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  . 

Reflections on the 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 Saturday, December 6, 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.  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, 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. 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 onlyone 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. 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 .