Peace.” The reading includes Mark 1:4.  

Bible Study

  • Opening passage of Mark points both backward and forward.

    • Starts with words from Isaiah, moves through John the Baptist, who concludes looking forward to the one who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.

    • This is appropriate for the season of Advent, which points both backward and forward

    • Backward to the promise of the prophets.  Backward to the birth of Christ, and forward to the coming Kingdom.

    • The beginning of the Good News begins with the prophets.  The beginning is not a beginning at all, but a part of God’s greater story.  Just like the ending of the gospel is not an ending at all, but the transition to the church.

  • Parallels between John and Jesus

    • Both begin in the wilderness

    • Have disciples who are to follow them (not just ‘believe in them’)

    • Proclamation of the gospel

      • Repentance, baptism, Kingdom of God

    • Betrayal and executed.

    • “What Mark creates then, is not a simple identification, in which disciples become John or Jesus or their equivalent. Instead, disciples follow in the way of John and Jesus.” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 20)

  • The Title of the Gospel (Lamar Williamson Jr., Interpretation: Mark, p. 28)

    • “The beginning of the the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is the title entire book, not just this passage.

    • There is no verb in the first sentence, which  In other words, the gospel of Mark is “the beginning of the good news,” not the end of the story.

    • Affirms three foci

      • Jesus Christ is the center of what is to come.

      • Jesus is the Son of God.

      • This is good news.

    • This is just the beginning - the rest of the story (which is left open-ended) is up to the hearer to complete.

  • Connections between Isaiah, John, and Wilderness

    • Isaiah 40 - A prophet in the midst of exile, but looking forward to homecoming.  It is a transition, and full of hope.

    • John - A prophet in the midst of occupation, but looking forward to deliverance.  Points to coming messiah as a sign of hope.

    • Wilderness - A time of transition for the people.  Surrounded by death and despair, the people are given manna, nourished by God.  They are also given the Law, which forms them as a people.

  • Verse 4 - How are baptism, repentance, and forgiveness related?

    • NRSV: John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

    • CEB: John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins

    • John Wesley: “That is, preaching repentance, and baptizing as a sign and means of it” (Wesley’s Notes on the Bible)

    • John Calvin: “Repentance is not placed first, as some ignorantly suppose, as if it were the ground of the forgiveness of sins, or as if it induced God to begin to be gracious to us; but men are commanded to repent, that they may receive the reconciliation which is offered to them.” (as quoted from Harmony, I, 179, in Interpretation: Mark, p. 32)

    • “The text makes it clear that repentance, baptism, and forgiveness of sins belong together,” (Williamson, p. 32)

Preaching Thoughts

  • This is good news.

    • Love is one of the Advent themes for this week.  Love is always good news.  Love is dark-piercing, cold-warming, fear-dashing, and earth shaking.  It is worthy of celebrating, and in need of preparation.  Decking the Halls with holly - splashes of color in an otherwise cold and gray landscape - is wholly appropriate.  Sing “Deck the Halls,” but remember why we are celebrating, why we are decorating.  

    • Both Rick Morley and the Rethink Church material point to the beginning scene of Godspell.  In the movie, the John the Baptist character calls people out of their everyday lives to splash and celebrate in the fountain.  Rick Morley describes the Broadway revival of the show starting with a small drip from the ceiling turning into a frollicking, splashing waterfall.

  • We are to prepare the way.

    • Christmas is indeed something for which we need to prepare.  For what are we preparing?  Are we spending time preparing for parties and pageants, or for the coming of Christ, the Son of God.  Are we preparing, in the midst of hard times, for the coming joy, or are we preparing for stress and bills.  John the Baptist was a strange-looking dude.  How can we be counter-cultural in the midst of preparing for Christmas?


Isaiah 40:1-11

Initial Thoughts

  • Captain quotable: “Comfort ye”, “Prepare the way” Grass may wither, flowers may fade”, “Here is Your God”

Bible Study

  • Second Isaiah - Move from Bad News to Good News!

    • Roughly 150 after 1 Isaiah - Judean exile and anticipated homecoming (as opposed to impending exile, destruction of Israel and the first attack of the Assyrians against Israel)

    • Theological Themes:

      • God’s promise of redemption

      • Words of Hope for an exiled people

  • Images of God

    • Holy and Transcendent - able to lift valleys and level mountains

    • Personal and Intimate - a shepherd who hold us close and carries us

    • Don’t conflict but inform one another (dialectic)

      • God transcendent power and judgement are only known through the intimacy of God’s grace and God’s grace is what informs God’s judgement

    • “Her gentle nurture is indeed mighty, and her might is her gentle nurture.” George Straup, Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.

  • Comfort

    • Like the εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) of Mark 1:1- totally unexpected

      • More wrath and judgement

      • We are receiving what we deserve-judgment/exile

      • But we are about to receive comfort

    • “The contrasting images serve to highlight the chasm between Yahweh and the people. They have sinned, but God has stayed true. They are fragile, but God is powerful. The poem focuses on the declaration of the human condition: grass withers, flowers fall, a reality too well known by the ancient audience. Their own inter-generational experience of exile has demonstrated that God does not care whether they live or die. They are no more than blades of grass crushed by the warrior rushing to glory. Ah, but no. Comfort. That’s what this poem is about. That divine warrior, with arm outstretched to slay an enemy, instead bends down and scoops the little lambs into the divine bosom.” - Corrine Carvalho (workingpreacher.org)
    • Does not deny “Jerusalem’s” sin, but acknowledges “her penalty is paid” - How can we model this radical forgiveness?

  • Judgement and Grace

    • God’s message of grace and forgiveness (Chapter 40) cannot be separated from God’s judgement against human sin (chapters 1-39)

    • Saved from

      • See first Preaching Thought: We need to walk the fine line between total depravity and cheap grace. Only by taking human sin seriously can we truly see the miracle, width and depth of God’s grace - but how to communicate that without declaring we are all worthless worms?

        • Acknowledge the fine line of faith between judgement and grace and their connection

        • Too often we ignore judgement in favor of grace- the two must be linked

  • Prepare the Way of the Lord

    • Both literal way (back from Babylon) and metaphorical way (see below)

    • Great leveling? Not physical but social leveling? Isaiah is not talking about socialism, but is advocating that God’s view of God’s people is being “reset” that all the rough places in our relationship with God will be made smooth, they those of us walking in the valley will be brought into the light and some of us need to come down off the mountaintop

    • Invitation into relationship the “gap” between valley and mountain will be made smooth

    • See Preaching Thought 2: Isaiah envisions a great leveling in preparation of God’s indwelling. Advent is a time for us to “prepare the way” for the Kingdom of God - how will that leveling look? This is a message of hope for those in the valley and those whose relationship with God has been a “rough place”. What about those who have been living on the mountain top? Perhaps it is time for them to invited into relationship with those walking in the valley...

  • Word of God lasts forever

    • An argument against anthropomorphizing God - people are unfaithful (see Gen. 9) God is not

    • God’s word (love, grace) lasts forever- it outlasts all judgment and separation (cf Exodus 34:6-8

    • Despite the fickle nature of people’s faithfulness, God’s word of grace is eternal- even beyond God’s word of judgement

Preaching Thoughts

  • We need to walk the fine line between total depravity and cheap grace. Only by taking human sin seriously can we truly see the miracle, width and depth of God’s grace - but how to communicate that without declaring we are all worthless worms?

    • Acknowledge the fine line of faith between judgement and grace and their connection

    • Too often we ignore judgement in favor of grace- the two must be linked

  • Isaiah envisions a great leveling in preparation of God’s indwelling. Advent is a time for us to “prepare the way” for the Kingdom of God - how will that leveling look? This is a message of hope for those in the valley and those whose relationship with God has been a “rough place”. What about those who have been living on the mountain top? Perhaps it is time for them to invited into relationship with those walking in the valley...


THANK YOU FOR LISTENING AND GET IN TOUCH:

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).