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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Second Sunday of Advent - December 4, 2011



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Rev'd Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 40:1-11

This is the beginning of the part of Isaiah written from exile in Babylon. In vv. 1-2, God speaks. Because “comfort” and “speak” are in the plural (in Hebrew), he speaks to a group, probably of angels, but possibly of prophets: i.e. may you comfort ... . Literally, they are to speak “tenderly” (to the heart, the seat of reasoning), to “Jerusalem”; but the city is in ruins, so (this passage being a vision) their audience is an idealized kingdom of his people. Tell them, he says, that their time of sorrow is over, that they have “served” their punishment for waywardness, that the Exile is about to end. Use of the word “double” (v. 2) assures that their purification from sin is finished, that difficult times are truly ended. So a new era is dawning, inaugurated by God’s Word.

In vv. 3-5, a heavenly voice (or the prophet) announces, in language reminiscent of the pomp of royal pageantry in Babylon, “prepare the way of the Lord”. (Christianity was later known as The Way, God’s manner of life.) God is coming; he is about to lead a new Exodus (note “wilderness”, “desert”) to a blessed land. Seeing this marvellous display of God’s presence is independent of our tendency to sin, and thus is only dependent on God’s grace and power. (The words translated “all people” mean, literally, all flesh.) Then “a voice” (v. 6) from heaven commands the prophet to “Cry out!”, but he asks: what should I tell them? For they are like flowers and “grass”: they fade and wither when God acts. (The word translated “breath” (v. 7) also means spirit, as in Genesis 1:2, where the wind of God sweeps over the primeval waters.) People are fickle, but God’s “word” (v. 8) endures.

Even so (v. 9), the prophet (on behalf of Jerusalem) is told to tell the “good tidings”, the good news, boldly, to tell all people “Here is your God!”. Jerusalem (“Zion”) and Judah are to be the centre for God’s activity on earth. He comes, says v. 10, as a king (“with might”, “rules”) who really cares: he brings redemption, restoration (“reward”, “recompense”). Finally, v. 11 likens him to a shepherd: one who gathers the weak (“the lambs”), makes people one with him, and compassionately leads. (In the ancient world, a shepherd led, rather than drove, his sheep, to protect them from lurking predators.)


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 85:1-2,8-13

Vv. 1-2 tell of God’s restoration of Israel, probably in releasing them from Exile. But times are tough: vv. 4-7 are a prayer that God may again show favour - in the present difficulties: please, God, “restore us again”; give us life and “salvation”. The people returned to a ravaged land. In vv. 8-13 the psalmist hears God speaking: he will impart blessings upon the faithful. They will receive “peace”, shalom, godliness, well-being, including “salvation” which is “at hand”. In this process, God’s presence and power will be apparent. V. 10 says that four of God’s attributes, his gifts to humankind, will come together. Then v. 11: human “faithfulness”, adherence to God, the ultimate truth, will be reciprocated by him. He will give prosperity, materially and spiritually. Crops will improve (v. 12) and the people’s godliness “will make a path” (v. 13) for his coming.


2 Peter

The author wrote this letter because he realized that he was approaching death and wished to leave to his fellow Christians a testimony: a statement of what being a Christian entails, how they should live in order to be judged worthy of the kingdom when Christ returns. Most scholars believe that the author was not Peter because, from internal evidence, it was not written until at least 90 AD, by which time Peter was dead. For example, it refers to Paul's letters as "scripture". His letters only became part of the collection of Christian writings long after Paul's death.


2 Peter 3:8-15a

Aware that he will soon die, the author leaves his fellow Christians with a testimony of what being Christian demands: how to live up to The Way, so that they may be among the godly when Christ comes again. It was tempting to deny that Christ would come again because early Christians expected the world to end within their lifetimes.

The delay, he argues in v. 8, is only in human terms, for God does not measure time as we do. God wishes all people to be found worthy at the Last Day; he does not want any to “perish” (v. 9) for ungodliness; so he is waiting patiently for all to repent of their waywardness. The End will come “like a thief” (v. 10), i.e. suddenly, unexpectedly. The images of the end-times in v. 10b are drawn from popular Jewish and Greek (Stoic) philosophy of the day. (Annihilation of all things by fire was a Stoic belief.) A “loud noise” heralds the Day; the conduct of all people will be made known then. So, he asks rhetorically in vv. 11-12, given that the End will come, what should our conduct be as we wait for the End and hasten it (through bringing people to Christ)? But, says v. 13, for us Christians annihilation is not the End, for (per Isaiah 66:22), we look forward to “new heavens and a new earth”, inhabited by the godly. In v. 14, he answers: we should work at being “at peace”, at being ethically and spiritually perfect, prepared for Christ’s (“him”) coming at the End. We should see the apparent delay in his coming as an opportunity for repentance, for attainment of salvation.


Symbol of St Mark

Mark

As witnesses to the events of Jesus life and death became old and died, the need arose for a written synopsis. Tradition has it that Mark, while in Rome, wrote down what Peter remembered. This book stresses the crucifixion and resurrection as keys to understanding who Jesus was. When other synoptic gospels were written, i.e. Matthew and Luke, they used the Gospel according to Mark as a source. Mark is most probably the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12: his mother's house was a meeting place for believers.


Mark 1:1-8

Mark begins his telling of the “good news” with quotations from the Old Testament. God had promised the Israelites a “messenger” (v. 2) to lead them. The prophet Malachi understood this promise as pointing to the end-times, to one who would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. To him, the “messenger” would be Elijah. While v. 3 originally spoke of return from exile, by Jesus’ time it was seen as an expression of God’s comfort and salvation. To us, John the Baptist comes to prepare for, and announce, Jesus’ coming. Tradition says that John baptised near Jericho, in an arid region. People came to him in large numbers, repenting (changing their mind sets), “confessing their sins” (v. 5), resolving to sin no more, and dipping themselves in the River. John dressed like a hermit or prophet (v. 6). (In Palestine, some species of locusts were eaten.) John is so unworthy, compared to “the one who ... is coming” (v. 7), that he cannot untie his “sandals”, a task normally performed by a slave. His baptism is a sign of purification, of turning to God, of accepting God’s forgiveness and judgement; Jesus’ baptism re-establishes a spiritual link between God and humans.

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