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Revised Common Lectionary: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Narrative Lectionary: Isaiah of the Exile, Isaiah 40:1-11 (Mark 1:1-4)
On this second Sunday in Advent, we turn to the passages about the messenger that will go before the Lord. Malachi, the last book of the Christian Old Testament (but not the last book in the Hebrew Bible), speaks of the messenger of God’s covenant who will come before God. Early Christians saw this passage as a foreshadowing of John the Baptist, though Jewish tradition held that Elijah would return before the Messiah.
Instead of a psalm, the Song of Zechariah from Luke 1:68-79 sings of John the Baptist, the messenger that will go before Jesus to prepare the way, but also of the “mighty savior” that has been raised up for the people. The final verses give this great hope, of God’s dawn breaking out of the darkness, leading the people into peace.
Philippians 1:3-11 is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. Paul gives thanks for the Philippians, for their work in the gospel, for the way they have held Paul in prayer during his imprisonment. They have encouraged Paul, and in turn, Paul prays that their love will overflow and that they will discern what is right before God, as they wait for “the day of Christ” (vs. 10).
Luke 3:1-6 is the introduction of John the Baptist, seen by the Gospel writers in the light of the prophet Isaiah as the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (Luke 3:4; Isaiah 40:3). John comes out of the wilderness to proclaim a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. John’s ministry prepares the way for Jesus.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Isaiah 40, what scholars call the beginning of “Second Isaiah.” Following the exile, the prophet proclaims words of comfort to those who have suffered long, that their suffering has been too much and ought to be no more. Instead, God is preparing a way out of the wilderness, and God will lead the people home and care for them, as a shepherd cares for its flock, and God will carry the lambs, close to the heart of God.
Mark 1:1-4 is the beginning of the Gospel—and begins with the words of Isaiah and that John the Baptist came out of the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark’s Gospel account does not begin with the birth of Jesus, or a genealogy, or foreshadowing the way Luke and Matthew’s accounts do. Instead, Mark begins, anchoring the Gospel account in history with the quotation from Isaiah, and John the Baptist emerging from the wilderness.
Prepare the way! Advent is all about preparing for Christ to enter our world and our lives in a new way. We read these passages about John the Baptist, because he helped prepare the way for Jesus. But now we are called out of the wilderness of the world. We are called to prepare the way, and as Zechariah reminds us, our feet have been guided “into the way of peace.”
Call to Worship (from Luke 1:78-79)
By the tender mercy of our God
The dawn from on high will break upon us
To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
To guide our feet into the way of peace
Break us open. Shine your light. Guide our way.
Prince of Peace, we come to worship You. Amen.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of life and light, we live with tunnel vision. We see only what is right around us—our worries, our to-do lists, our concerns. Break open Your light, so that we would see others around us. Break open Your light, so we might experience the joy and wonder of the season. Break open Your light, so that we might walk on the path of peace, justice, and mercy, that you have laid before us. In the name of Christ, who is breaking into our lives in a new way, we pray. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance of Pardon
Out of the wilderness, God calls us. Out of the brokenness, God restores the way. Out of the darkness, God’s light breaks open and shines on us. You are forgiven. Your feet are set back on the path. You are loved. Go and share the good news to the downhearted, the despairing, and the lost, so that all may hear the Good News. Amen.
Prince of Peace, we celebrate Your coming into our world and lives at this time of year, but it is easy for us to forget the ways of peace. In this season, we help our neighbor in need, we give gifts, we share what we have. In this time, refugees are arriving, and winter is growing cold. Help us not to forget the calling to follow You and your ways of peace come January. Help us not to forget the hope we feel in this season once the lights and decorations are gone. Be born in us this day, loving Christ, and may Your peace prevail in our hearts and in our lives, and in our world. Amen.