a voice in the wilderness of uncertainty

Annunciation to the Virgin Mary (detail)“, Pontormo, Jacopo da, 1494-1556.

For Sunday, December 4, 2011
Second Sunday of Advent

The wilderness of uncertainty is where our culture has chosen to stake its tent.  It’s in vogue to be uncertain: to be certain is deemed arrogant and narrow-minded.  Of this thought is the Secular West, ironically, most certain.  The problem is this: while the wilderness can be a good place for the occasional adventure, it’s not a very hospitable place to live.  Hence do this week’s readings call us gently, lovingly, and compellingly to better ground.

This week’s first reading comes from Isaiah 40, which is a profoundly beautiful chapter of the Bible.  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).  The gospel invites us to come out of the wilderness and make our home by the verdant river of God’s grace, alongside which we have received from the Lord’s hand “double for all our sins“.

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  One of the most important roles of the church in the world is to proclaim the Word of God.   We get so caught up in the latest social developments, whether the Tea Party or the Occupy Movement, that we forget that these things, albeit important, are ultimately fleeting.  What is going to last?  What has lasted from the very beginning in Eden, through successions of the rise and fall of empires, up to this very day?  The Word of the Lord.  When we proclaim this Word, however imperfectly, we are grounding ourselves in something both true and enduring.  How a culture living in the wilderness of uncertainty needs this slake of truth.

Turning then to this week’s second reading in Psalm 85 we read: “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?  Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation” (v. 6).  What God wants is not that we would continue hurting, but rather to heal us through his unfailing love.  There is comfort, confidence, and strength in his redemptive purpose for each of us.   “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven” (v. 11).  The gospel is like a cool spring flowing down a rock on a sky blue sunny day.  May this cool water and warm sunshine refresh our souls and bring joy to our bodies.

In this week’s third reading, Mark 1, Mark the evangelist begins his gospel by quoting from this week’s first reading.  He follows the quotation with this: “And so John came” (v. 4).  In other words, the voice of the wilderness has been revealed.  It is John the Baptist.  This John said, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).  When we come to Christ by believing in his ability to forgive our sins, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives.  God marks our confession of faith with his own personhood in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t despair, for if you have believed, the Holy Spirit is in you.

Finally, in this week’s fourth reading, the Apostle Peter sums up what the reality of the gospel means for each of us who believe: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be layed bare.  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Pet. 3:10-12a).

Reader’s Corner:
What is God putting on your heart this week to live out a holy and Godly life?  How might your unique gifts and talents be used by your Heavenly Father to speed the coming of the day of God?

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