[00:00:05] Speaker A: You're listening to by the, well, electionary based podcast preachers recorded on the land of the Warunduri people.
Greetings, everyone. It's Fran Barber and Howard Wallace. And we're talking today about some readings from Advent, two in particular, Isaiah 40, verses one to eleven, and mark one, verses one to eight. We may have a brief foray into the psalm, which is psalm 85. So the second week of Advent, Howard, which is traditionally the week focusing on John the Baptist. And in fact, of course, that is who we see appearing in the mark reading. But let's begin with Isaiah 40.
[00:00:51] Speaker B: Yes, and I think it's fairly obvious why Isaiah 41 to eleven has been chosen in this context, although it does have some things to say of its own. I mean, it's chosen there because many of the words, the notion of the voice in the wilderness or crying in the wilderness prepare, et cetera, that sort of sense of preparation is part of what's in Isaiah and carries over, as do a number of illusions, verbal illusions, into the mark material and then generally the stories about John the Baptist.
But as I said, as I'll say in a moment, I think Isaiah adds its. Isaiah 40 adds its own sort of understanding to advent. As we deal with it, we need to put it into some sort of context.
[00:01:42] Speaker A: Yeah, I was wondering if you could paint the scene for this.
[00:01:46] Speaker B: We'll do. Isaiah 40 is the very beginning of the section, Isaiah that we call second Isaiah or Deutero Isaiah, which goes from chapter 40 through to chapter 55. And the passage that we've got today is really in some ways a prologue to the story that will unfold, or the material that will unfold. In those 15 or 16 chapters, we are in the time of exile. The people of Israel have already been taken some two generations, 40 od years beforehand, into exile in Babylon. Only some of them more or less the hierarchy of society, leaving others to cope in a way. Back in the land around Jerusalem, people had been taken to Babylon and had settled there under the Babylonians. The babylonian sort of attitude towards conquered people was to remove the hierarchy of society, deposit them somewhere else, usually in a place that's fairly close to the babylonian heartland, so they can keep an eye on them, and then just let the rest of the society that has been conquered just fair for itself, which, of course, results in a lot of turmoil and structural problems.
But things have changed in the 40 years that people have been in Babylon, because now the babylonian empire is waning and the persian empire further to the east is on the rise. And it's quite clear, I think, to the writer of second Isaiah, and it probably is one or very small number of writers writing consistently through those 15 or so chapters.
It's quite clear to them that things are going to change in the future because they know, they seem to know that persian attitude towards conquered people is quite different to the Babylonians and, of course, to the more savage Assyrians before them, the Persians. In regard to people who are conquered, in that sense, usually smaller nations are quite happy to let those people remain in their homeland and get on with their life, practice their religion and their various other customs, provided that they adhere to two general sort of rules. They pay their tribute or their taxes to the persian government, and they don't sort of venture into any sort of insurrection or protest. So as long as they keep the peace, as long as they pay their money, they can do what they want, almost.
And so this, I think, generates within the writer of Isaiah 40 the sort of sense that there will be a possibility of return to Jerusalem soon. And that's where this passage begins. Now, the writing itself is not so much about the people, but about God. And the scene set in Isaiah 41 to eleven is in the heavenly court, in God's heavenly world, where God speaks, first of all, a word of comfort for his people and instructs those who will be his messengers to speak tenderly to the people themselves. And we hear various voices crying out certain things. These are heavenly voices, angels, if you want to think in those terms. And the prophet seems to be an observer within this heavenly context, because in their thinking, worldly decisions, important ones are made in heaven and then transposed through people.
[00:05:41] Speaker A: Links to something I read from Brugerman. I think that this change in the geopolitical situation you've so well described actually portends a new theological reality for the people. And so, yeah, that sort of thin, liminal space between heaven and earth, you can see here, it's not a big.
[00:06:04] Speaker B: Difference, and it's a new understanding about God.
One of the things that comes through the exile, if you're going to maintain your faith as a captive people moved to a foreign land, you have to develop some sort of sense of the sovereignty of God, of your God. And then you sort of move on to things like, well, God has allowed this to happen because we were sinful or whatever.
But then also it implies that God is able to change that sort of thing. So you get a new sense of hope being generated within context, and also.
[00:06:46] Speaker A: Presumably, a need for the sovereignty of God to be emphasized and remembered because you don't want to be at the mercy ultimately, in any ultimate sense, to the colonizer or to the oppressor.
[00:06:58] Speaker B: Yes.
[00:06:59] Speaker A: Actually, God is in charge here and is far more powerful than those oppressing.
[00:07:06] Speaker B: Of course. I mean, the view of the writer of Isaiah 40 is not the only one that's there, because there were people who had been taken into exile who, to use our own terms, converted to other religious contexts. Or there were those who probably moved towards what we would call agnosticism or almost atheism in a sense.
[00:07:32] Speaker A: It's important to remember, isn't it?
[00:07:33] Speaker B: Yeah.
The whole of the israelite exile is not sort of unanimous.
[00:07:38] Speaker A: No. Just as it wouldn't be now in other situations.
[00:07:43] Speaker B: Anyway, there is this hope of return.
But beside that, and beside the issue of sovereignty that we've also mentioned, one of the things that does come through sight strongly in these first eleven verses of Isaiah 40 is also this notion of what we might call grace, and that it's comfort. My people speak tenderly to them. And then the image at the very end, as the Lord leads his people on this highway that's to be built back to Jerusalem, Judah, he's leading them like a shepherd. They're his flock. He gather them, says he'll gather the lambs in his arms, he'll carry them in his bosom and he will gently lead the mother sheep. So there's this sort of whole shepherd thing coming through, which is common amongst kings. But now being employed in a very.
[00:08:40] Speaker A: Tenderly way, I am quite struck by the. Well, we've used the word tender a lot and it's there. But this is very evocative and touching language that doesn't stray into the sentimental at all. No, I'm interested in. It is a gracious one. But there's also.
She has served her term and penalty is paid. I mean, it's not cheap, any of.
[00:09:10] Speaker B: No, it isn't.
[00:09:14] Speaker A: Yeah. And I'm not sure how much we use. We echo that sort of tender language around God when we. Yeah. Anyway, I just think it's something that struck me particularly this year in reading.
[00:09:28] Speaker B: The tenderness with justice and righteousness, too. The other thing, just to note in terms of things that come out of this is an emphasis on the word of God. There are several voices speaking in this sort of context, but then in verse eight, someone reflects, some individual reflects, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of God will stand forever. So there's this sort of sense of continuity and consistency and eternity to God's.
[00:10:04] Speaker A: Sort of promises, in contrast to our mortal way of which is the flower.
[00:10:12] Speaker B: Fading and the grass withering.
[00:10:14] Speaker A: But it's also, isn't it?
Part of our mortality is that we forget.
And this is a call to hope, as you say, but a remembering God's faithfulness in times past.
[00:10:29] Speaker B: Yes.
[00:10:30] Speaker A: Which I think is something that the psalm today echoes.
[00:10:35] Speaker B: Yes, well, the psalm which has some beautiful words in it, at least I think it is psalm 85. It does.
The lectionary is not always helpful in the selection of verses because it leaves out a middle section which has to do with admitting our need of restoration and salvation. But it begins by remembering how the Lord has been favorable to his land, to his people.
But it goes on then to think about the present circumstances.
We need restoring, we need sort of revitalizing. But then it speaks about the future as well, implies the consistency of God in that sort of thing, and comes up with words like steadfast love and faithfulness will meet and righteousness and peace will kiss each other, beautiful imagery and faithfulness springing up from the ground like shoots of wheat, et cetera, and the righteousness looking down from the sky.
There's a sort of a hope for what we might call the kingdom of.
[00:11:45] Speaker A: God, so evocatively speaking into that existential sort of disappointment that we all feel from time to time, individually and corporately, about the state of the world, the state of the church, indeed, the state of our own lives.
We talked last week. This is the e big theme in advent.
[00:12:08] Speaker B: Well, I think this is even there in the selection of the readings for today. And this happens in the same in the gospel, I think, as you mentioned earlier, we've gone from Isaiah 64 last week, which was the disappointment. Once people had gone back and struggled with various issues.
[00:12:24] Speaker A: It wasn't all rosy.
[00:12:25] Speaker B: No. Back to the statement of hope of a new future. Like in Mark's gospel. We've moved from the apocalyptic sort of chapter 13 last week. Now we're going back to the beginning again. And there's a sort of sense in which you need to maintain, at least in Isaiah, the sort of hope with the reality of the situation. The two must be sort of kept in balance together.
[00:12:49] Speaker A: And it is so much what it is to be human and mortal life.
[00:12:54] Speaker B: But we're not dominated by the disappointment.
[00:12:57] Speaker A: No.
[00:12:57] Speaker B: Nor do we enter into some dreamy state of the hopes alone.
[00:13:02] Speaker A: No.
But our context, while God is deeply in relationship with us and cares for us, our situation won't necessarily determine. We can't make God do what no.
What we think should happen.
[00:13:16] Speaker B: Yes, there is a freedom in God's in God's love.
[00:13:20] Speaker A: Yes. Let's move on to the gospel, Howard, which is Mark one, verses one to 80.
So we began a new lectionary year last week with looking at Mark for the year of 2024. The first, some basic reminders for people new to the game. It's the first gospel.
The other two synoptics, Matthew and Luke, use huge chunks of it in their gospel.
There is no nativity. We go straight to the beginning here.
[00:14:03] Speaker B: I always like to think if we only had Mark's gospel, we wouldn't have Christmas.
[00:14:07] Speaker A: No. And I think sometimes that's a good thing to remember when everyone gets a bit sentimental and ridiculous about it. That, yeah, here's a gospel. The very first one didn't bother with all of that.
It's got a framework of sort of first century demonology going through it. So the good news is about liberation and freedom from affliction, but also quite profoundly freedom from isolation and being ostracized.
And as Chad Myers has reminded us in his older book, know the political edge of this mean they're all deeply political, but this one has particular readings along those lines. So we begin today, the very first line, the beginning of the good news. So the phrase good news was used in worldly contexts in terms of kingly rule, and good news was spread and was called that. So they've used a phrase from. The writer of Mark has used a phrase quite familiar to people in this context of radical cosmic change, this good news of Jesus Christ.
And then we're straight into Isaiah again as our key lens to start understanding who this messiah is.
[00:15:35] Speaker B: Yes, and we jump into quotations from Isaiah, but also allusions to Exodus 23 20 and to Malachi, chapter three, verse one, about a messenger coming ahead of Jesus. Well, Jesus in this context, God in other contexts. But at the moment we need to note that there's a bit of a change going on in the text itself, which allows Mark to take Isaiah's words from Isaiah 40, verse three, and apply them to John the Baptist, who's going to be an interesting sort of figure as he is presented.
Mark's gospel starts off as it is written in the prophet Isaiah. See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you. Well, that's not quite Isaiah. Who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. And then we have the quote, prepare the way of the Lord. What John's supposed to be saying.
But actually the Hebrew, if we go back to Isaiah 40, is the voice of one crying. And then we get the quotation marks coming in, in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.
Because that was envisaged in Isaiah 40 as a road that proceeded from Babylon back to Jerusalem through the wilderness. Well, supposedly the wilderness, but now, because John is out in the wild and described in a rather interesting sort of way.
Yes, he's changed. And this is coming through the greek translation, which is slightly different to the Hebrew, it implies that in the wilderness describes the one who is speaking, not what he's saying.
So you get the difference?
[00:17:32] Speaker A: Not really.
[00:17:34] Speaker B: Well, Isaiah is originally saying, in the wilderness, prepare. That's where you prepare the road. But now what Mark takes up is a voice crying, in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.
[00:17:47] Speaker A: Right. Interesting.
[00:17:48] Speaker B: Yes.
[00:17:51] Speaker A: I have to think about that one, about what that does to how I preach. It. Might not do anything, may not do.
[00:17:56] Speaker B: Too much, but just to be aware of what's happening with misquotations.
[00:18:00] Speaker A: Yeah. So here we have those familiar imperatives to prepare the way, and that's what advent is about. We've heard about the highway for God in the Isaiah reading.
And then this extremely strange figure appears in the text proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And I don't think it can be said too often. Please note that there was a call for repentance of sins way before Jesus, and it was a deeply jewish practice.
[00:18:33] Speaker B: And there were baptism before.
[00:18:34] Speaker A: And there was baptism before.
So all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. So that's a little detail we overlook this. Is everybody going to see this strange character? Now then described clothes with clammel's hair with a leather belt around his waist. So Mark is depicting John the Baptist in the line of. Not just in the line of Elijah, but as another coming of a kind of an elijah who was a deeply political prophet. All prophets were political. But in particular, he challenged, you know, we see that Mark reports Jesus'public ministry begins after John is arrested by Herod. So this John in the line of Elijah is challenging Herod. Here we know how that ended.
And John was in prison because of his public criticism of Herod's political.
So. And then Jesus'ministry in Mark begins with his choice of identifying with this strange dissident. So I know someone like Ted Myers would say that if we skip over John the Baptist in a sort of cursory fashion or don't really tackle what he represents, we empty, almost really, Jesus'political radicality.
But the way he's described here is so evocative. We can see that those echoes ched Myers goes a bit further. And I might have mentioned this four years ago when we started this podcast during this week, but I do think it bears repeating that there's profound symbolism. Shed reads into what John the Baptist is eating here. So he described as eating locusts, which shed says points to the prophet Joel, and in his book locusts came as a plague of judgment on the people. And here we have the beginning of God's new creation being heralded by a prophet who is eating that symbol of judgment then, which is a reversal, really. And also the wild honey. Not just honey, but wild honey, which probably taps into what you were saying about in the wilderness, but this honey that probably symbolizes the land flowing with milk and honey that God promised the people, and that John the Baptist is in the beginning of things, enjoying it, eating it.
[00:21:12] Speaker B: Yes. I'm not sure I want to sort of totally sort of.
[00:21:15] Speaker A: No, I'm sure you wouldn't.
[00:21:17] Speaker B: But. But the other thing that occurs to me here, which is more about the gospel writers, is how Mark is presenting John the Baptist. I mean, he's drawing on bits and pieces from Exodus and especially from Isaiah 40 and Elijah in order to create a character who's somewhat of a wild and a context. Yes. At the very beginning of the gospel. I mean, how does the gospel sort of get generated?
There's this sense of continuity that the writer is wanting to express in terms of, say, John and prophets before him.
[00:22:02] Speaker A: And John is not out of nowhere, and neither is Jesus. They both follow questions and promises and.
[00:22:08] Speaker B: Hopes, and yet at the same time it's a reshaping of that former material within a new context.
He wants to tell the story, the beginning of Jesus'ministry in a way that demonstrates continuity and consistency and yet sort of is also arresting.
[00:22:27] Speaker A: And I don't think we can emphasize that too much as preachers, in poetic and evocative ways, to remember that we are here under the hospitality of Israel.
[00:22:37] Speaker B: Yes.
And the same thing happens with Jesus'death jumping ahead in the year. I mean, it's so much based on the idea of the suffering servant from Isaiah. So how do you understand what's going on in Jesus? You look to the past and you see the continuity that is running through it.
[00:22:59] Speaker A: So there's one more powerful than I coming, I've baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
And then not part of this text. This week Jesus does submit to this baptism in water. He is baptized by John with water, but of course the Holy Spirit is there from the beginning, descends upon him.
[00:23:24] Speaker B: The statement, you are my son, the beloved. With you whom I am, with you I am well pleased.
Which we get later on as well in the transfiguration. Yes, but it's already happening. I mean, the baptism of Jesus in the Holy Spirit is not just going to wait until Pentecost.
[00:23:49] Speaker A: No.
[00:23:50] Speaker B: As Luke portrays it in this gospel, it's moving already within the world.
[00:23:58] Speaker A: So we've got texts here about hope and remembering, the hopefulness and about anticipation and that familiar things are being transformed into something radically new. And we're promised in Christ the new creation. In the Peter reading for this second Peter reading, it's about a new heaven and a new earth. So this is also an opportunity for those big themes. What does heaven look like? What are we promised?
What is it not?
[00:24:39] Speaker B: And also that it's not just the birth of a baby.
[00:24:41] Speaker A: We're looking.
[00:24:42] Speaker B: Which is not in Mark at all. No, but it's about a renewal of the whole cosmos, the whole creation.
[00:24:48] Speaker A: Yeah. And a bringing in of that which is broken and separated and afflicted and forgotten, gathering those situations and those people and that brokenness of the world back in. So that wholeness with God is the promise and the reality in the new heaven. Yes, and that's what we all pray for. And our watchfulness is attending to those occasions where we might be part of that movement.
[00:25:21] Speaker B: So our waiting during advent is active.
[00:25:25] Speaker A: Active.
[00:25:26] Speaker B: It's transforming and it's calling us to reflect upon what God is doing.
[00:25:32] Speaker A: And there's a paradox in it too, again in the second Peter reading this week, waiting for and hastening. So there's something around a patience, but an impatience. An impatience, yeah, but it's sort of a faithful watching, but an eager one.
So yes, great opportunity to remind people of those callings to the kingdom.
[00:25:58] Speaker B: And I sometimes wonder, I mean, I was just having this thought this morning preparation with this. I mean whether. How things. Christmas decorations are in the shops already.
[00:26:08] Speaker A: Yeah, they were on the 1 November straight.
[00:26:09] Speaker B: 1 November. That was better than what I'd felt. But there's a sense in which.
And even after Christmas we're going to get hot cross buns in the shop after new year or something.
There's a sense in which the world wants to predict these sort of things and you anticipate them, but you know what you're anticipating and you know when it's going to happen. And yet there is something in the gospel about expect the unexpected and sit with. Yes, sit with this and ponder it.
[00:26:46] Speaker A: Be open, ponder it in your hearts, to coin a phrase from a certain woman. All right. Thank you for listening, everyone by the well is brought to you by pilgrim Theological College and the Uniting Church in Australia. It's produced by Adrian Jackson. Thanks for listening.