Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8
The words of today’s readings are familiar to many of us – Isaiah’s promise of comfort and sanctuary; Mark’s leading up to the narrative of Jesus’ ministry with the foretaste provided by John the Baptist. In both passages, we learn of paths made straight, of the leveling of hills and the clearing of obstacles, the easing of an otherwise arduous journey. The message of repentance is clear, both in Mark’s account of John’s preaching and in Isaiah’s proclamation to Jerusalem that “her hard service has been completed.” What good news, in both. What relief and comfort.
The original readers of Mark’s gospel lived a generation after Jesus’ death; they would have experienced first-hand the rooting of Christian faith in Jewish scripture, as we see so clearly here. They also would have been familiar with the wilderness as a place of testing, of rebellion, of danger, of renewed covenant. In this way, these early first verses of Mark prepare all readers (and listeners) for the narrative to come, with its stories of testing and healing and rejection and ultimate resurrection.
Mark’s original audience would also have hungered for – anticipated – the coming kingdom that Jesus had led them to expect, that seemed just around the corner. And in their waiting, they would have encountered the mystery that God’s time is not our time. A thousand years, a day away – who among us can know when will that day come like a thief? One thing seems certain from this morning’s words: as we prepare, once again, for Christmas and the seasonal traditions, may we heed the call to prepare the way and straighten the paths through the wilderness of our own hearts and lives.
Lindsey Crittenden participated in Education for Ministry at Grace Cathedral from 2006 to 2011. A member of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in San Francisco, she is the author of The Water Will Hold You: A Skeptic Learns to Pray.