Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Psalm 85; Mark 1:1-8
In Our Gospel lesson from St. Mark, John the Forerunner says, “I have baptized you in water; he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” St. Matthew, in his Gospel adds “fire”, we will be baptized in the Holy Spirit and in fire. St. Peter, in his second letter writes, “…the heavens will be destroyed in flames and the elements will melt away in a blaze. What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to his promise, the justice of God will reside.” These two things are not essentially different. In our baptism we were baptized in water and the fire of the Holy Spirit, we died with Christ and rose again in him, transformed in body, mind and spirit, we are a new creation. In the same way, on the day of the Lord, all the elements of creation will be renewed and transformed in their baptism of fire. It is the Orthodox understanding that the new heavens and new earth are not another, different heavens and earth, but the same ones fulfilled in Christ. Just as, after our baptism, while we are completely new, we are also the same, the same person, the same body, but with a new relationship with God. When Christ comes again the whole of creation will undergo the same transformation, will be remade in the image of Christ. This is what is meant when Isaiah writes, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” It doesn’t mean that we should make the earth into a billiard ball, it is metaphorical; but it also has another meaning. If there is anything in our path, our way to God, and God’s way to us, that should not be there – a crooked place, a rough place, a dark place, we need to work on it, and make the way as smooth as possible. As St. Peter wrote, “…what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…?”
How do we hasten the Day of the Lord? By making the crooked straight. In our hearts, in our lives, in the world. By proclaiming in word and deed the new life in Christ that is offered to all. By living as if that day is already here, because for us it is. We are already living in God’s Kingdom, not perfectly, not in its fullness, not as we will; but it is still real and true and beautiful – more real, true and beautiful than anything else.
As Christians, who live in this world and the kingdom, it can sometimes be hard to keep both in mind all of the time. Our life in this world is so “in your face” yammering, “Look at me! Look at me!” that remembering to listen for the still, small voice, and practicing the presence of God, gets lost in the din. Time flies so fast and a day, a week goes by and we have not read our Bible, or said our offices, or spent time alone with God. We have not been repentant or humble or peacemakers or soldiers of the Gospel, we’ve just been tired. I know, that describes my life pretty well, but, we must not let ourselves become discouraged – do you know what that word means? It means our courage has been taken away – so we must keep trying, every day to live the joyful, transformed, holy life that we received in our baptism. Even though the Lord is not slow, but patient, his Day is surely coming, and we do not want to be left behind.
We do not need to fear or to speculate about the elements melting, or the heavens aflame, however appealing Hollywood may find these topics, but we do not want to relegate them to a dusty corner, either. We live in the end times, all the time from Pentecost to the Second Coming is the end times, and we cannot take for granted that the end will not come tomorrow, although for believers it is not an end but a beginning. We need to live our life in Christ – just that in Christ. Every moment of every day aware of the great gift of life, faith, hope, love and joy he has given us. Not in fear, hoping to escape hell, but in trust knowing that in him, we are already citizens of heaven.
We can do this, we must do this, for ourselves, our loved ones, and for the world. St. Peter wrote, on that day, “…the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.” That means what I have done, what you have done, and what we have failed to do. If our deeds were to be disclosed before the Lord right now would we be confident or ashamed? In our Advent Proper Preface we pray, “…when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.” Can we? Without shame or fear? I’m not sure I can claim that, and if we can’t, right now, then we need to repent, humbly, and do better. Our deeds, by themselves, cannot save us, but they can hinder, or deepen our relationship with God that is necessary for our salvation.
That is what Advent is for, to focus our attention on the coming Day of the Lord and how prepared we are to meet him. So that we, too, will “…be found without stain or defilement, and at peace in his sight.”
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