Advent II Year B: Eternal Impermanence

Isaiah 40:1-11
II Peter 3:8-15a,18
Mark 1:1-8

Peter and Isaiah both remind us of an important truth in our first two readings this morning: the truth of material impermanence and divine eternity. They speak of people as grass that withers and of the dissolving of the elements while reminding us that the word of God will last forever and time is of no consequence to God for whom a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years. Another way to put it might be: all material things exist temporally because God creates by bringing them into existence, sustains by holding them in existence, and negates by ending their existence while God is eternal because God is existence. We all know that, but we sure don’t live like it, and that causes problems for everyone involved. We live like the things around us are so important that we push God to the background. Our hands are so full of temporary things that we can’t grab on to the eternity of God.

The things we fill our hands with aren’t bad; they are good, because God made them. They aren’t bad – they just aren’t God, and we are created to live with God. We don’t have to throw away our clothes and ovens and wear hair shirts and eat raw food like John the Baptist, but if that’s the only way we can get over the hurdle of material possessiveness, then that way of life is perfectly ok. To live as we should with eternity at the center of our lives, we must walk the middle way of rejoicing in the goodness of every person and every thing while never trying to possess them as substitutes for God. The best way to worship God is to enjoy and be grateful for the universe God has made. Part of that enjoyment of the world is realizing that it is not the ultimate reality and it won’t last. The noble path of the middle way or apatheia or detachment teaches us that the existence of every person and every thing in the world depends on God, not on us. It also teaches us that our own existence depends on God, not on us. The confession of those truths frees us from the heavy burden of over-inflated self-importance and replaces it with the yoke of responsible stewardship. We must truly and deeply love and respect every person and every thing without trying to possess them, and we must gratefully let them go when their time or our time is up.

Living that way is true holiness and true prophecy, as Peter and Isaiah call us to live in today’s scriptures. It is a life of holiness because it puts God at the center of everything, and it is a life of prophecy because it is the truth. The world around us will end someday. Many of us have already experienced our worlds coming to an end through unexpected tragedies or twists of fate. We need to start practicing lovingly letting go of things so that when the time comes to really do it, we can. We need to free our hands from desperately grasping the world around us so that we can hold on to God – not just for our own good, but so that we can be ready to help the people around us whose worlds are coming to an end and who need to hear of God’s unending life of joy and peace. We can be the prophet crying “Comfort” in the confusing wilderness of the world around us. We can prepare a way for the Lord, who comes to baptize us all with the Holy Spirit of true life, true existence, and eternity. The universe around us is beautiful and wonderful and good. God is infinitely more so. May we use the wonderful world around us to make a way for the Lord to come to us, instead of as a wall to keep the Lord away from us.   AMEN