Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son, that by his coming we may be enabled to serve you with pure minds; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Gelasian Sacramentary, 7th Century)
Gracious God, the Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end, may your Spirit kindle in us a heart so willing to follow your Son that your reign of righteousness and peace is made visible through our lives. We ask this through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Thoughts on the Readings
The Common Thread
The call goes out to comfort God’s people. This is to be accomplished by preparing the way of the Lord so that God’s glory may be revealed. The preparation comes through the Word of the Lord that stands forever. That word proclaims forgiveness of sin, the only way for there to be peace for his people. The promise is given: salvation is near to those who fear him. God is fulfilling his promises, slowly by our accounting, yet surely nonetheless. As we wait, we must be diligent to be found blameless and spotless through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
First Reading - Isaiah 40:1-11
We are going to die; like grass we will wither and perish. The Spirit of the Lord blows upon us and we expire. This is just as true spiritually as it is physically. His word stands; we fall. No wonder the prophet is told to comfort the people. The word of the Lord can terrify. We find it difficult to hear the word of grace when the law accuses us. The prophet must speak tenderly so that God’s people may be reminded that the Lord made a covenant with them, that they are forgiven. This is the glorious nature of God that must be heralded throughout the world. The Lord comes in might. Terrifying as that can be, that almighty one comes to tend his flock as a shepherd. He is coming; he will do it; “the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Psalm - Psalm 85:1-13
Our waywardness in sin gets us into trouble. The people of Israel had been captive in Babylon but God relented of his anger, forgave them, and restored their fortunes. The psalmist says that God covered their sin. He does not overlook their sin; he covers it or atones for the sin of the people. This is seen fulfilled in the sin of the world being covered in the blood of Christ. This is how we are ultimately restored—by the atoning sacrifice of God’s own Son.
Second Reading - 2 Peter 3:8-14
The Lord has promised to come in judgment. Let us be frank: he seems to have tarried. So, Peter’s words are a good reminder. God’s sense of timing is different than ours. This is not so much because God dwells outside of time. He tarries because he desires many to come to repentance. Nevertheless, he is coming like a thief in the night, when we least expect him. Knowing this should make us consider what manner of people we should be as we await the great Day of the Lord.
Gospel - Mark 1:1-8
John’s ministry was not simply a workaday vocation. He was excited to be preparing the way for the Lord. He busied himself with straightening the crooked paths of people so that they would be ready for the Lord. The people made straightway to John, hearing and obeying his unrestrained call to repentance. Repentance is always the prerequisite to forgiveness. As such, John was a preacher of both law and grace, of repentance and forgiveness of sin. Though he was the great prophet of Israel, his ministry pointed to one mightier than himself, who would become the redemption of the whole world.
13. The result of faith is that for such a great blessing, the forgiveness of sins because of Christ, we love God in return. Therefore, love for God is a fruit of faith.
14. This same faith causes us to be ashamed of having offended such a kind and generous father.
15. Therefore, it cause us to abhor our flesh with its evil desires.
—Philip Melancthon, Loci Communes Theologici
Pulling It Together
He was convinced that he was no good because he could not keep the commandments of God perfectly. He did well most days but then fell down sometimes. His mistake was that he focused on the falling. Focus on the Father instead of the fault and you will find you have his strength again and the fruits to match.