SHALOM – Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

December 6, 2020

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

Soon after waking up each morning, I ask my Alexa smart speaker to play the latest news. Not once has the newscaster started by saying, “Here’s the good news.”

As we hear today, the Gospel of Mark begins with just such a bold assertion: “The good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). For communities living through persecution, political upheaval, and military intervention, this opening verse gave a clue that the story to follow would offer a message of salvation. The beginning of today’s reading from Isaiah strikes a similar tone: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God” (Is 40:1). To a nation whose dreams had been shattered by conquest and exile, these words offered hope for the future.

There are so many people in our communities and in our world today who need to hear these words—the lonely sick and their worried relatives; refugee and migrant families waiting for a place to call home; workers who have lost their jobs; small business owners threatened with bankruptcy; people in war zones, prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes. Today’s Scriptures offer us all a powerful message of hope as we near the end of a year filled with sickness and death, injustice and division. God not only sees us but cares for us in our struggle and pain, and promises a future of shalom, a time when all can live in peace, harmony, and justice. Today’s Psalm describes it this way:

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 85:9)

It might be tempting to overlook our need to prepare for God’s shalom by a repentance—a complete change of heart. No sooner has the Gospel writer proclaimed good news than we are introduced to the wardrobe-challenged character of John the Baptist “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4). The Gospel writer makes reference to the very passage from Isaiah that we read today, identifying John as the one sent to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Is 40:3). Like those who listened to John’s preaching, we are invited to embrace the good news of the Lord’s coming by acknowledging our sin and preparing the world to receive God’s gift.

Alexa is unlikely to bring to the world the good news that people long for and need to hear. That task falls to us, people that God has met with deliverance in the places of our own brokenness and sin. Just as the prophet urges newly restored Jerusalem to be a fearless and joyful herald of God’s coming to the cities of Judah, so are we—as people forgiven and restored in Christ—called to announce in word and deed the good news of God’s shalom. We are to prepare the way as heralds of God’s coming: “Here is your God!” (Is 40:9)

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.

“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.