December 6, 2020 Worship Resources
Welcome to our weekly updated Worship Resources section. Here you can find helpful links for virtual worship.
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Click here to view the Scripture readings and the responsive Psalm for Advent 2.
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On Sunday, the sermon will also appear below so that you can read or listen at your leisure.
Present Prophecy – Linda+
Advent 2 Year B 6 December 2020 Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8
Was John the Baptist the last prophet, or the first evangelist? Yes. The writer of Mark’s Gospel begins, not with shepherds, magi, and a manger, but with the resounding liminal presence of one who stands on the threshold of fulfillment of God’s promise to Creation. John the Baptizer evokes the foundational prophetic tradition, appearing as a wild specter of Elijah, dressed in camel hair and subsisting on locusts and honey, preaching repentance of sins. Mark reminds us of the words of Isaiah; a messenger from the wilderness, crying out,
“…prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
John the Baptizer harkens backward to the prophets while pointing forward to Jesus: Repent. Prepare. Something new is coming. Wake up. Good News, Good News, Good News. Prophet and evangelist, old and new, linking past and future.
We often think of prophets as predictors of the future, but that’s not a complete picture. The idea of touting prophecy as a foreteller of future events was actually a way of reinforcing something more important: the call of the present moment, the call to repent, to turn away from systems of injustice or complicity or idol worship, lest the judgment of God be passed upon the people of God. So when calamity struck Israel, as it did in 597 B.C.E. with the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile that followed, the prophets’ words became, not just a call to the people to heed their current situation, but also a predictor of future events: “See? Disaster has befallen us just as Isaiah predicted!” That’s the sexy bit—the idea that certain people can look ahead and tell us what will happen. Somehow it’s easier to ponder and contemplate and speculate about whether prophecy is right or wrong than it is to actually listen to what the prophets are saying and then do the hard work of healing and justice.
The reason the writers of the Gospels so often cited the prophets was not just because the prophets lent them credibility by imaging God’s future actions, but because they recognized a commonality and solidarity with the past. The Gospel writers recognized that the people of their history had stood at similar thresholds—meeting crises of war, famine, occupation, exile. And how they responded to those crises mattered to their future as the people of God.
Mark the Evangelist knew that invoking Second Isaiah would have an impact on his audience. While First Isaiah, written in the 8th century B.C.E., had warned the people of the consequences of their idol worship and turning from God—a warning that went unheeded, ultimately to their downfall–Second Isaiah spoke to the people two centuries later, during the Babylonian exile. And this time, for a change, God spoke words, not of warning, but of comfort. This was because the people were at a different kind of threshold from the ones they had encountered before. They spent a generation in Babylon without their home or their Temple. They had to find, in their new circumstances, a way to get along from day to day in a new country and culture. They had to learn new ways to worship and live their faith as people of God in a foreign land. They were struggling with what it was like to be in a New Normal. They needed reassurance—to know that God was still with them.
“Comfort, O comfort my people…she has served her term…her penalty is paid…”
“The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”
Thank God. This time of struggle is temporary—we will get through it, somehow.
The prophet speaks of a God of both strength and gentleness; of a God who can lift valleys even as he carries his flock gently in his arms. The prophet speaks God’s hopeful promise of deliverance; coming in might yet feeding his flock like a shepherd. Comforting God’s people. But comfort is not to be equated with complacency.
“A voice says, ‘Cry out!’ And I said, ‘What shall I say?’”
Cry out deliverance! Cry out that God is near! Cry out hope! And John the Baptizer does just that. Good News! The Messiah is here among us! The world is changing! The Holy Spirit is on the move! Wake up! Prophet and Evangelist. We don’t have to wear camel hair and eat locusts and wild honey to be either of these things. Or both. Cry out!
What shall we say? How shall we proclaim the might and grace of our God to a world consumed by sickness and fear; to a country riven by division and failure of political will, hungering for justice, compassion and healing? Because make no mistake, in this Advent season we are being called to be prophets and evangelists, crying out for world-turning change and proclaiming the now-and-not-yet of the Dream of God for all of Creation.
That’s a tall order. How dare the Gospel make such demands when we are dealing with so much, when we are trying to find a way to get along day to day, trying to learn new ways of worship and live our faith as people of God in what feels like foreign land of masks and social distance? When we are struggling with what it is like to be in a New Normal? How dare the Gospel make such demands upon a people in exile from our lives of ten months ago? How do we begin to meet such a challenge? By facing it, naming it, and trusting in God’s paradoxical mountain-leveling strength and shepherd-like lovingkindness. Hear the words of Bishop Steven Charleston:
Sometimes prophecy is pragmatism dressed up for church. And that is not always a bad thing. Take our current situation, for example. It doesn’t take a mystic to determine three things: we are in a bad way on many fronts, things will not get better right away, and the only way forward is together in faith. These statements are just facts. They pragmatically describe our context… But notice one other thing: this down to earth, common sense, give it to me straight approach releases a deep fountain of spiritual strength in us. …There is prophecy here because we now understand what we are up against and what we have to do. Prophetically, the future is not ours to see, but pragmatically it will be what we make it.
The people of God have been in exile before, and they learned that they would be changed by it. It is no different today. Like ancient Israel, like the first century Mediterranean world, we shall be changed by where we are now, and it remains to us to decide what our future will look like. And then, with God’s help, to make it so.