Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
December 6, 2020
Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are the weird ones who pay attention and seek to be both trailblazers and peacemakers in the name of Christ.
Key Scripture: Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish. – 2 Peter 3:14
“Blessed are the weird people:
poets, misfits, writers
mystics, painters, troubadours
for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.” — Jacob Nordby
Last week we lit the candle of hope, the first candle on the Advent wreath. This week we light the second candle, traditionally referred to as the candle of faith, or the Bethlehem Candle to signify Mary and Joseph’s journey to Joseph’s familial home for the Roman census. (Note: Some traditions celebrate this as the candle of love.) Click here for more information.
However you identify meaning for the second candle of Advent, the lessons this week remind us that Christ followers are weird people. When Jacob Nordby wrote his “Weird People Manifesto,” followed by the book Blessed are the Weird in 2016, he quickly found his tribe. When at our best, we Christians are weird people, too. We have faith in a Christ who is a radical peacemaker, who doesn’t respond as expected to the world and its ways, and who comes to bring healing, justice, peace, and a new way of living and being. We follow the one who teaches us to “see the world through different eyes.” That means we have access to a creative and cosmic vision of the Christ that infuses every atom and molecule in existence. Doesn’t get much weirder or more wonderful than that!
In addition, 2020 has certainly been a weird year as we’ve navigated months of a deadly pandemic and dealt with the reality of divisions, hatred, and violence. There is no better time than this Advent to embrace the weirdness of the gospel and Jesus followers. In fact, the “weirdness” of this good news may be just what we as disciples and the church need. So, bring on the weird.
Isaiah 40:1-11: All is not well in Zion. We know at this point in the book that the people of Israel have been delivered into Babylonian captivity. War and defeat surround God’s people, and they are likely feeling God’s absence more than presence among them. Yet God sends the prophet with the message, “Comfort, O comfort my people says your God” (vs. 1). This is not the end of the story. God has far more to accomplish in the way of salvation and restoration. War and defeat are not the last words where the LORD is concerned. There is, however, wilderness—a place where the people work out their faith, making a straight highway for God, smoothing out the hills and valleys, making the rough places smooth so that God can do a new thing in a new way.
The lesson reminds us that timing is important; our days on this earth are numbered, even though we often live as if that is not truth. We are people in process, clinging to and growing in faith as God’s people, and we are reminded not to be fearful. Weird is good for God’s faithful people; fear not so much so. Even when God seems so far away and hope is in short supply, still we go forward in faith, trusting that God will shepherd us with tenderness and persistence.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13: This psalm excerpt contains the wonderful verse “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (vs. 10). God is doing something new, bringing about right relationship and peace for God’s people, both then and now. With the faithful across generations we long for and expect this “new thing” that God was, is, and continues to do in Jesus. The candle of faith continues to burn brightly because we weird people will not let go of our hope and God’s promises. We hold to faith in a new day and a better way, but we must also participate in the process.
2 Peter 3:8-15a: God’s people can be impatient, crying out “How long, O Lord? How long must we wait until you make all things right?” Peter uses bits and bobs from his own time and context, harnessing some of the Stoic language of the day about end times and a great, cleansing conflagration. His point? We don’t get to simply sit around and wait for the Day of the Lord. We participate in its coming by living lives of faithfulness and readiness, responding to the good news of the Christ with our actions and choices. He notes that we are to strive for peace in a world that values conflict and winners over harmony and losers. Once again, we are called to be the weird ones of the world, the ones who follow a cosmic Christ and expect his return.
Mark 1:1-8: Mark’s gospel was written on the heels of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. God’s faithful people were mired in chaos and loss. And yet…and yet into the middle of this season of destruction and war comes a radical story of peace, hope, love, joy—and promise. This good news would have been proclaimed aloud, most likely in a single sitting that takes about two hours or less.
Mark plunges right in, echoing the beginning of Genesis, invoking Isaiah, and introducing us to one of the weird ones—John the Baptist—who foretells the coming of Jesus. John is crystal clear about his purpose and message: “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” (vss. 7-8). John is one of the weird ones, in possession of a clear purpose, a compelling message, and an uncompromising spirit. He knows by faith that he will recognize the Messiah. Do we know this by faith? Do we live by faith steeped in this good news, responding with lives that may look weird by the world’s standards? Have we journeyed into the wilderness to encounter John and his radical message, to have our lives changed, reordered, and made weird? If not, this very COVID Advent provides a wilderness within to explore and encounter the Christ. Blessings on your faithful (and weird) preaching, teaching, and wilderness wanderings.
Looking for a non-traditional but powerful Advent hymn? Check out Rising Appalachia’s song “I Believe in Being Ready.” Click here.
Consider memorizing the gospel lesson and presenting it as a storyteller would.
If you are having digital worship, invite worshipers to consider the deserts of their own lives. How has time “in the wilderness” helped them to grow, to develop resilience, to survive, to articulate their faith? Have they ever spent time in the wilderness, cut off from conveniences and cell service? What was their experience of time apart?
When we think of trends, there are always some early adopters. Once a critical mass adopts the trend, the general masses will ride the trend wave, albeit a bit behind. There are always a few folks who won’t join in at all. Think of how YouTube celebrities gain their followers today.
John the Baptist clearly started a trend in the wilderness, and a lot of folks came out to try his way through a baptism of repentance and a changed life. How do you suppose John ended up with so many early adopters? Who might be the ones in this story who would never adopt the trend? How would the majority of folks respond? Would you have headed out to the Jordan River to see what this was all about?
Digging Deeper: Ask how we might better tell the story of Jesus. Religious affiliation is on the decline in the U.S. We have the best message ever, so that’s not the problem. Is it how we communicate that message? Is it how we don’t communicate the message? Is it a problem of how we do or do not embody the message? A little bit of everything? What should be do differently and/or better?
This week’s focus verse is 2 Peter 3:14: – Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.
We know that Jesus is coming again, both at Christmas as a tiny human baby and after his resurrection to restore everything to its intended purpose and order. We don’t know when. We don’t know what we’ll be doing or where we’ll be when Jesus comes again. We’re just told to wait. And not just wait, but to be people of peace, without imperfections.
How can we be people of peace while we wait for Jesus? (Entertain all answers.) Yes! We can be kind to others. We can listen. We can be helpful. We can stop violence and bullying. We can seek peace with all people. We can learn to be peaceful ourselves. When we do these things, we reflect the heart and love of Jesus to the world. We can’t be perfect people, but thanks to Jesus we are seen by God as without spot or blemish. It’s up to us to live lives that reflect our gratitude and joy. This week try to do one thing to bring more peace to this world.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us). Thank you for calling us (Thank you for calling us) to be people of peace (to be people of peace). Help us to share your love (Help us to share your love) and to make a difference in your name (and to make a difference in your name). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Being a good steward of all God’s abundance can make you feel like a weird person in the eyes of contemporary culture. That’s okay! The gospel calls and blesses us to be weird in the name of Christ. Thank you for your faithful weirdness. You are a blessing to many.
Stewardship at Home
This week take a deeper dive into scripture, especially if you have more time on your hands thanks to social distancing. You might try one of these options:
Read Luke, one chapter per day, during Advent. You will finish just in time to welcome Jesus with a renewed understanding and perspective.
Watch someone give a dramatic reading of the entire gospel of Mark. Here’s a link to Max McLean’s work. You can purchase it to stream for nominal cost.
You might also enjoy this formal yet dramatic reading by David Suchet at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
If you have young children at home, spend time with them lighting the Advent candles, reading stories, counting down the days with an Advent calendar, and making the house ready for celebration.
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/12/prepare-reorder-and-prioritize/
2014 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/12/stewards-of-advent-time-prepare/
2011 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2011/11/time-for-a-clean-sweep/
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