Advent 2: Comings

Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

I’m beginning at the end of the readings this week in order to clarify the links between them. In this passage, the author of the Gospel of Mark (whom I’ll call Mark, accepting that the person in question might not be that Mark) refers back to the book of Isaiah, and the command there to “prepare the way of the Sovereign One”. Obviously enough, this is included in Lesson 1 for this week (Isaiah 40:1-11). This passage from Isaiah taken as a whole has something of the same mix of comfort and fear I found last week: God says “comfort my people” but also wants them to be reminded that “the people is grass” which will “wither”.

Lesson 2: 2 Peter 3:8-15

Is the prophecy of end times found in this passage a good thing or a bad one? Generally, I am not inclined to think well of theologies which put all the emphasis on the coming of the “day of the Sovereign” and assert that “the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up”. Taking this wholly on board can produce an attitude towards the here and now which seems problematic, which focusses all energy on that which is to come and assumes that it doesn’t matter if we, for example, destroy the ozone layer, because it’s all going to be destroyed anyway, and the sooner the better because who doesn’t want God to return and rule the world directly?

Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be quite what the author of the letter is saying. Although ‘Peter’ does talk about “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”, we are also told to “be zealous to be fund by the Sovereign without spot or blemish, and at peace”. This pulls our attention back to the present place and time, and even if it does not encourage very long term thinking, it seems clear that we aren’t meant to hasten God’s coming by, for example, starting wars. As a Quaker, I find that a reassuring way to read this passage!

I still find it confusing, though, because I don’t know how to understand this coming for which we are waiting; is it the second coming of Christ, which many Quaker theologies would say had already happened, or a third coming, a new era, or something else? I’m okay with changes; in archaeological terms, I think we have entered a new era in my lifetime, but I’m not inclined to equate the internet with Jesus, and the ‘new age’ which is (or was) much discussed among Pagans has always remained somewhat vague to me. Perhaps it doesn’t matter; all of these things should be read in the context of the cycles of mythological time and will always look like a square peg in a round hole if you try and fit them into the neat patterns of clock time. We’re waiting for God who is about to arrive and who is here and has been all along.

The Mark passage closes with John the Baptist’s description of the Child of God who is coming: who will be “mightier” than John and will baptise not with water but “with the Holy Spirit”. This is another kind of coming, one which can also be understood as repeated and continuing – the coming of the Spirit.

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