Sunday 6th December

Prepare the way of the Lord  (Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8)

Isaiah’s words in the OT reading were addressed to people who for years had been living through a crisis and whose whole world had been shattered. If the Israelites had learnt nothing during the years of Exile then that period of history was completely wasted.

We know from our own experience in the 20th century that world shaking events often have a double and seemingly contradictory effect on human lif. They can bring about both a renewal of national loyalties and a wider vision of ‘one world’.

This was very much the case during Israel’s exile. The collapse of the nation brought about an intense awareness of the uniqueness of Israel’s calling. The exile awakened a new world consciousness; Israel’s faith was launched by the vision of new horizons. The people realised that they must look beyond their own circumscribed community to the whole civilised world if they would behold the glory and majesty of God’s purpose in history.

It was to this new future that Isaiah’s message to the exiled people pointed. His commission was to speak tenderly to Jerusalem – proclaiming to a despairing people that God was coming not to judge but to release them from captivity. Pardon, deliverance, restoration, and grace are the characteristic notes of his message of comfort and hope. It
was a vision of a new age. It is this to ‘new’ age which the Gospel writers testify.

Isaiah spoke of ‘a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord’. (Is.40:3). For Mark the voice in the wilderness is John’s, calling upon people to prepare for the coming of Jesus. His message is one of comfort, forgiveness and new beginning to those who find themselves in a wilderness of suffering and despair.

Mark has no lengthy genealogy in the way Matthew & Luke begin their Gospels in order to establish Jesus’ credentials, no stories of the birth of Jesus, no angels or wise men, no lengthy prologue as in John’s Gospel to indicate how Jesus stood in God’s great scheme of things. With no nonsense he goes straight to the heart of the matter – Jesus’ call to share
a new vision and change direction. Matthew, Luke & John all similarly feature John the Baptist’s call to repentance as the way of preparing for the coming of Jesus. For all the Gospels, John the Baptist represented the old order who spoke for the prophets of the past. He called on the people to prepare by committing to live in a new way, to be open to the reality of God’s presence in the coming of God in Jesus, enabling our lives to be renewed by his Spirit.

Michael Diffey