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Sermon for December 10, 2023 – Second Sunday of Advent

Program Transcript

Advent – Peace

In the quiet moments of Advent, we find ourselves in the wilderness, where the hustle and bustle of the world begins to fade away. It’s here, in this sacred space, that we encounter the promise of peace.

Isaiah 40:1-11, a timeless passage, invites us to prepare the way of the Lord. It calls us to make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

In the midst of life’s deserts, amidst the rough terrain of our own struggles, we yearn for a peace that transcends the chaos of the world.

Cut to a bustling city scene, with people rushing in all directions. The camera captures the frenetic energy of the urban environment.

But in this season of Advent, we are reminded that peace is not found in the noise and distractions. It is not found in the clamor of our daily lives.

True peace is found in the stillness, in the calm waters of our souls. It’s a peace that flows gently, like a river, quenching our deepest thirst.

Isaiah’s words remind us that God is our shepherd, tending to us like a loving caretaker. He gathers us close and leads us with gentleness and care.

Transition to an image of a shepherd guiding his sheep through a peaceful pasture. The camera captures the harmony between the shepherd and the sheep.

This Advent, let us open our hearts to the promise of peace. Let us prepare a way for the Prince of Peace to enter our lives and calm our restless hearts.

In this season of Advent, may peace be our guiding light, illuminating our path and bringing solace to our souls.

“For the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”


Psalm 85:1-2,8-13 • Isaiah 40:1-11 • 2 Peter 3:8-15a • Mark 1:1-8

Each week of Advent, we will include a brief Advent service to accompany the lighting of a candle in the Advent wreath.

Second Sunday of Advent – Purple Candle

Last week we lit the candle of HOPE. We will relight that candle, and we will light the candle for the second Sunday in Advent. This is the candle of PEACE. As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we remember that Jesus is our hope and our peace. We will read from the prophet Isaiah, and the apostle John:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  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.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  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. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass; their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers; the flower fades, [when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers; the flower fades,] but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him and his recompense before him. 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. (Isaiah 40:1-11 NRSVUE)

Let us pray:

Gracious God, grant that we may be comforted by the good news that you have come to us in Jesus. May your Spirit give us peace as we prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s birth. May divisions in ourselves and in our families be peacefully resolved. May there be peace in our cities and in the countries of our world. Help us see the paths of peace in our lives, and then give us courage to follow them. Lord, let us remember that you only are the giver of lasting peace and that you are always with us. Amen.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and our theme for this week is waiting with patience. The call to worship Psalm promises that God will accomplish the deliverance promised. Isaiah 40 lays the foundation for the good news of the Incarnation: “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” Peter writes to clarify God’s perspective on time in contrast to ours, emphasizing the patient assurance of Divine presence through the most difficult times. Our sermon text is from Mark’s gospel, which examines how waiting with patience for the Second Coming is possible based on the promises kept with the Incarnation.

Promises Made and Kept

Mark 1:1-8 (NRSVUE)

Author and poet Maya Angelou once said, “I have great respect for the past. You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” The gospel of Mark starts off that way, going back long, long ago. He doesn’t choose to begin with Jesus’ birth, and he goes further back than John the Baptist. Mark wants to establish the arrival of Jesus as an idea that “began long, long ago in the mind of God,” according to Barclay’s Commentary, and the time of fulfillment of those promises is coming soon. Advent reframes our patient waiting for the Second Coming by placing it in the center of a scripture passage that goes back to the early prophets, announces its fulfillment with the Incarnation, and then implies its future realization with the Second Coming.

Our sermon text in Mark 1:1-8 ties closely with Isaiah 40:1-11, announcing that there’s a prophet in the wilderness who is preparing the way for God (Isaiah 40:3) and proving that this God is actively involved in the process. In fact, Isaiah 40 conveys God’s heart and desperate love for humanity. Let’s set the stage by reading Isaiah 40:1-11. [Read passage.]

Notice the urgency and the shepherd’s heart reflected in v. 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. (Isaiah 40:11, NRSVUE)

Our sermon text from Mark reaches back to these past promises and brings them forward to show their first fulfillment in the Incarnation, implying the promise of the Second Coming is just as certain. Let’s read Mark 1:1-8 together. Read More

To begin our exploration of this text, we need to understand the context for this passage in Mark with its apocalyptic elements of Jesus our deliverer, truth telling, and outside expectations.

The gospel of Mark: its context and apocalyptic themes

  • Jesus Our Deliverer

As we discussed last week, Mark’s gospel can be considered apocalyptic because it stylistically reveals God’s intentions and Jesus’ identity in the beginning verses, setting Jesus up to be God’s strong deliverer:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. 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] proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-3,7-8 NRSVUE)

Mark sets up Jesus as the “strong man” or deliverer in the opening verses and establishes God’s intention for the Divine to make way into our world that is fraught with evil, injustice, and unrest. This is one of the characteristics of apocalyptic literature in that it offers hope and a higher and longer-term view of challenges in this world.

Mark continues to offer examples of Jesus’ “strong man” status by the early thematic organization of his gospel found in the first chapter:

  • The Baptism of Jesus – Mark 1:9-11 – validating Jesus’ identity as the Son of God
  • The Testing of Jesus – Mark 1:12-13 – summarizing Jesus’ victory over Satan’s testing
  • The Calling of the First Disciples – Mark 1:16-20 – revealing the compelling call Jesus made
  • Man with an Unclean Spirit – Mark 1:21-28 – showing Jesus’ authority over evil spirits
  • Healing Many at Simon’s House – Mark 1:29-34 – showing Jesus’ authority over disease
  • Preaching in Galilee – Mark 1:35-39 – reporting Jesus’ authority in proclaiming the good news
  • Healing a Man with a Skin Disease – Mark 1:40-45 – showing Jesus’ authority over disease

Notice that the entire first chapter of Mark is devoted to establishing God’s intention to be present in our world and identifying Jesus as that presence, that strong deliverer. This illustrates some of the stylistic elements that characterize apocalyptic literature in the Bible, but more importantly, “With the good news of Jesus Christ, God has already entered the struggle” that we face in living our human lives (Boston University Homiletics Professor, Rev. Dr David Schnasa Jacobsen).

  • Truth Telling

Mark isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to telling the truth about the Incarnation. He begins by quoting Isaiah 40:3, but Barclay’s Commentary points out that similar wording can be found in Malachi 3:1, and in that context, its connotation is threatening due to the priests failing to fulfill their duties during the prophet Malachi’s time. Their temple service was without joy or standards, and the “messenger” would purify the temple worship before the Christ returned. Mark’s throwback to the prophets, stating that this was “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ” (v. 1), illustrates how the Incarnation was “destined before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20).

John the Baptist was known as a truth-teller, forcing people to see what they would rather not see, and he was God’s messenger sent ahead of Jesus, who also spoke hard truths. For example, John told an audience well-familiar with the ritual washings that were part of the Jewish law that they were unclean. One can assume that this message would not be welcomed with open arms by those who prided themselves in keeping the finest details of the law.  This was the sin that Jesus entered: “the powers that perpetuate sin, the nations that nurture sin, and the structures that situate sin as justifiable” (Lewis, “A Truth-Telling Advent”). Not only did Jesus enter our humanness and the sins associated with that, but also our institutions and cultural stories that enable sin and hide the truth of God’s love for all human beings.

The truth-telling relationship and parallels between John’s story and Jesus’ story should be noted. Both began their ministries in the wilderness with the focus of proclaiming God’s restoration. But true to the apocalyptic nature of Mark, John proclaimed Jesus’ supremacy, humbly offering that he was “not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals.” (v. 7), and then Jesus asked John to baptize him anyway (Mark 1:9). Though John was not “worthy,” Jesus still wanted him to participate in moving the Good News forward. It works the same way with us if we make ourselves aware and available.

  • Outside Expectations

In contrast to beginning his gospel with a factual genealogy (like Matthew) or a compelling story about conceptions and births (like Luke), Mark begins somewhere outside our expectations for a good, heartwarming Christmas story. He offers no frills but shows how God has been bringing about the Incarnation – God with Us – and talking about it since the time of the Old Testament prophets. In this manner, Mark tells us that we can look at this “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) as a series of promises made and kept by God. It gives us fuel to imagine the Second Coming could also be fulfilled outside our expectations as well.

Mark relies on disrupting our human expectations about how John the Baptist, Jesus, and even the Father should behave. John the Baptist, with his clothing of camel hair and his meals of locusts and honey, was outside the expectations of the Jews of his day. Jesus also did not meet the expectations of his culture. He had a humble beginning, and as an adult, he chose to spend his time with those deemed worthless by Jewish culture, such as children, women, the poor, and the sick. Mark’s gospel helps us to rethink our expectations for God, the Second Coming, and our interactions with others: “God’s good news of grace announces God’s presence on the fringe, God’s love that goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be, and God’s promise that there is no place on earth God will not go or be for us” (Lewis, “Beginnings and Endings”). It’s this out-of-the-box approach conveyed by Mark that makes patiently waiting for the Second Coming possible. We can’t imagine the good God intends for us.

The examination of Jesus our deliverer, truth telling, and outside expectations helps us approach the second week of Advent thoughtfully. Mark 1:1-8 holds up an accounting of promises made and kept by the Incarnation. The fulfillment of those promises with the Incarnation did not always make people feel comfortable, and sometimes their realization took place outside the typical boundaries people expected. The constant assurance of Jesus our deliverer, though, helps us imagine the reality of the Second Coming while we wait and celebrate the gift of the Incarnation now.

Call to Action: This week, reflect on how Jesus our deliverer has shown up in your life. This could be something dramatic or it could be a simple knowing you had of God’s presence during a time when you needed it. Next, think of an instance when God revealed a truth to you that you didn’t want to see or posed a truth that was outside your expectations and comfortable boundaries. Offer thanksgiving for both if it seems right to you, and pray that you will be aware of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life, willing to hear and respond even when it’s difficult.

For Reference:

God in the Neighborhood w/ Winn Collier W2

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December 10 — Second Sunday of Advent
Mark 1:1-8, “The Good News of Jesus Christ”

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Program Transcript

God in the Neighborhood w/ Winn Collier W2

Anthony: Let’s transition into our second pericope of the month. It’s Mark 1:1–8. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the second Sunday of Advent, which is December 10.

Winn, would you read it for us, please?

Winn: Sure.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. 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,’” so John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the whole Judean region 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 strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Anthony: Winn, to quote Karl Barth again, he says, “The gospel does not indicate possibilities, but declares actualities.” And I use that as a springboard into this passage because Mark starts with the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.

So, tell us more about this good news.

Winn: Yeah, I love how, that word “beginning,” the beginning of the good news, which has multiple possible meanings. It’s the source, it’s the starting place. It’s like the water source for the river. If you trace it all the way back, everything that is good news begins in Jesus, everything that is truly hopeful for the world begins in Jesus.

And I think that’s a corrective for us because it means whenever the gospel we’re offering isn’t good news for the world, we need to step back and rethink what it is that we’re believing. But it also means that everything that is good and beautiful and just and true, it finds its roots in Jesus Christ. And that is a proclamation that we make with assurance and confidence and hope.

One of my favorite beloved theologians was Robert Jensen, and he described the gospel as the story of God proclaimed as a promise. (I’m sorry. I messed that up.) The story of Jesus proclaimed as a promise. And it means that everything that Jesus did, everything that John the Baptizer was pointing to, everything about this Jesus is a promise for us, because he’s the true human.

He’s the one who, in his one body, united the triune God and humanity, which is our true home, that’s where we’re to be. And in this Jesus, we find out what it means to say the name, God. Whenever we want to know what God is like, look at Jesus Christ.

And we began to learn, what does it mean to use a word like human? We don’t get abstract ideas or our own experiences of what it means to be human and then go and try to see how that gets globbed onto Jesus. Just the reverse. We look at Jesus and we say, oh, this is what it means to be human, to live like this, to have this heart, to move in this way, to know God in this way, to love all of humanity in this way, to give your life for the love of others in this way, to love and delight in the goodness of this world in this way. This is what it actually means to be human.

And so, the one that John proclaimed is the one who shows us, in the deepest and fullest and widest sense, what it actually means to be alive.

Anthony: You use the word globbed. I wasn’t expecting that on this podcast. Well done, sir.

When was the last time you wore camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey, Winn?

Winn: Yeah, yesterday.

Anthony: It’s been a while, 24 hours? I won’t ask you to tell that story, but let’s talk about John the baptizer for a moment. He prepared the way of the Lord. My question for you, is that an effort solely unique to John, or do we have some sort of participation in the Spirit for preparing the way for Christ’s next appearance?

Winn: Yeah, in some ways I want to say both. I think it was very unique to John, but it’s actually in that particularity that we find our own calling to. And so, I even think of what does it mean to prepare the way? And what seems important to me, maybe in this cultural moment that we’re in the North American church, is there’s a difference between preparing the way and thinking you are the way.

There’s a difference between this humble posture that says, Jesus is good news in all the places where your heart aches and all the places where we’re destroying ourselves and all the places where we have given ourselves over to perversions and lies and distorted our humanity. Help is coming.

And that’s a very different posture from. I’m convinced I have the answer and the resources and I’m going to use power to manipulate reality to force upon you, accepting or at least submitting to some Christianized version of a cultural vision that I have. That’s exactly the opposite from the sacrificial self-giving. transformative, death-denying, life-affirming reality that is Jesus Christ.

And so, you have this moment looking forward toward the end of the story, which is where the end of Advent takes us, which is this beautiful vision of a future where every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And in the story of Jesus, that is not a coercive, the divine cracking the holy whip. It is, what else would you do when you have been so undone by the brilliance of love?

What else would you do when you have actually come face to face with the healing reality of the one who suffered and died and healed and renewed? What else would you do in your right mind other than to bend your knee? Because wonder is there. And I think the question for me is not just are we to prepare the way but what does it mean to prepare the way?

And it is to point, in every part of our being—Eugene often said the way we go about truth is as essential to the truth as the truth we’re proclaiming. That the ways and the ends absolutely have to align, or one of them becomes a lie. And for us, as those who would say—we better pause before we say this—but for those of us who would say, I seek to follow the way of Jesus Christ, if we say that, then that means that our life is bent toward the reality of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial, self-giving love, and to prepare the way for that one, is to actually begin to live in that way and to point toward Jesus in ways that are congruent with the Jesus who is coming.

And I have both immense concern about where many of us in the North American church are and how we are saying that we’re following Jesus. And I have profound hope. Because Jesus is coming, and Jesus will heal, and Jesus will save, and Jesus will rescue, and Jesus will love, and Jesus will gather. And I really hope that we aren’t resistant to that but are actually preparing and participating in that.

Anthony: Yeah, I really appreciated what you said from Eugene about the ways that we proclaim the way, and in that, we can turn back to John the baptizer and think of that passage in John 1 where he points away from himself and points to the one, the true human and says, look, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

And he doesn’t seem to get too uptight when his disciples leave him and follow Jesus. And isn’t that really the way? We’re pointing to him who is our true hope. And I also appreciated the eschatological vision you gave us of every mouth confessing.

A friend of the podcast, Kenneth Tanner, talks about when true, pure love is revealed, as you mentioned, what other response is there but our knees to be buckled, not being coerced, not being strong arm. What else is there, but to bow in love and worship to the one who has made us?

Good stuff.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Mark’s apocalyptic style dramatically highlights Jesus’ victory and sets him up as our strong deliverer. How does reading about Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Incarnation increase your faith and assurance of the Second Coming?
  • By not conforming to cultural expectations, Jesus showed how God’s love for all people disregards boundaries and conventions. How does this support the idea that “God’s love …goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be and God’s promise that there is no place on earth God will not go or be for us?” In other words, how did Jesus’ behavior show evidence of God’s devotion to humanity?
  • Think of an example in your own life or in the Bible where the triune God or Jesus acted outside the expectations of the culture but firmly within the boundaries of love. Tell us about your example and how you see God’s love conveyed. What do you find meaningful about this example?

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