GOOD NEWS – Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

December 10, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14 (8)
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

It’s often the case that the first line of a book, song, or play can characterize the entire work. Think, for example, of these memorable opening words from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

We hear today the very first words from the Gospel of Mark that make this striking announcement: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ” (Mk 1:1). This bold statement contextualizes the entire Jesus story as “good news” for people who have experienced destruction and disillusionment. By the time that Mark’s Gospel was written, Jerusalem had been laid waste by the Roman army, Jewish Christians had been shunned by mainstream Jewish communities, and followers of Jesus had been subjected to persecution and even put to death. The communities for whom Mark was writing were in desperate need of good news.

Today’s Scripture readings are full of hopeful and encouraging language. In today’s Hebrew Scripture reading, we hear these familiar words: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God” (Is 40:1). To a people who faced discouragement and disillusionment after a long period of exile, the prophet is told, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” (Is 40:2), for God is coming to bring them home. “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together” (Is 40:5). The prophet announces a bright future for people who have lived under difficult conditions for several generations.

God’s word on this Sunday reassures us that the Holy One is indeed coming to a world that longs for peace, freedom, and justice. The psalmist sings: “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky” (Ps 85:10-11).

Can this vision be real? We long for good to overcome evil, for hungry mouths to be fed, for an end to violence, for tyrants to be cast down—but the wait can seem interminable. Today’s Epistle reading counsels patience. What seems like a long wait to us is like nothing in God’s time. Waiting allows us to participate in “hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pt 3:12) by setting things right and doing the work of God’s reign.

Yes, God is coming with power to bring about “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Pt 3:13). We are called not to wait passively but to prepare, heeding John the Baptist’s call to repentance, allowing our own hearts to be reshaped by God’s dream for the world, becoming a people of peace, justice, kindness, and love. We are to be living signs of the good news proclaimed in today’s Scriptures, inviting the world to hope in God’s coming by the witness of our lives.

A Hymn for Today: “Comfort, Comfort Now My People”

This seventeenth-century German hymn comes to us in a nineteenth-century translation, presented here with some minor updating. It is a strikingly fresh paraphrase of Isaiah 40:1-5, the first part of today’s Hebrew Scripture reading. The translation by Catherine Winkworth is so good that most of us probably never stop to consider that it was first written in another language. The text strongly expresses the various themes found in the prophet’s message: comfort, restoration, forgiveness, repentance, preparation, and faithfulness. The lively Genevan Psalter tune to which it is sung amplifies the hopeful message of shalom.

Listen here to hear this hymn sung by the congregation and choir of First-Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Comfort, comfort now my people;
tell of peace!” So says our God.
“Comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning under sorrow’s load.
To my people now proclaim
that my pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their sins I cover,
and their warfare now is over.”

For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
calling us to true repentance,
since the reign of God is here.
O, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way.
Let the valleys rise in meeting
and the hills bow down in greeting.

Straight shall be what long was crooked,
and the rougher places plain.
Let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits God’s holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
now on earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that God’s word is never broken.

Text: Johannes Olearius, 1671; trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1863, alt. (Source: Glory to God)
Tune: GENEVAN 42, Genevan Psalter, 1551

Image Credit: Love and Faithfulness Meet (1850), relief sculpture, St. Michael’s Church, Golden Grove, Wales, United Kingdom

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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