Sunday Scripture Readings

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT,

DECEMBER 8

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85;

2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

OUR GOOD NEWS: We are all John the Baptist's successors, through word and example hastening Christ's return that will bring a new and perfect world. The prophet (first reading) sketches an imaginative scene: God enthroned in his heavenly palace surrounded by lesser gods (angels). He commissions his courtiers with a task for Jerusalem, His Chosen People. These had proved unfaithful, forsaking the protection of God's covenanted love. Having lost everything they now languished in exile, slaves to pagan foreign masters and their alien gods. No matter! God returns good for our evil! Heavenly messengers should comfort rather than continue punishment. We can only console each other in loss, but God's "comfort" heals and restores. Human words fail to convince the despondent, but God's prophetic word can speak tenderly (persuasively). In strict justice it simply wasn't true that Israel "had fulfilled her term of bondage (meted out by divine Judge), her penalty discharged, having received double measure for her sins." In fact, she only got what she richly deserved. Such exaggeration revealed a gentle, caring God eager to forgive, looking for excuses to bless rather than punish. The scene shifts as God implements His "comforting" through this self-effacing prophet-herald. "Listen! Someone is calling out!" The One who centuries earlier led His people out of Egyptian slavery, across the terrible Sinai desert and into the Promised Land would now outdo Himself in a second and more astonishing exodus. Work gangs would be sent ahead, preparing the road to His majesty's comfort and convenience. For God's royal progress, whole "valleys" and even "mountains" would be leveled! The third and final scene in Isaiah's imaginative prophecy would take place a thousand miles from Babylonia and the Israelite exiles. Judah's capital city Jerusalem, like a watchman from a hilltop perch, catches sight of her returning children and joyfully heralds "glad tidings" to the whole country: "Here is your God!" God's glory, His privileged self-revelation of might and power, would be manifested in His people on pilgrimage back into the Land of Promise. "He comes with power" - but also "like a shepherd": gentle, peaceful, caring and considerate of the weaker members in His retinue. This great Advent reading reminds us that God's self-revelation to the whole world occurs not in spectacular inbreakings that awe the bystanders and disturb the natural order but through His all-too-frail Church. In our journey out of sin and into His saving Kingdom, we too witness to the greatest of God's mighty acts and the supreme expression of His saving love. We hear elsewhere in Isaiah of human infidelity deserving only God's punishment. Instead, here we hear of the greatest of miracles, revealing to one another and to expectant unbelievers God's marvelously accepting love toward those undeserving of forgiveness and blessings.

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