The Reading from the Epistles: 2 Peter 3:8-15a
The Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8
Life these days involves a lot of waiting. We wait in traffic, wait in the doctor's office, wait to board a train or plane; wait on hold on the phone. It's gotten to the point that we expect to wait, so often we're prepared with something to do in the interim. As we wait for Christ’s return, the second Advent, what should we be doing? Today's epistle reading offers us some ideas.
I was thinking the other day about some of the small technological innovations over the years that make waiting more bearable. There are several options from which to choose, but one stands out today in this season of waiting.
I can still recall my first experience of this innovation. It was in the city of Boston, near the school of theology in the 1980’s. I had recently moved from Ohio to attend seminary and I was standing at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change. I watched with curiosity as someone with a guide dog approached and pushed a button on the pole next to the walk sign. Suddenly, the sign “spoke”! It said, “Wait! Wait!” (do you remember when you first experienced a talking crosswalk sign?
I came to appreciate this technology because it is more relaxing not to worry about when to cross the street. I can do other things, like pay attention to the people, and the outdoor environment around me. I thought about this small, yet invaluable innovation, and what it may reveal about waiting.
Learning to relax and use time positively is an essential spiritual practice; yet we wait so much each day this practice is not always easy.
Consider these examples:
You call customer service. You tap in the number and wait. Then comes “the voice”- not quite human, and certainly not present: "Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us." You hear those words know you're going to be put on hold listening to a loop of bad music for eternity. Once in a while the robotic voice will tell you how long the wait time is expected to be.
I recall waiting on hold and hearing "The waiting is the hardest part," sung by the late Tom Petty in his hit song with the Heartbreakers in 1981.
A little planning and change of attitude, however, can make that wait time productive and perhaps even fun. Here's a list of things someone came up with -- probably while he or she was waiting to mail a Christmas package at a local post office. These ideas could help you endure your wait time this Advent, or in any season!
Strike up a conversation with a stranger and learn part of their story.
Pull out your journal and describe everything you see in the waiting area. This practice helps you notice the little things around you that might be significant dimensions of your life.
Work through your unread emails. Nobody likes to do this, but it is a great way to spend an hour or three.
If you can find an outlet, recharge all your device batteries. Even better, offer to share your charger with someone else. It's a great conversation starter.
Buy tacky postcards from the newsstand and write notes to your friends and family and mail them later.
Ask whoever is next to you about their favorite band or podcast and listen to it together right then.
Cull through your phone's photo gallery and delete pictures you don't need.
These are all great ideas if you have a couple of hours to wait.
But what if the wait time is going to be longer -- like, maybe, more than a couple of thousand years?
That's the dilemma the early church was facing. Jesus had promised to return, and many in the church believed that return was imminent. As time passed, however, and as persecution of Christians intensified, the waiting became the hardest part for the church. In fact, some were beginning to question whether Christ would return at all.
This is the situation the writer of 2 Peter addresses. This letter, which is a follow-up to the first letter that bears the name of Peter the apostle, reads more like a theological instruction manual than a typical epistle and for good reason (v. 1). In the first letter, the writer encourages the church, which is being pressured by external forces, while here in the second letter he addresses the problems arising from internal sources – especially those who were skeptical about Jesus' return and who encouraged looser ethical and moral behavior (2:15). The letter reminds the church that Christ will return as promised to bring justice and abolish evil, ushering in the new
creation, and that the way they conduct themselves as they wait for his return will have implications for today and for eternity. The author notes that even though they know God intervention will come, they are not entitled to know when it will come.
God relates to time differently than humans. The difference between one and a thousand is negligible to God. The author’s statement here is an allusion to Psalm 90:4, in which the psalmist responds to sceptics with thankfulness for God’s mercy. 2 Peter also discusses waiting for God to act, and divine mercy, but joins them together so that the one (waiting to act) is a manifestation of the other (divine mercy).
We need to remember this hope. In a world where many are trying to predict the end of the world, or provoke it through human actions grounded in bad theology, we are called to become daily more like the Jesus we profess to follow-The One who breathed and taught mercy, justice, and peace; not xenophobia, wanton greed, and endless warfare.
Like Paul (1 Thessalonians 5), the parables in the gospels (Matthew 24; Luke 12) and Revelation (3:3; 16:15), this author describes that day like the arrival of a thief. Therefore, readers of this letter must not lose faith if it takes a thousand years or so. At the same time, we must not grow lazy, because it could come tomorrow. It is important to notice that the point of all this talk of doom and gloom is not to encourage contented apathy because readers believe themselves to be on the right side of divine history; it is to urge us to live a certain kind of life in the present.
The earth as we know it may come to destruction, but that does not mean the life we live on earth does not matter. The final word is not one of destruction. Out of this dissolution a new earth and new heavens will appear.
Peter understands that the waiting is the hardest part, but what seems like a long, slow waiting period for Christ's return is actually a gift from God. The Lord is not slow or tardy, but rather extends patience to allow time for people to "come to repentance" (v. 9)- to change direction, to choose new life.
Peter asks, "What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?" (v. 11). A new heaven and new earth are coming in which "righteousness is at home" so, what should we be doing while we wait (v. 13)?
The short answer for Peter is that those who follow Christ should begin living the righteous life of the future new creation as though it has already arrived. There will be a period of waiting, but it's not to be a passive one in which we keep staring up at the sky waiting for the Christ’s arrival (Acts 1:11). Instead, Peter says that there are certain things we should "strive" to do in the interim.
If we look closely at the message of 2 Peter as a whole, there are some specific things we can do while waiting for the second Advent things we can (and must) do while waiting for the new Advent:
First, remember the promise of the first Advent. Peter opens the letter by reminding his readers of the faith that they received "through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (1:1). That's a powerful witness to the Incarnation. Jesus is both God and Savior. Peter and the other disciples were eyewitnesses to the Incarnation of God in Christ, remembering the voice of God during the transfiguration proclaiming, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (1:17). As we celebrate the season of Advent, it's a chance for us to remember again that God has come to us in person in Christ and, in doing so, God has confirmed the truthfulness of his promises toward us. The Lord for whom we wait is always true to his word!
Second, grow in the image of Christ. When Christ returns, Peter urges his readers to "be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish" (v. 14 (1:4-5). Peter urges us to make every effort to support our faith in Christ through acting out the virtues of goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love (1:5-7). Focusing on these things will keep us from being "ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:8). This is what Peter means by living lives of "holiness and godliness" -- lives that look more and more like Jesus (v. 11).
Third, pay attention to what it is that masters you. In 2:19, Peter criticizes those false teachers for promising freedom while being "slaves of corruption" and then he makes a poignant statement: "People are slaves to whatever masters them." As we move through the Advent season, that's a great question to ponder: What is it that masters you? To what have you become a slave? Is it money, sex, substances, power or something else?
Finally, use your time wisely. Peter urges his readers to "regard the patience of the Lord as salvation" (v. 15). In this interim period as we await the return of Christ, we have the opportunity to use the time God has given us to share our faith with others through our words and actions every day.
Yes, the waiting might be the hardest part of being a follower of Jesus, but it is also the most important part. God has given us the gifts and the time to bring and live good news to the world as we live in anticipation of a Second Advent.
In Scripture, to wait is to be active, to do something. In our culture, time can seem like an enemy, chewing us up and spitting us out with appalling ease. 2 Peter encourages us to welcome time as a gift from God, and to put it to good use, rather than allowing us to be used up by it.
Waiting is important work. In fact, it is one of the most important things we do, since waiting is an expression of faith, of being open and receptive to God; to God’s voice, action, will, and answer. To wait is to be patient, which literally means “to suffer”, or to be acted upon rather than the one acting upon others. To wait is to trust that God is at work even if we cannot see or understand what God is doing at any given moment of time.
As someone (Joseph Campbell or E.M. Forster) once said, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
May God help us to wait well! Amen.