Friday, December 5, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Thoughts on the Second Sunday in Advent, Year B
7th December 2008

An Advent Question
Advent is our time of preparation for our annual remembrance of the birth of Christ for Christmas. Although there is great pressure all around us to begin Christmas celebrations as soon as we can, there is much to be gained by holding off. How often do hear folk ask what is the meaning of Christmas, or where the true meaning of Christmas gone and how we can get it back?
In many of us are very busy with the outward preparation for Christmas: decorating homes and offices, shopping for gifts, cooking and baking. In the midst of all this preparation, the prayers and readings of Advent —at least those of the Eucharist on the four Sundays — can help to keep our hearts and minds fixed on the one whose coming we celebrate.
May I recommend a simple question to keep in mind that will keep the Advent preparations focussed? You know it, it is the opening of a very beautiful Christmas hymn: “What Child is this who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping?” If we make this question the focus of Advent prayer and meditation, by the time we come to the creche on Christmas Eve we will be ready to contemplate the story it depicts.
The Three Advents
We are well used to thinking of the first Advent of our Lord, when he came in humility to be born for us at Bethlehem, and looking ahead to the his second coming in glory to judge the world; but as Peter of Blois, who lived from about 1135 to about 1200, said in an Advent Sermon
"There are three Advents of the Lord: the first to take our flesh; the second to our soul; the third to judgment. The first at midnight the second in the morning, the third at noon.”
The first Advent has been; the third is yet to come; the third is in our loves. In the second Advent our Lord comes to us in the Spirit, and if we welcome him, takes possession our souls, and gives us new life. We mst keep this in mind when we hear the words of Isaiah : Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
In one sense this means that I must be sure that the way is open for him to me. And this is why in the Gospel today we hear of John’s Baptism for the remission of sins. In sin I turn from the way of God to go my own way. It is not that Christ won’t come to me, but that I block his way, being blind to his coming and deaf to his voice.
In another sense, when we hear these words we must ask ourselves whether we are preparing a way for the Lord to come to his people or are blocking him

With all these things in mind, it is clear why the particular Sentence ot Alleluia Verse was chosen for today, for it contains a very clear promise and a very clear command: The promise is that “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”, that is to say, the salvation of God comes to all people; it is most obviously fulfilled in the proclaiming of the Gospel in all lands and nations. The command is to prepare the way of the Lord, as.
The Readings
As always you would do well to look at the notes at the RCL Commentary Website; a link is in the left-hand margin.
In each year of the Revised Common Lectionary the Four Sundays of Advent follow the same pattern.
The Gospels of the first Sunday all concern the Coming of the Son of Man in glory to judge the world;
The Gospels of the Second and Third Sundays concern the John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Son of Man and his testimony to Jesus
The Gospel of the fourth Sunday concern the annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Joseph (Year A) and Mary (Years B and C).
Today our first reading [Isaiah 40.1-11] is the opening of the second part of the Book of Isaiah; it is a prophecy of the return of Israel from exile in Babylon. The prophet sees it as a new Exodus (the wilderness, the desert) and a promise that God himself will be shepherd of his people. This, as we remember was a theme through the last Sundays of the Chiurch year. Another passage of Isaiah which is closely related to this one is Isaiah 35.1-10 (read on Advent 3 in year A).
The Advent focus of this passage is made clear because it was used by John the Baptist, as seen in today’s Gospel.
The Psalm [85.1-2, 8-13}, like the first lesson, looks to God’s mghty acts of salvation as assurance that he will continue to show loving kindness to his people.
With the Epstle reading from Second Peter [2 Peter 3.8-15a] we return to the theme of Christ’s coming in judgment. We must not forget that this, too, is answer to the question “what child is this?” for Christ was not always a child, and he did not come to give only a superficial love and peace. He came to meet the needs of the human race at the very roots of sin and death, and to restore God’s loving and merciful rule. That cannot be without judgment.
Moe immediately, this passage says two things to us. The first is that although the promised coming may seem delayed, it is not. All things, and the end of the story, are in the hands of Christ. If we are given time, it is so that we may turn to him and learn his ways. The other thing is that if we are to be his people, knowing that he is to judge, we must ask ourselves, How then shall we live? At Christmas, we may put this another way: our Lord came in humility to become an infant, which is a sign of his giving all he had for our sake. How then shall we live?
I have to confess that I am not sure what is meant by "waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (verse 12). Most early modern translations (such as the Authorized Version of 1611) give it as hastening unto; some more recent versions give vehemently desiring. Hastening seems to be the most literal version, but what does it mean? What can we do to hasten the day of God? This would be an excellent question for a Bible Study Group. Another question that comes from this verse is: what difference is there, if any, between the "day of the Lord" and the "day of God"?
The Gospel passage [Mark 1:1-8] is very straightforward, and I do not think I need to add anything to the notes in the RCL Commentary.
I am looking forward to being at The Church of Saint Columba and All Hallows this Sunday to begin a time as Interim Priest in Charge. The Church is at 2723 St Clair Avenue East, just east of O'Connor Drive, in East York. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated at 8:30 a.m. (said) and 10:00 a.m. (sung)

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