Based on Isaiah 40:1-11, 2Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8
I spent Tuesday afternoon this week on a ZOOM call with the eight second-year medical students that I am blessed to co-mentor. They have been in virtual learning mode since March and will soon finish up the didactic portion of their medical school education. They will begin in February to study for their first major practice examination called “Step 1” which they need to pass in order to continue towards becoming a physician. There is some nervousness among them as they begin to consider how they will prepare to clear this hurdle. The truth of the matter is that they have been actively preparing to meet this challenge over the last 18 months through their classwork and mentored practicums. They have learned much of what they need to know and have refined their basic skills of interviewing, physical examination and diagnosing. Most are at the point where they will be able to pass the Step 1 examination.
Our scriptures for this week speak to us about how spiritually prepared we are both for the coming of the Christ and the need to be actively working with God to prepare our world for His return. Whether it is Isaiah’s prophetic voice speaking comfort and hope to a people in exile in Babylon, the author of 2Peter speaking about how we are to lead our lives while we await Jesus or John the Baptizer speaking to all of Judah and Jerusalem about the need for a baptism of repentance of their sins so that they might be prepared for the One who is coming; we are called out of our inaction into a time of active participation to prepare a way for our Lord. Before we go any further, let us prepare ourselves with prayer. Please join me…
Second Isaiah is very pastoral in its approach. The writer is speaking to a people who have lost everything that they had ever known, and who had been physically removed from their “Promised Land”. They were now captives in a foreign land and in servitude to the Babylonians. God had brought about the exile because the people had worshipped other gods and had forgotten the LORD who had brought their enslaved ancestors out of the land of Egypt. Now, as strangers in a strange land, they needed to repent and find their way back to the LORD. To begin that journey of repentance they needed to hear words of comfort and solace – words that indicated that God would not punish them forever. In fact, not only would God not punish them forever, but God would once again lead them as a shepherd leads a flock. Nothing would stand in the way of the people returning to the LORD because the way would be prepared with the hills, valleys and crooked highways leveled and straightened.
The author of the letter known as 2Peter is reminding believers of the promise that Jesus the Christ was coming again. This letter is written to communities that had been troubled by false prophets. These heretics had convinced some of the believers that there was no second coming of Jesus and that it didn’t matter if one was already saved in this life – all that was needed was to die to become fully united with Jesus. This is a heresy that is with us still today, by-the-way. The author, in our reading for today, reminds the believers of the teachings of the Apostles about the return of the Christ, and about the presence of “scoffers”. He reminds them that God’s Kairos time is not yet as God wishes all to come to repentance. The letter goes on to teach about how we are to prepare to live “…leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God…” Further, they are to live at peace, without spot or blemish, considering the wait for God as an opportunity to bring themselves and others to the Christ for the salvation of all.
The Gospel of Mark jumps right into the good news about Jesus without preparing the reader. Jesus’ cousin John opens the Gospel baptizing those in Judah for repentance of their sins. He prepares the people for the entrance of Jesus by saying that he is NOT the Messiah, but the one who comes after him will be. He foretells that Jesus will not baptize using water for repentance but will baptize with the Holy Spirit which will prepare the people for the coming of God in and through Him.
Advent is all about waiting in the uncomfortable “now and not yet” space. It is also about understanding that we are to be actively preparing ourselves and our world for the coming of the Christ. This idea of prepared waiting is found numerous times in the Bible from Noah’s preparation of the Ark or Abraham’s active engagement with God while awaiting an heir, to the Hebrews waiting 400 years to be released from Pharaoh’s enslavement. Consider also the 40 years of preparatory wandering that was done by the Israelites in the wilderness as they followed Moses to the Promised Land, the 70 years of Exile in Babylon where the leadership rediscovered their relationship with God or the hundreds of years between the last prophet and the coming of John the Baptist. The idea that is repeated more times than this is that while we wait for God to act, we are to prepare ourselves to be in right relationship with God and with each other. This is neither a passive couch-potato style of waiting nor a hyper-busy and distracted rushing around, but an active, intentional and Holy Spirit empowered preparation that brings our lives into a holy and godly alignment with the presence of God in our world.
This is what the writer of 2Peter is communicating. The writer’s point is that if God’s Word can be trusted and the Christ will return for judgment and salvation, then Christians must be prepared always for his coming. They will express their readiness through holy living as they anticipate the new heavens and new earth God will create. The writer understands that living the holy life means learning to have loving relationships with others and with God. In such relationships, which are ultimately rooted in God’s grace, Christians will be prepared to seize every opportunity to cooperate with God’s desire that all persons come to know God through Jesus.
We do not know when God will feel it right to fulfill God’s promises. God’s Kairos time is calculated according to God’s plan for God’s people and all of creation. The LORD is neither slow nor has God forgotten God’s promises. In fact, the LORD is exercising mercy and patience towards us while we seek to do God’s will. What seems like a delay must be understood as grace and love. God continues to give time and opportunity to people because God wants everyone prepared to accept God’s saving grace. God’s Word is true and redemptive in its purpose. Our perceived “delay” in the second coming of Christ is actually God’s continuing gift of time and opportunity so that as many as possible may be prepared to be accepted into God’s kingdom.
This Advent, as you await the coming of Emmanuel, take a look at your spiritual life and assess how prepared you are to meet God in the every moment. If you are intentional with your discipleship you will find yourselves, like my second-year medical students, to have been preparing for the coming kingdom your whole lives. When you are prepared, you will be ready to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with all you meet and thus prepare others for the kingdom. Amen and amen!