The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer

Introduction to the readings for the season of Advent, beginning with the first Sunday in Advent, Hope, November 30, 2014

During the season of Advent this year, the time in the church year when we wait and watch and hope for the birth of God in our midst, we enter a new cycle of readings and as such, will be treated to various passages from the voice of the prophet Isaiah and from the gospels according to Mark, Luke, and John.    

This morning we begin with a reading from the book of Isaiah followed by a reading from Mark.

The book of Isaiah, thought to have been composed some 800 years before the birth of Jesus over a period of several hundred years, is divided into three basic sections.  Because of that, the words and messages offered through the voice of Isaiah are attributed to three different prophets.  Each one brings a slightly different word of hope to God’s people as they live out their lives in different, but overlapping contexts and circumstances. 

This morning our reading comes from Third Isaiah, a section of the book thought to have been composed around the 539 years before the time of Jesus birth.  It was a time when the wandering people, having returned from exile in Babylon, are restored to their homeland of Judah.  Still, times are harsh and the people continue to struggle with living in right relationship with God and with each other. 

This morning, we are told that God, supposedly angry with the sinful nature of the people, has absented God’s Self.  

The content of the reading conveys first a sense of the prophet’s desperate appeal for God to show God’s power, then a prayer of confession for the people’s transgressions.  This is quickly followed by an appeal for God’s forgiveness and response.

As you listen to the words, notice what is stirred up for you as the voice of the prophet, Isaiah, begs God to make God’s Self know to God’s people with mighty acts and deeds.  Then Isaiah asks God to let go God’s anger, to love the wayward ones as a father might do, and finally, to resume God’s work as a potter moulding and shaping God’s people as one might do with lumps of clay:  A reading from Isaiah, Chapter 64, verses 1-9:  Tear open the heavens and come down

…..insert the reading here…

In response to our Hebrew Scripture text, we share together in a responsive reading from Part One of Psalm 80 found at page 794 in Voices United

….insert the reading here….

Our good news this morning comes to us from the 13th chapter of the gospel according to Mark.  The gospel of Mark, possibly the first account of Jesus life, ministry, death, and resurrection, composed some 60 years after Jesus birth, is often described as written sparsely and with some considerable sense of urgency and haste.  

This morning, our reading comes to us from a larger body of stories referring to the end of the age (sometimes known as The Apocalypse).  Set in a context of great turmoil, this reading comes immediately prior to the story of Jesus’s passion.  Given that context, it’s thought by some to be a story of encouragement for his disciples in the face of grave danger. 

The reading echoes similar themes to what we hear in the Isaiah passage as God’s servants struggle with their emotions around the Masters seeming absence or abandonment.  Though they can’t see his face or hear his voice, they cling to a sense of God’s promise that God’s purpose will be fulfilled in God’s time, not theirs, nor ours.  

As you listen, ask yourself:  How might this reading, as it speak to apocalyptic endings, still bring a word of hope for our lives as we intentionally enter into our countdown and our preparations for the birth of Jesus in our midst at Christmas?

A reading from the gospel according to Mark, Chapter 13, verses 24-37 You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds

….insert the reading here….

Response:  Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church. 

                     Thanks be to God.