Lesson: Isaiah 40:1-11
1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10 See, the LORD God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading set the tone and essence of “Second Isaiah.” It was written during the ending years of the Babylonian Exile and referred to the Exile as a “penal servitude” in which the Judeans had paid double for their sins (v.2). YHWH (“your God”) referred to the Judeans as “my people.” In this way, the prophet emphasized that YHWH had not broken the Covenant and that there were no impediments to the salvation of the Judeans.
The prophet analogized the declining Babylonian Empire (which was conquered by the Persians in 539 BCE) to “withered grass” (v. 6-8).
The references to “preparing the way of the LORD/YHWH” (vv. 3-5) referred to facilitating the Judeans’ return to Jerusalem so that YHWH would again be visibly present in Jerusalem. These verses also convey the notion that the “Presence” of YHWH left Israel and came with the Judeans to Babylon, and now will return with them to Jerusalem. The “Presence” of YHWH was presented as an important theological component of the time in the Wilderness in the Book of Exodus.
The familiar image of God as shepherd (v.11) conveyed God’s care that will come to the people in Jerusalem.
Verses 3 to 5 were adapted by Mark in today’s Gospel and by the other Gospel writers to describe the ministry of John the Baptizer in preparing the way for Jesus of Nazareth.
Epistle: 2 Peter 3:8-15a
8 Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
In the First and Second Centuries, it was not uncommon to write something in another person’s name so that the writing would have extra “authority” – particularly when the writer believed he knew what the “authority” (in this case, Peter) would have said.
The Second Letter of Peter was likely written after 100 CE (Peter died much earlier) and conveyed the understandings of the church in the late First Century. It used terms from Hellenistic philosophy and was written in the popular Greek rhetorical style of the age, not a style that would have been customary for a Galilean fisherman.
The letter was presented as if it were a “testament” (final advice and warnings) by Peter based on his own experiences. Most scholars do not think that the authors of 1 Peter and 2 Peter were the same person.
This short (three chapters) letter emphasized the dangers of false prophets and presented a vision of the world so corrupt that it can be saved only by the Second Coming of the Christ. In that sense, the letter presented an “apocalyptic” vision of the world — one in which the situation is so dire that only an intervening event (the “Day of the Lord”) can change it.
Refuting those who denied that there will ever be a Day of the Lord because it had not yet come, the author reminded his hearers that God’s “time” is not our time (v. 8-9). The author said the world as we know it will be transformed by fire (vv.10,12) and there will be a new earth where right relationships (“righteousness”) will prevail (v.13). He urged the hearers of the letter to live blamelessly and at peace (v.14).
Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”