Ripples through Time—Advent 2

Sermon delivered at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Perkasie, PA it comes at about 34:50 in the video.

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15
Mark 1:1-8

It’s strange to think that today is the 2 year anniversary of my ordination! Two years with you all here in Perkasie, at St Andrew’s. Two years is not so long a time. Pretty short, I guess, if you think about it, but I hope you’ll forgive me for saying it, but gosh has it felt long! These have been 2 full years of getting my feet wet in ministry! And then Covid wave #1. And then Covid wave #2, and Maddy my wife being pregnant, and Simone’s birth. Even Easter, back in April, feels like eons ago! Time is a funny thing, I think.

We divide our days into hours, and hours into minutes, it should all feel even—it should all feel the same. And yet it doesn’t. Time bends and moves. Time has texture like fabric. We say we’ve had a “rough” time or a “smooth” time. We have all kinds of curious expressions about time that point out how funny it is. Time “flies” when you’re having fun, we say. Time “gets away” from us, which is weird. Or it felt as though time “stood still.”

All of our readings from Holy Scripture today are about time. For God time is nothing. God is not limited by our experience of time. The author of 2nd Peter says for God 1000 years is a day, and a day is 1000 years. All of what we call time, all the actions and events of God’s universe from beginning to ending, are open in God’s hands. 

Everything is naked before God’s eternal and unblinking gaze, but time for us is nothing like that, no way. We live in a world of beginnings and endings, of causes and effects, of lost pasts and distant futures. As Isaiah writes for us today, we are like grass and flowers: blooming shortly, fading quickly. The author of 2nd Peter is reminding his listeners that for us an end comes. A cosmic end to things as we know it.

And in Mark we have talk of beginnings. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” As we started the Advent season we started a new Gospel as well. And this year we have the Gospel of Mark. And here is the beginning of it, there’s no birth story in Mark: we start with John the Baptist out in the wilderness. 

What does it mean to dwell in our world of beginnings and endings, knowing that God is locked away in God’s eternity? That seems kind of lonely. Well. The story of Jesus, is the story of God crossing over. In Christ we believe that we share in God’s eternity. And this sharing comes in strange and exciting ripples that shiver and sparkle through the material of time.

For example: It’s no coincidence that Mark applies Isaiah’s words to John the Baptist. But Isaiah was prophesying in roughly 540 BC, writing the words of God to the Israelites about exile and war. About the pain of death and loneliness, about punishment for their sins of cruelty and greed being lifted. 

Isaiah’s prophecies are very specific. So how can Mark think they pertain to John, and his announcing Jesus’ arrival on the scene? Something funny is going on with time here. What the prophet foretold long ago, for one time and place in Scripture, came true again in a different time in a different part of the Bible.

This reminds me that Pastor Krey and I have been meeting with St Andrew’s parents, and talking about the Bible. The last time we met they asked some really, really good questions. They asked, “How are the Scriptures we are following [trustworthy] when we can’t discern if this stuff, the sources, are true, [are factual]?” Another question: “How does the OT relate to the NT? How do we know what to follow?” Oof. Two head scratchers.

Both those questions are live wires when it comes to Isaiah and Mark today. Was Isaiah writing about Babylon in 540 BC or about John the Baptist in 30 AD? The answer to these questions about truth, and history and facts, and Old and New Testaments all converge today in the meaning of the Advent season—in the mixture of God’s time and our time.

Later on in chapter 40 of Isaiah it is written that God speaks: “Have you not known, Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, The Creator of the ends of the earth… I, the LORD, am first, and will be with the last.” Just like the author of Peter attests as well. For God it’s all, already laid out—the creation and the end of all things. Instead of living in time as a line, travelling from ends to beginnings, God is inviting us in Scripture to dwell in time like a pond.

The pond contains all that ever was or will be. And at the very center of that pond—using this metaphor—God tossed a stone. And that stone made a splash, and out from the splash comes ripples. Now, the Nativity of Jesus, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the whole she-bang, is the splash. Jesus in the flesh is the splash, the mixing of eternal God and limited human being.

It’s not the splash we’re focusing on though, it’s the ripples are what we care about today—the ripples, the shockwaves of God’s coming. From our limited perspective of time Jesus has already been born. 2000-ish years ago. It’s done. Move on, right? But God’s merciful coming, God’s overflowing love—God’s will to be with us—sends shimmers across all time. That’s what we are waiting for anew in Advent—what we watch for.

Jesus, from God’s perspective, is always, already being born from all time. It is the center of God’s creation. But we are still here on this side of eternity! And so: we wait and watch for the ripples. But just like in an actual pond: The ripples of Christ go in all directions, they go backwards and forwards.

Isaiah’s prophecy is a ripple fashioned as a prediction. John’s cry on the bank of the Jordan is a prediction too. Our reading Scripture today is a ripple as well, but a remembrance. The Old and New Testaments are simply ripples traveling in different directions. But so much more: The sparkle in your new grandchild’s eye is also a ripple. When you suddenly choose compassion over anger with your spouse is a ripple. Or the quivering light of Venus before dawn, that chance meeting at the grocery store, the phone call from a friend. All these.

Advent is our time to say: remember to watch for the ripples of Christ; remember to be patient when they don’t seem to come.

Our faith or trust is that all time and space is indeed shaped like this: the manger of Christ, the cross of Christ, the empty tomb of Christ is the center. Is this a fact? Detectable with rulers and microscopes? Well, I guess not. It is only a hope after all.

A hope in spite of the raging suffering and madness around us. A hope in ripples. A hope in ripples we measure and see only with the eyes of our hearts.

But another funny thing about time thought of this way: the more you look for the waves of Christ rippling through time, the more you see them, until suddenly, as the author of Peter describes, they are all you can see:

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed … But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

I know this has all been a little out there—a little woo woo. But, still, what’s the harm thinking this way, in believing this way? Maybe it can be of some Comfort to you all in this awful and deadly Covid holiday season—to believe the ripples of God’s love do indeed quiver across from eternity into your very own lives.

Ask yourself: where will you look for them next?