Divine Patience - A Sermon for Advent 2B
2 Peter 3:8-15
If you’ve been out Christmas shopping, you may have found yourself standing in long lines. The same might be true at the Post Office. When it comes to calling customer service or tech support, time may slow down to a crawl. The occasional reminder that a representative will answer as soon as possible doesn’t make the wait any easier. So, what should you do while you wait? How do you keep yourself occupied, when half an hour seems like a day? Having a smart phone may prove helpful, at least while waiting in a line at the store or the post office. At least I can check Facebook and Twitter, and if the line is too long, I can open a book on my Kindle app. But, what if you’re waiting for God to act?
This season of Advent is by definition a season of waiting. We pray “O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” Each year we sing these words of expectation, while waiting for Emmanuel to be fully revealed to us, not as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but as the returning king. We sing: “Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind” and “bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease.” Today, on Peace Sunday, we offer this prayer, longing for the time when the world will be filled with “heaven’s peace.”
The season of Advent can be frustrating, because there are so many signs of Christmas surrounding us. It’s easy for the message of Advent to get lost in the shuffle. But that’s what the candles on the wreath are for. They symbolize our desire to experience hope, peace, joy, and love. Yes, the trees are up, the homes are lit, and presents surround the tree, but we must wait until the moment of longing gives way to the moment we receive God’s gift of salvation in Christ. Advent invites us to wait on the Lord, so that we might receive God’s unconditional gift of love, and then respond by becoming givers ourselves.
I remember when I was a child, looking longingly at the Christmas tree, sizing up the packages under the tree, wondering what was in store for me. As I grew older, I learned that Christmas was not only about receiving, but also about giving. We give, because God gives unconditionally. So, while it’s not easy to wait, the reward for waiting is often greater than we can imagine. That’s especially true if what lies beneath the tree is a chemistry set and not a pair of socks!
On this Second Sunday of Advent, we read from 2 Peter. This letter was probably written sometime late in the first century or early in the second century. While the Gospel of Mark and the letters of Paul give the impression that the church assumed the end of the age would come quickly, this letter written in the name of Peter gives the impression that the church was settling in for the long haul. While Paul might counsel the church to put off getting married because the day of the Lord was at hand, 2 Peter asks us to be patient because God is not slow, as we think of slowness. No, with God, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. It’s all a matter of perspective.
In recent years I’ve begun learning about how the way we perceive time changes as we grow older. When you’re a child, time goes by very slowly. These next two weeks will seem like an eternity to a six-year-old, but for someone who has been on life’s journey form many decades the next two weeks will go by like a flash. When I look back over my life, it seems like just yesterday I was teaching at the college in Manhattan, Kansas, but then I realize those twenty-year-olds I had in class are now in their forties and some of them now have nearly grown children. I look at their Facebook posts and wonder, where did the time go?
2 Peter offers us a theology of waiting. While we may grow impatient with God’s apparent slowness in bringing about God’s realm, maybe there’s a purpose behind the delay. Maybe God has delayed the second advent because God doesn’t want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Yes, the “day of the Lord” will come in due time. In fact, it will come like a thief in the night. But we don’t know when that will be!
The author of 2Peter uses apocalyptic imagery to fuel our imaginations. He speaks of a time when everything will go up in flames. If you’ve been watching the fires in Southern California, like our family has, you might get a sense of what this looks like. I saw footage of the fire racing up the hill alongside the 405 Freeway as it runs through the Sepulveda Pass. Everything on that hillside was ablaze, and everything in the path of the fire is consumed. According to 2 Peter the end of the age will come in like manner. Everything will be consumed. There will be no going back, but the good news is that God has delayed that day to give everyone an opportunity to experience God’s saving grace.
That is the promise made to a church that has moved from anticipating a quick return to putting down roots for the long haul. This is where we find ourselves as we live in the “between times.”
So how should we live in this time between advents? Peter writes that we “ought to lead lives of holiness and godliness” as we wait for Day of the Lord. During this period of waiting, the author of 2 Peter encourages us to “strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” And be thankful, we’re told, that God’s patience is our salvation.
As we strive to be at peace, perhaps the words of the Psalmist will help guide us in this time of waiting on the Lord:
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land. (Psalm 85:8-9)
We live in difficult times, when fear of the other causes us to withdraw and huddle behind closed doors. We may feel like throwing our hands up in frustration. We may be growing restless, and wish that the end would come quickly so our misery might end. That is an understandable feeling, but I don’t think it is the message of Advent? I don’t think it is a theology of waiting that is appropriate for this hour.
Amy Plantinga Pauw puts it this way:
Christ’s coming does not happen on our schedule or according to our fantasies of what this will mean for the community of his followers. But Christ has indeed come. That assurance keeps church from falling into despair or complacency in its longing. Accepting its incompleteness and inability to bring about fulfillment of its own life, church is better able to embrace the future that Christ holds open for us. [Church in Ordinary Time, p. 125]
There is a word from the prophet Jeremiah that fits this moment in time. Writing to exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah counsels the exiles to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7).
If there is to be peace on earth and good will for all, then it apparently it starts with us. As we seek to be faithful in this time between first and second advents, may each of us find our place to contribute to the peace of God on earth as it exists in heaven.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
December 10, 2017