1st Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
From Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk for Year B, p. 61: Today’s reading refers to Israel’s return home (They are still in exile.) as well as the prophet’s commissioning, The heavenly court witnesses and approves God’s command, call, and commissioning of the prophet. So commissioned, the prophet’s word announces a new age of restoration for the people. Through the power of God’s Word, the world will be reconciled. The people stood on the threshold of a new age. The creative Word of God had spoken as it was spoken at the dawn of an earlier age, the creation of the world, and into the hearts of all believers was infused the seeds of new life. God’s glory would be revealed when the people were safely restored and in their own land. For Christians the glory of God is revealed in the advent of the One Who Is to Come. What does all of this mean to you?
A reflection question from Breaking Open the Word of God, Cycle B (p. 26): There is such a tension between wanting something and waiting for it. Children ask, “How many days until Christmas?” This is the plea of all of us. When we become aware of our need for God, then we want to experience forgiveness immediately. Patience. Why is waiting so difficult? What do we learn in our waiting? We’ll explore this more in the next reading.
2nd Reading: 2 Peter: 3: 8-14
From Mary Birmingham, p. 63-64: This letter is a pseudonymous work attributed to the apostle Peter. Most scholars date it around the mid-second century (130-150AD). It is probably the last letter written of all the canonical New Testament documents. Its imagery concerning the ‘end of the world’ was a part of the culture of the times. Total destruction by fire was a popular belief from Persia to the Greco-Roman world. These images were also common in Jewish apocalyptic literature. Such images or opinions are not scientific assertions but mythopoeic images. Some scholars also suggest that the translation of heurethesetai (dissolved by fire) is better translated ‘will be laid bare’. Yet, keep in mind that the main point of this passage is that our God is a patient God – and that we need to use whatever time we have to repent, to change, to be reconciled.
Reginald Fuller adds these three points: 1) Watchfulness is a part of Christian living. 2) Rightly understood, the imminent hope in Christianity is a motivation for the pursuit of holiness and Godliness in life. 3) While we can demythologize our scriptures in order to have them ‘speak’ more clearly to us today, we must also hold dear to the fact that the final goal of history is the hope of a new heaven and a new earth. (“Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel: Mark 1: 1-8
John’s clothing seems to be taken directly from 2 Kings 1:8 as the traditional ‘dress’ of a prophet. John’s diet also has to do with the truth of the good news he is to proclaim. Locusts were traditionally regarded as God’s instruments of judgment because they were agents of bitter and punishing destruction (Exodus 10:4, Isaiah 33:4, Psalm 105:34). Honey, however, signified peace and plenty and was a symbol of God’s comfort and care (Exodus 3:8, Deuteronomy 6:3). Together, these two ‘ingredients’ seem to announce the dual character of the gospel. Like locusts, the good news of Jesus Christ would lay bare and devour evil; like honey, the gospel would bring comfort, peace and sweet salvation to the repentant sinner. Today, John still stands in our midst. He still calls us to prepare ourselves, our ways, our hearts, our wills, and our world to welcome the challenge and the comfort, the purifying power and the peace that is Jesus. (Celebration, Dec. 2002)
From Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk for Year B, p. 65: Mark asserts that the story of Christ really begins with the arrival of John the Baptist. The story begins in the desert by the Jordan’s banks – a place that evokes images from the Hebrew scriptures. The desert was always known as a place of numinous encounters between God and human beings. The desert was also known as a place of retreat, where one could disassociate from the world and enter into Yaheweh’s divine presence (Have you ever been to a desert? Have you ever been on retreat and had it feel like a desert experience?). The Essene community is one such example. The Essenes made their home in the desert at Qumran by the Dead Sea in protest of what they believed to be the unlawful way in which those who were in power at the Temple in Jerusalem came into that power. The Essenes wished to establish a new community of Israel that was pleasing in the eyes of God. Assuming that John the Baptist was a part of this community, how does this information help us understand more from where he is coming from? How does this attitude help us prepare for Jesus?