Mark 1:1-8 Isaiah 40:1-11
Second Sunday in Advent
The second candle of the Advent wreath is lit with a prayer that is inspired by the prophets:
God our Father, you spoke to the prophets of old of a Saviour who would bring peace. You helped them to spread the joyful message of his coming kingdom.
Help us, as we prepare to celebrate his birth, to share with those around us the good news of your power and love. We ask this through Jesus Christ, the light who is coming into the world. Amen.
‘Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.’ I can never read or hear these words from the prophet Isaiah without hearing them sung in my mind, according to Handel’s ‘Messiah’: the salvation story set to music in the eighteenth century. It is a fitting message of good news in dark times, and even now we are in need of comfort in more than one sense. The journey towards Christmas is a journey through the Bible, from one specific pointer to the next. That is why the focus of the four Advent Sundays moves from the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the prophets, like Isaiah and others in the Old Testament, to John the Baptist, who is the herald of Jesus Christ, and finally to Mary, the God-bearer. In this sequence we are literally approaching the birth of Christ from way back in history to the beginning of the New Testament and the revealing of God’s Son. This Second Advent Sunday, then, we have reached the stage of the prophets, with Isaiah announcing a new epoch, when light is dawning. This time of year, when the days are getting shorter and shorter and the nights are longer, the rising of the sun is a welcome sight in the morning. We know that the night is over and that a new day is promised. It’s a bit like that with the prophets, and with the beginning of Mark’s Gospel.
The style of the Gospel according to Mark has been described as full of action; moving swiftly from one event to the next. It’s like pulling or pushing a light switch in a dark room; or suddenly, the curtain is drawn back upon the sun that’s streaming in through the window. We’ll know the wonderful things that God is doing by the light that falls upon them, and they are different indeed from the state of darkness that went before. We find John the Baptist, the herald of good tidings, as mentioned in Isaiah 40, proclaiming a new way of living with reverence to God for his purpose for us. This baptism of repentance is all about ‘turning back’ and being renewed in obedience and trust. There is a new way of life that offers true peace to all who respond, and it’s all because God is stepping in, by sending His Son.
‘Comfort, O comfort my people!’ says God. I remember running home as a child, with an injured knee, to my Mum, who would either dress the wound or kiss it better, so that I could go out again to play. Or one of my children being in tears about a failed project or a fall-out with a friend, would come in need of comfort too. We can think of other examples when we give or receive comfort to family and friends in difficult situations. However, our human comfort can never go as deeply as God’s comfort can. His comfort goes down to our deepest hurts and failures that are sometimes never seen by others but always known to God. Therefore, he alone will be able to dress those wounds, and he does that by stepping into our humanity, so that we can take part of his divinity.
The service of Night Prayer or Compline has a specific prayer of penitence:
‘ Most merciful God, we confess to you, before the whole company of heaven and one another, that we have sinned in thought, word and deed, and in what we have failed to do. Forgive us our sins, heal us by your Spirit, and raise us to new life in Christ.’ The present state of affairs in our world is not something that we can lay at anybody else’s door specifically. Also, it’s not as if we never do anything wrong. Owning up to our own involvement in other people’s hurt or even our own failings, is the beginning of healing. God in fact invites us, calls us, urges us to come running to him to be comforted. He will inspect and dress the wound, and kiss it better in Jesus, so that we can move on. 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. Comfort, O comfort my people! Amen.