First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at dsmith@ontario.anglican.ca  . 

Readings For Advent 2: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter: 3:8-15a, Mark 1: 1-8

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Friday, December 5, 2014


Thanks To Feasting on The Word Year B Volume 1 pgs. 26- 49

Even though I try to make these First Thoughts my thoughts I do refer to
commentaries as well. And Talitha Arnold looking at our Psalm for Sunday
sees in verse 8 of Psalm 85 exactly what we are trying to do in these first
thoughts and in preaching and listening to sermons. She says," Instead the
vision comes in a typical act of worship, where an everyday priest does what
an everyday priest, rabbi, or pastor does every week- listens to the text
and asks , Let me hear what God the Lord will speak" Feasting on The Word
Year B Volume 1 pg. 32 I thought that was kind of a neat observation which I
would never have seen on my own.

I seem to be running out of time this week so I may be more succinct with my
first thoughts ( perhaps not a bad idea anyway). Ironically our epistle
reading addresses the issue of time and says that unlike our time God's time
never runs out.  Good news.

Our Gospel reading is the opening of Mark's Gospel. Mark has no birth
narrative but rather starts right off with an adult John the Baptist and an
adult Jesus and by stating right off the bat that his book is about the good
news of Jesus Christ. I think it was Biblical scholar William Barclay who
wrote that any sermon that is not good news is not a Christian sermon. I
have tried to take that advice to heart and ask myself, is what I am saying
good news. Of course this could be dangerous advice too because in an effort
to always have good news I might be ignoring authentic good news from God
and replacing it with what we want to hear as opposed to what we need to
hear.

And I think this is illustrated in our Gospel reading.  No sooner than Mark
says he is writing about good news , then he goes on to describe John the
Baptist's preaching which includes a strong admonition for people to repent
and confess their sins. This does not seem at first glance like good news,
seems kind of harsh. And in fact I think a lot of sermons that call people
to repent can be bad news sermons. Yet  one of the challenges that not only
our Gospel reading for Sunday but all of our readings present to us is the
importance of repentance and confession and forgiveness.  So it must be good
news. And it must inform our advent waiting and preparations.

Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah is about God who seeks to comfort the
people after a long period of suffering in exile in Babylon. I find this
tough to understand and even agree with  but it seems that this exile is
being interpreted as penance and now comfort is coming, and the people are
to prepare to receive the mercy and forgiveness of God. They are to prepare
to welcome God who will be as a shepherd to the people , feeding them,
holding them and gently leading them. They have lost everything, the land ,
the temple ect so they are to put their trust not in these things or even in
people who are all like grass that fades away ( including the powerful who
have been oppressing them)  but they are to put their trust in the word of
God that lasts forever and is with them. Our reading in poetic  imagery
seems to be describing a nation confessing and repenting and preparing the
way to receive forgiveness and hope.

I like how George Stroup describes the dynamic of this reading," The only
one who can be trusted to make right what is so badly wrong, who can lead
Judah out of exile and into the promised land, is the one whose Word will
alone stand forever. The implication in this text is that Judah is not yet
at home in Zion. Hope, therefore , must live in the tension between the Word
that is present, and the promise which is not yet." Feasting on The Word
Year B Volume 1 pg. 30 This hope works hard to prepare the way .

Psalm 85 references the theme of repentance  and forgiveness that seems
prevalent in our readings, but what really strikes me is the description of
God's salvation defined by peace, justice, faithfulness and steadfast love.
I love verse 10 and it would be  great to make these words come alive in a
sermon," Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace
will kiss each other"

2 Peter most scholars agree was one of the later books of the N.T. to be
written and this does seem to impact our reading which seems to be an
explanation for the delay in the Lord's return. Peter entertains an argument
about time saying that God's time is not like our time. What seems to us to
be a very long time is nothing to God so have patience. In fact 2 Peter
views the delay as very good news because it shows God's patience and desire
for all to repent and to experience salvation. As with the psalm there is
some wonderful images of salvation, a new heaven and a new earth where
righteousness is at home. I wonder what it will be like to live where
Righteousness is at home?

As I mentioned John the Baptist calls people to repentance as a way to
prepare for the coming of Jesus and a sermon on this would fit the theme of
the day. A lot of sermons are preached on how John who obviously had
charismatic appeal and followers was not pointing  to himself but to Christ.
I think it would be fun to invite people to think of those who prepared the
way of the Lord for them. The idea of preparing , clearing the way, going
before is in most of our readings for Sunday and could be an interesting
angle for a sermon. For instance this verse from the Psalm, Righteousness
will go before him and will make a path for his steps.

I mentioned at the start that it is not always easy to hear repent as good
news and preachers often steer away from it but you know I think our country
is experiencing this theme of repentance and confession  in a very public
way through the media and I pray it leads to peace and righteousness and
salvation. I think it is actually good news. I wonder if you have been
thinking the same thing?

Too many far too many women and some men as well  have for too long
experienced the horrors of sexual abuse and harassment. Now of course this
has been an issue for a long time and there has been much discussion and
work to try to end it. But recently because of a very prominent case in the
news  there has been a lot of people  saying repent , it must stop and a new
way of behaviour must replace it. There have been so many conversations
highlighting this hurtful behaviour and there have been so many voices like
John the Baptist's saying stop it. I listened , on an Ontario Today  radio
program, to a very moving confession of a man who had harmed his wife and it
seemed  at least that he was genuinely seeking forgiveness and working very
hard to change his behaviour. And as a society I think, I pray, we are
asking how can we make it better and what can we do on a macro level to stop
this.

I think John the Baptist would be pleased .

As always interested in your thoughts on the readings. Hope this helps for
Sunday worship.