Friday, December 02, 2011

The Reflectionary: Scripture for Worship on December 4th, 2011

Here are the passages for December 4, 2011, the 2nd Sunday in Advent (Year B). All links are to the CEB via BibleGateway.com, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at BibleGateway.com).

One big question for all the passages below: How are the themes of Advent (and ask yourself "What are the themes of Advent?" if that helps) advanced by reading these passages this week?

Isaiah 40:1-11
  • This passage starts out as a word of comfort to God's people. Why might they need comfort?
  • The people are told that they have paid "double for all [their] sins." This sounds to me like they were punished beyond their actual crimes. Hardly fair. What's going on here?
  • There is language here indicating human frailty compared to the endurance of God. Yet there is no indication here that the people should be afraid. Rather, the language is consistently that of encouragement. Why would being reminded of our frailty be a comfort?
  • I'll have a couple more comments in regard to how part of this passage is used in the gospel of Mark below.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

2 Peter 3:8-15a
  • One of the down-sides to BibleGateway.com is that the site doesn't really know how to handle partial verses, such as that called for with verse 15a here. The letter "a" indicates that only a part of the verse is to be read as part of the lectionary. In this case, the reading stops at the end of the first part of the verse, closing with "...consider the patience of our Lord to be salvation."
  • Believers have come up with varying (if subtly so) interpretations of what it means that "with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day." Does this teaching (however you interpret it) have any practical implication for your own life?
  • There's some fairly dark and fearful imagery in this passage. Assuming that this letter was intended to be read by fellow believers, why do you think that this is so? How is this balanced out by more positive promises?
  • If you had to choose (and be glad that we don't!), would it be better to know Christ out of fear of the consequences of failing to do so, or out of hope for the rewards of doing so? How might your life look different if you picked the other choice?
Mark 1:1-8
  • Having read a later part of this gospel last week, we now get to read the beginning. Why do you think the framers of the lectionary chose to hold off on this passage until the second week of Advent?
  • Why does Mark introduce the prophetic quotations by mentioning Isaiah by name, but then first quotes from Malachi, getting to the quotation from Isaiah only afterward (and, as you'll notice by comparing it to the reading from Isaiah just above, not even completely)?
    • As a corollary to this point, note that the quotation marks are in different places in the two accounts in the CEB. The Isaiah passage has the wilderness within the quote, indicating where the preparation is to be made, whereas Mark has the wilderness outside of the quotes, indicating the location of the one crying out for preparation. Since quotation marks, per se, don't exist in the original manuscripts, this may be attributed to the interpretation of those who translated the Scriptures. But this discrepancy is hardly unique to the TNIV. Most other translations seem to have it, too (a notable exception is the KJV. Here's the KJV of Isaiah, and here's Mark). What's going on, here?
  • Mark's account of John the Baptist (leading up to Jesus' baptism, although we don't read those verses here) is fairly short compared to the other gospels. Why does Mark choose to include the details (but only these) included here?
  • On the other hand, all three of the other gospels have lengthy introductions before getting to John the Baptist. Mark only quotes a couple of verses of prophecy. Why does Mark open this account of the good news in this way?

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