A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (40:1-11)
“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 people 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 people are 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 tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, 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.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.
8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
A Reading from the Second Letter of Peter (3:8-15a)
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (1:1-8)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 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 the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside 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 thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Just a little over a week ago, the Dayton Daily News included a lengthy article on the growing use of drones or “unmanned aerial vehicles”: UAVs. Once employed almost exclusively by the military, they are now utilized by local police, by real estate agents, by those working in agriculture, and – the place where most of us see their images – in the entertainment industry. They have proven to be a much less expensive alternative to conventional aircraft in filming those wide, sweeping scenes that sometimes provide the broad geographical context for a movie or TV special. The filmmaker might, for example, use a UAV to provide an expansive overview of the entire area in which a story is set. Then gradually he or she narrows the shot to the neighborhood or even the individual house in which the narrative takes place. Finally, we come back down to earth and see the main character or characters who will remain at the center of the story.
That technique, that movement from the wide view to the key individual, is what has taken place between last Sunday’s gospel reading and today’s. Last week, our reading took the ultimate wide perspective as it held up to us the end of all things, the consummation of all creation, at the coming of God. Somewhere over the past six days, the scope of the story has narrowed and its attention has come to focus on a single, key individual: John the Baptizer.
John is certainly a central figure in the season of Advent. But John is also a central figure in the entire story of God’s work of salvation and the new life given to the world in Jesus. And John stands there alone: right at the very beginning – literally. The first word in the gospel according to Mark is the Greek word “archē”: “beginning.” “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” And that good news starts with one person: John.
Maybe there’s a message for us in that focus on this one individual. The story ultimately will expand to envelop the world, in fact all of creation. But the story of the good news begins with just one person: a person who listened to the word of God and who dedicated his life to responding to that word and sharing that word with others.
So often, we tend to downplay our own importance to the world and the importance of what we do or can do as individuals. We might try to do so under the guise of humility, but actually it tends to be motivated more by a sense of helplessness. “What difference can one, pretty much ordinary, individual person possibly make? Is it realistic to think that what I do actually contributes anything of value to the coming of the kingdom of God?”
And even if we band together — this small group of people who gather here each week – even if we band together, can we really make any significant difference in the life of this community, much less in the life of the world?
God seems to think so, and so do the authors of today’s scripture readings.
Our first reading begins the second part of the book of Isaiah. It comes at a time when Judah and Jerusalem had been destroyed, thousands of people had been slaughtered, and many of those who had survived had been taken hundreds of miles from their home and had lived in exile for decades. Any thought of a future for the Jewish people in their homeland seemed like sheer fantasy. Yet from somewhere in the midst of that seemingly hopeless situation, one person dared to see things differently and to speak out. We have no idea who he or she was, but that unknown individual dared to speak the words of hope that have become an integral part of this Advent season: “Comfort, o comfort my people, says your God… In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.”
Those same thoughts of new possibilities, of new life out of death, are echoed by the authors of our psalm and second reading. Then finally, in our gospel passage, we come to John: another individual who dared to envision the world differently and who dared to respond to God’s call by lifting up before the eyes of anyone who would listen a vision of the God who is always coming into the world, of the God who is always re-creating the world.
But that’s John. He was unique. What difference can we make? How can we possibly make any real contribution to changing the world to be what God wants it to be?
Maybe we can do it the same way that these other faithful people did long ago: by touching one person’s life at a time. Maybe, for example, we can simply touch base with a fellow parishioner who is having a difficult time or who has a family member or friend who is ill. Maybe we can set aside an hour a week to help a child learn to read. Maybe we can phone or even visit someone whose changing life situation has led him or her to move to a retirement community or nursing home. Maybe we can help to serve a meal to the hungry at a place like the House of Bread or the St, Vincent Hotel. Maybe we can assist immigrants as they struggle to learn the English language or understand our culture. Or maybe we can touch another person’s life in any of a thousand different ways.
These things don’t require much of us, but they can make an important difference in the lives of our fellow human beings. They can enable them to experience in us, not only help with their immediate needs, but also the presence of the God who still comes to serve and to save and to offer hope of a new and better life.
That “word of our God” that “will stand forever,” of which Isaiah spoke, does not refer only to the Bible. That word is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12) in our world today and in our lives today. It changes us, if we allow it to do so. And, through us, it touches the lives of others and changes the world.
As anthropologist Margaret Mead once insisted: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”