Preparation, repentance, forgiveness and restoration

Second Sunday of Advent (December 4, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ps. 85; Is. 40:1-11; II Pet. 3:8-15a; Mk. 1:1-8

While we miss being able to hold our granddaughter, we receive almost daily photos of Sydney, which help sustain us across the miles!

Mother and child - Heidi and Sydney (Photo by Holden Byler)

It was a busy week in the region, as situations in several countries became even more volatile:

-U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay reported that more than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria since mid-March when anti-government protests began. According to the BBC, “A UN report by an independent panel released on Monday said civilians – including children – have been murdered, tortured and sexually assaulted as security forces try to stem anti-government protests.” Some analysts fear that Syria is sliding into a civil war, as a growing number of security forces are joining the opposition movement. International pressure has failed to sway the Assad government, who says it must defend against armed gangs.

Iranian students stormed the British embassy in Tehran as the European Union leveled new sanctions against Iran. Britain responded by expelling 25 Iranian diplomats living in London.

Iranian demonstrators at the British Embassy in Tehran (Getty Images)

-On Monday an explosion was reported at a second nuclear site in Iran, leading to speculation of covert international interference with Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Meanwhile, talk of overt military strikes against Iran is increasingly prominent in the news.

Marketplace in Khalis after car bomb exploded on Thursday (Reuters photo)

-Two separate attacks in Diyala province killed 18 Iraqis on Thursday. The last 13,000 U.S. soldiers are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of December, almost eight years after the U.S.-led war that has resulted in uprooting more than 4 million Iraqis.

-Katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel and Israel responded with missile attacks against the southern Lebanon village of Ayta Shaab.

Counting ballots in the Egyptian elections (AP photo)

-Some 62% of eligible Egyptian voters turned out for the first of a three-stage national election process.

The Common Lectionary readings for this second Sunday of Advent offer hopeful reminders that, even in such a broken world, God provides a path of restoration.

Preparation. The prophet Isaiah announces: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Is. 40:3) Mark’s gospel uses Isaiah’s words to describe the ministry of John the Baptist, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Mk. 1:3). The psalmist writes: “Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.” (Ps. 85:13) Peter writes that, as we wait for the day of God we should lead lives of holiness and godliness (II Pet. 3:11-12).

Repentance. Preparation involves repentance — or turning to God in our hearts (Ps. 85:8). It means recognizing our frail human condition – that we are like grass that withers and like flowers that fade (Is. 40:6-8). John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance (Mk. 1:4). Peter writes that God is patient, “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9)

Forgiveness. God is faithful to forgive. “You forgave the iniquity of your people,” writes the psalmist, “You pardoned all of their sin.” (Ps. 85:2). Isaiah records God’s words of comfort to a wayward people: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid…” (Is. 40:1) John’s baptism of repentance was for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk. 1:4)

Restoration. Isaiah paints this image of restoration: “God will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lams in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” (Is. 40:11) The psalmist says that God has restored (Ps. 85:1) and will continue to restore: “The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” (v.12). Peter describes the promise of God’s restoration for which we wait: “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” (II Pet. 3:13)

As we journey through this new season of Advent, the world seems very much in need of God’s grace-filled path toward restoration and right relationships. May we humbly repent of the ways that our lives contribute to the world’s injustice and violence. May we commit ourselves anew to living in just and right relationships. In so doing, we prepare the path for God to enter and restore all that is broken.

All seems right in Sydney's world! (Photo by Holden Byler)

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