November 30, 2020
The Advent 2B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Mark 1:1-8 from the Lectionary Gospel; Isaiah 40:1-11 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 2 Peter 3:8-15a from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 12 (Lord’s Day 5)
Author: Scott Hoezee
Imagine yourself a Kindergarten teacher who gathers a group of wide-eyed five-and six-year-olds onto the square of carpeting in the classroom that is reserved for “Story Time.” You smile into their innocent faces and begin your story.
“Once upon a time a little girl named Goldilocks was fast asleep in a lovely little bed—a bed that she thought was just right for her. But one morning as she opened her eyes and prepared to stretch out her arms to help herself wake up, she was scared half to death to see three bears staring at her! So even though she was still in her pajamas, Goldilocks jumped out of bed, ran out of the house, and then went on to start having a real adventure as she tried to find her way back home through a thick and dreadful forest.”
Were you to do this, the faces of those innocent little Kindergarteners would no doubt quickly darken as scowls would come upon their lips and even young brows would furrow. Any number of them would quickly jump all over you to say, “That’s now where that story begins! That doesn’t make any sense to tell it that way. You have to start at the beginning, with porridge that’s too hot and all that stuff! Start over, teacher! Start at the real beginning!”
Kids can be pretty unforgiving when you change a well-loved story. Even slight changes earn a child’s ire! (I remember nearly nodding off at times while reading stories to my kids and this would now and then make me miss a word or a phrase in a familiar story. I never got away with it!)
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
That’s where Mark starts his story and before we’ve even had time to figure out what that opening line means, Mark takes us farther back into the past to the words of a dusty old prophet named Isaiah from centuries and centuries earlier. And in this Advent Season, not a few people would want to object as vigorously as any five-year-old hearing a fractured version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
“That’s not the beginning of the story! That’s not even fitting for this season. Come on, Mark, go back, get back to angels and shepherds and stars and stables and mangers and all that good stuff. This is Advent not Epiphany. It’s Christmas, for pete’s sake, and the last place we want to be in December is in the middle of some dry, dusty wilderness where someone is screaming purple-faced at us about our sins.”
Were we able to say that to Mark, he’s likely be nonplussed. Mark is, after all, the one evangelist in the New Testament who is forever in a hurry to get the story of Jesus told, as I point out in a short essay at the head of this year’s Advent sermon resources page. He writes at a break-neck clip, motoring along his narrative through his favorite little Greek adverb, euthus, “immediately.” Everything in Mark happens immediately, right now, fast. There is no time for narrative niceties and no time to lose. The greatest story ever told needs to be told and tell it Mark will.
Mark knows that we must begin in the wilderness. And as we close out this difficult and in its own way this horrendous year of 2020, maybe we need less convincing than in other years that we need to face this world’s brokenness head on. The fallenness of this world, our mutual enmeshment in sin, our human ability to wound one another and to divide over things that ought not be controversial must less divisive: all of this and more has been on grim display in 2020. Mark is right: We must begin in the wilderness. We must begin with John.
We must begin with getting baptized because if you’re not willing to meet the Savior with repentance in hand, then you may not find any motivation to meet and greet the Savior at all. Mark knows that Jesus came for but one reason: to liberate the cosmos from its bondage to sin and decay. If you have no interest in seeing your own complicity in all that, then you’ll have no more use for Jesus showing up in your life than you would for a plumber who showed up on your porch on a day when—to the best of your knowledge—you did not have a plumbing problem in the world. In such a situation there’s really nothing to do other than to tell the kindly plumber to toddle off. (In this week’s Psalm sermon starter from Psalm 85, I make a similar point when the Lectionary suggests we skip the middle part of that psalm where there is some unsettling talk about God’s anger over our sin.)
But Mark’s beginning means something else. It means that at the end of the Advent day, all the stuff we want to constitute the real “beginning” of the story—the stuff that is to us what the too-hot porridge was to the Three Bears—is not the core of the story after all.
Yes, Virginia, you can tell the story of Jesus without Bethlehem’s stall. If Mark were the only gospel we possessed in the church, a great deal of what fills up our imaginations in the month of December would disappear but the one thing that would not disappear would be the Gospel, the core of which is recognizing Jesus as the One sent from God to save us from our sins.
Of course, in God’s good providence, Mark is not our only gospel. We have three other wonderfully composed portraits of Jesus that round out the picture of our Lord, and that’s a profoundly good thing. And since two of those other gospels—and one in particular—tell us a lot about the birth of Jesus, it’s fitting and fine to note that and celebrate it.
But if we forget what Mark taught us, if we forget what the real core of it all is, well then the gospel story for us is finally no more meaningful than . . . well, than a fanciful tale about talking bears and an overly curious little girl.
Be sure to check out our 2020 Year B Advent/Christmas resource page for more sermon and worship ideas and links to many sample sermons as well. Visit us all through Advent!
Mark tells us he is presenting “the beginning” of the gospel, but scholars will tell you that it’s a little difficult to know just how much of what follows constitutes that beginning. Does “the beginning” end at verse 8? Are verses 1-8 the preamble, “the beginning,” with the real story getting started in verse 9 the moment Jesus appears from out of the heat vapors emanating from the desert floor to get baptized by John? Does “the beginning” go all the way through verse 13 at the end of Jesus’ time of temptation in the desert?
Or, as Tom Long and others have suggested, is “the beginning” nothing less than the entire Gospel of Mark? Does “the beginning” = Mark 1-16 and so right on up to the point in Mark 16:8 when Mark concludes on such an unfinished note of fearful post-resurrection silence that the reader is forced to say, “This is clearly not the end of the story—there has to be more to it than this!”
Maybe just that is the point. The gospel cannot end where Mark leaves it in chapter 16:8. There has to be more. But maybe that’s because to Mark’s way of thinking, even the entire story of Jesus, from the appearance of John to the resurrection of Jesus, is only the merest beginning of a gospel that—as the Apostle John would later say—is really bigger than the world can contain (cf. John 21:25).
Advent is the beginning of the new Church Year. We re-set the ecclesiastical clock and bring everything back to the starting line as the Son of God becomes flesh and gets born into this world. It’s the one time when the rest of the world at least vaguely tracks our theological and spiritual location in the Church. You can pass through the whole of Epiphany without ever hearing an Epiphany hymn being played on a department store’s Muzac. The Season of Eastertide is for most people a one-day event marked by a ham dinner or a lamb on the barbie. Mostly and in most seasons of the Church Year people outside the Church have no idea what we’re thinking about or singing about inside the Church.
Advent is different. True, no one calls it “Advent” in the wider society. The whole shebang from slightly before Thanksgiving in the U.S. to around New Year’s Day is generically called “Christmas,” but at least people have the basic nub of understanding of what we’re doing in worship across four or five Sundays. If someone who had not gone to church in fifty years were to slide into a pew somewhere in December, he would not be the least bit surprised to hear what Scripture readings were being proffered and what music was being played and sung.
But for all the attention the world—and let’s just admit, also the Church—gives to Advent/Christmas and all that goes along with this season, Mark is here to remind us that even all of that is not really the beginning of the gospel. The Christmas Story is not the beginning, it’s just a tiny piece of the entire gospel which is itself, in its entirety, only “the beginning” of a cosmic tale so vast, we’ll never comprehend it but can only let ourselves get gracefully and delightfully caught up in it all.
A voice in the wilderness. A single voice calling out from the midst of evil chaos. And it is a voice that comes “in the beginning” of what Mark wants us to understand is a new creation story parallel with the first creation story “in the beginning” that we read in Genesis 1. A voice calling out in the void to create a new world. It reminds me of that lyric image from C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” book The Magician’s Nephew when the children witness Aslan creating Narnia through his lone voice singing in the pre-creation darkness.
“In the darkness, something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it . . . Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale; cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one as on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out . . . If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.” (C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, Collier Books, New York, pp. 98-99).
Author: Stan Mast
Advent began last week with a lament filled with longing for the coming of God (Isaiah 64). On this Second Sunday of Advent, the mood changes dramatically with the Good News that God is coming soon.
That shift of mood parallels the radical shift between Isaiah 39 and Isaiah 40. Even the most casual reader of the great prophet can see that Isaiah 1-39 is filled dark words of judgment, while Isaiah 40-66 overflows with words of comfort. The words of our reading serve as a kind of prologue to the Book of Comfort.
Why the sudden shift of tone and theme? Nearly all scholars point to the bad news that Jerusalem has fallen, that the Temple has been burned to the ground, that the Davidic monarchy is over, and that a whole new cohort of Jews are being exiled to Babylon. With that bad news, life as Israel knew it was over, and Israel will have to stop putting their trust in the Temple, the City, the kings, and the land. God’s word of judgment and punishment has been fulfilled, so now Israel is ready to hear the Good News of comfort and joy. That’s what we hear in Isaiah 40:1-11.
This is a word that speaks powerfully to our contemporary world. It is hard to describe the atmosphere of gloom and foreboding that hangs over my country as I write this. The pandemic has stricken millions of people worldwide, killing over a quarter of million in America alone, and there is no end in sight. The resultant financial crash has left millions of families in dire need and thousands of businesses in ruin. The protests over racial injustice devolved into violence and what threatened to be civil war for a few tense weeks. The recent vitriolic political campaigns have shaken the foundations of government and the lives of ordinary citizens. The natural disasters that have flooded and burned vast portions of our land may be a portent of climate disaster to come. As many said at the beginning of the pandemic, “life as we know it is over.”
Where can one find comfort in this moment? What can comfort a reeling society? Who can comfort a hurting and frightened world? Today we have the privilege of preaching the Good News that focuses on the imminent coming of God. The God who came to bring judgment through Assyria will now come to bring redemption from Babylon. As Isaiah says in a number of ways, “the old has passed away, the new has come.” The new has come because God is coming soon.
Many scholars spill much ink trying to identify the voices that speak in these verses. Who is speaking, and to whom? Some imagine a heavenly court with angelic beings speaking on behalf of God. Others hear anonymous prophets speaking for God. And still others think that the voice is that of Second Isaiah, or even First Isaiah, the author of chapters 1-39. I think it is much more important to hear the message announced by these voices.
Yes, I said, “message,” in the singular, because, in spite of the variety of emphases in these verses, there is one over-riding message: God is coming to comfort his exiled people. The different emphases are all part of a careful progression of thought in that message: the announcement that punishment is over (verses 1-2), the call to prepare the way for the coming of the glory of God (verses 3-5), the permanence of God’s word in a passing world (6-8, and the presentation of God (verses 9-11).
God announces double comfort to a people who have received double punishment for all their sins. That comfort begins with the assurance that the terrible past is now over: “her hard service has been completed, her sins have been paid for, she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” When your world has fallen apart and there seems to no end to the horror, it is incredibly comforting to hear that it’s all over.
Parts of this opening comfort might trouble some of your listeners. I mean, here is the God who inflicted punishment on Israel now “speaking tenderly” to them. Isn’t it a little late for that? Why did God ruin their lives to begin with? Well, here God explains their plight to them. It was punishment for your many sins. It wasn’t random, or capricious, or cruel. It was simply the wages of sin, the reward for rebellion, the hard service demanded by a destructive enemy, the bitter harvest of bad seed. You did it, you asked for it, you wanted it, you refused to stop it, you received what you deserved.
But now it is over, completely over. That’s the import of that troubling word about receiving “double.” It sounds like over-much, an excess of punishment. But another reading of the Hebrew is “full, or complete.” Your debt has been paid in full. Your sins have been completely forgiven. You don’t have to live your life waiting for the other shoe to drop. Your punishment is completed. “It is finished.”
That is comforting. But what about the future? It’s good to know that God is done punishing our many sins, but we are still here in Exile, suffering the results of our sins, far from home back in Jerusalem. What are we supposed to do with these shattered lives? “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord….” God is coming soon, so prepare the way for him.
Is the prophet referring to the many miles of desert between Babylon and Jerusalem? Or is this a way of talking about the bleakness of life in Exile? Maybe both. The point is that God is coming to you, and you need to prepare the way for him.
Many scholars see this as an allusion to the Exodus and Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the trackless wilderness of Sinai. In your second Exodus, then, make sure that the road on which God will come to you is a highway, straight and level and smooth. In other words, clear away any obstacles to God’s return to your lives. The Gospel writers see these words fulfilled in the Baptist’s stern call to repentance. The first Exodus took 40 years. The second will be immediate.
And his coming will be universal. When God comes, says verse 5, the whole world will see his glory—not just Israel, but “all mankind together will see it.” Did the world see Israel return from Exile? Well, some of the known world, but not all mankind. Did the world see God come in the person of Jesus? Well, in the persons of the Magi, and then in the mission of the church proclaiming that God has come in the flesh, but not all mankind sees his glory yet. That will happen when he comes again on the superhighway from heaven. Then every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. We prepare the way for that coming by announcing his first coming and living in a way that demonstrates his Lordship.
This will certainly happen, “for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.” That phrase leads into the third part of the comfort God offers his suffering people, namely the permanence of God’s word in a world that is always passing away. The mighty empires that had swept Israel out of their land and devastated their lives must have seemed like indestructible granite mountains that would last forever. But, God says, the strongest are like grass and their glory is like the flowers of the field.
And here’s the thing about grass and flowers. They wither and fall, because the breath of Yahweh blows on them. The breath of Israel’s God gives life and takes it away. All human life is subject to the will and wind of God.
Only one thing lasts in this world—the word of our God. When he threatens judgment, it will come to pass. When he promises salvation, it will happen. When he speaks comfort, it will be given. You have seen his word of judgment come true. Now you can trust that his word of comfort and joy will come true as well. In all the changing scenes of your life, trust the Word of your God.
Then comes the center of God’s comforting word to his hurting people, forced to live far from their land, their temple, and the God who lived back there. The God who is coming is almost here. So, tell people that. Climb to the highest mountain and shout the Good News as loudly as you can. Stop your cowering and whimpering there in Exile. “Lift up your voice with a shout, do not be afraid, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”
What a challenge and what a comfort that must have been to them. It surely is to us. To boldly declare that God is here, in spite of what we can see all around us—that takes courage and faith. But that’s what we are called to do in these dark days. The God who promised to come has, indeed, come. And he will come again. He is the only source of true comfort in this whole sad world.
Our task as disciples of the Coming One is to present the reality of God to those who can’t see him. Twice, the prophet calls on his readers to “see, see.” We are to present him in our words and deeds in such a way that “those who don’t see [can] still believe.”
What a comfort the coming of our God gives to Exiles then and now. He comes with “power, and his own arm rules for him.” He will see to it that justice is done in a world filled with injustice, giving pay back (“recompense”) to those who thought they had gotten away with it. In a world filled with wrong, he will make all things right.
But not just that. He will come with awesome power to do justice, but he will also come with infinite tenderness to take care of his flock like a shepherd. The weak and vulnerable will be the special object of his tender care. “He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those who have young.” The unrepentant wicked will get exactly what they deserve and the trusting weak will get exactly what they need.
In Jesus, God came to pay for sin, to fulfill the word of God, to be the Word made flesh, to be God with us, and to make the world right and whole.
Even outside my own little Christian Reformed tribe, many people have been encouraged by the words of Question and Answer One of the Heidelberg Catechism. “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Author: Scott Hoezee
Maybe the Consultation on Common Texts that puts together the Revised Common Lectionary thinks that Advent is no time to think about God’s anger over sin. Because by carving verses 3-7 out of this lection from Psalm 85, we once again edit the Almighty. It’s OK to start with the first 2 verses and lyric words about forgiveness and the last half dozen are nice too. But we have to avert our eyes from the middle part about God’s anger over sin.
The irony, of course, is that everything we anticipate in Advent is premised on the idea that God himself had to find a way to get rid of sin once and for all. Sin is the obstacle that stands between the Creator God and God’s creatures made in the divine image. The Son of God would not have to have been made human (and that true humanity of course set up Jesus’ true suffering and death) were it not for sin. So we need all of Psalm 85 (and don’t forget this is paired on the Second Sunday of Advent with John the Baptist’s calls to repentance in Mark 1).
We need the whole psalm but to be honest, Psalm 85 is a little all over the place. The first four verses reflect a time when God forgave Israel for some transgressions and restored them. But then the next set of verses seems to indicate Israel went backwards, sinned again, and so found itself under the wrath of God again. And then we get to the last section that may or may not flow smoothly from verse 7. The psalmist pledges to listen to God and seems more upbeat again about the promises of God and about God’s glory dwelling in the land.
Then we get to the very last verses which are the most well-known parts of this poem with its lyric language about love and faithfulness meeting up and righteousness and justice sharing a kiss. But honestly, these verses seem to come from out of nowhere. Where does the psalmist see this happening? Where is faithfulness springing up from the earth or where is righteousness both looking down from heaven and also going before God as a preparation for God’s very steps? Is this related to needing to be delivered from God’s wrath? Is it a hoped-for future?
In truth this psalm feels like a loosely stitched together pastiche of sentiments. A lyric thanksgiving for deliverance is followed by a plea for restoration followed by some pledge of faithfulness followed by an almost eschatological vision of an earth filled with shalom. So how should the preacher proceed? The whole thing reminds me of the anecdote that claims that Winston Churchill once sent a pudding back to the kitchen complaining that the pudding lacked a theme.
Or might there be a way to view this psalm that brings it closer to home after all? What if we thought of this psalm’s mish-mash of thanksgiving, repentance, pledges of faithfulness, and wistful hopes to see a renewed creation as a reflection of just how many of our lives go sometimes? Sometimes we all feel like what is now referred to as “a hot mess.” We ricochet from being so grateful to God for his forgiving grace back into some failure that necessitates our receiving more grace. This in turn is sometimes followed by a fierce determination to clean up our acts and maybe this in turn leads us to long for a day when we won’t have to keep repeating this same old sad cycle because God will be all in all. Love, faithfulness, righteousness, justice: they will all dance around one another in the sheer delight that just is God’s shalom when we ourselves but also the whole of creation will at long last be what God intended for the whole shebang in the beginning.
But we can take our cues as to what to long for from the vocabulary in especially verses 10 and 11. Clustered here are some of the most theologically rich words in the Hebrew language. The “love and faithfulness” that meet are chesed and emet, the latter being that #1 trait of God’s for which Israel gave praise again and again. It’s not just “love” but God’s overflowing lovingkindness, all that is within God that makes God inclined to be forgiving and gracious. And the second word is the word from which we also derive “Amen” and its other meanings include “truth” or that which is flat out right in the world. In the New Testament these would be “grace and truth” and how can one hear those words without thinking of John 1’s description of that which the Word of God made flesh abounded in: he was full of grace and truth.
Next up is righteousness and peace and here again are the loaded Hebrew words zedek and shalom. The righteousness here is the very core of who God is, it is every straight moral line in the universe, the standard against which crookedness is determined. And of course shalom is so rich a Hebrew word it is now a part of many languages in its untranslated form. It’s “peace” all right but not peace in the sense of an absence of conflict or the opposite of war. No, it’s shalom in the sense of everything in the world contributing to the wholeness and the flourishing of everything and everyone else in the world. It’s a creation in which every last thing that exists is webbed together to everything else in one vast network of flourishing and delight.
This is the world we long for: a world where grace leads the way, where truth is what most makes people enthusiastic, where everything that was ever meant to be right is all that there is and is linked together to everything and to everyone else in a world that adds up to just one constant reality: Shalom.
We all have our ups and downs. Psalm 85 maybe really does reflect our too-typical experiences in a world that is not yet perfect and nor are any of us. Not by a long shot. But God’s Word assures us we are on course for that better, lyric world sketched in the final verses of this poem. That is why Advent is always about both that first arrival in Bethlehem and Christ’s second arrival on clouds of glory to make all things new.
And as Christians we know this more certainly because the things longed for in this psalm’s final vision really did all come together in the person of Jesus the Christ. He is the one full of grace and truth, he is the one in whom righteousness and shalom co-exist in perfect harmony. And he is the one who died and rose again so that faithfulness really did spring forth from the earth on Easter morning and the righteousness of God’s One and Only is now paving the way for his every footstep as he leads us all to the better day that just is the Kingdom of God.
Be sure to check out our 2020 Year B Advent/Christmas resource page for more sermon and worship ideas and links to many sample sermons as well. Visit us all through Advent!
The seeming pastiche of ideas that Psalm 85 seems to contain—the perhaps spiritual ups and downs reflected in the experience of this psalmist—reminds me of a couple things. First, it reminds me of what the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has identified as the “Vertical Habits” that are at the core of Christian worship. When it comes right down to it, worship consists of really just a few basic elements including simple, almost child-like language that says “Thank You” and “I’m Sorry” and “I’m Listening.”
But something of the spiritual ups and downs reflected here also reminds me of writer Anne Lamott who once said that once you strip away all the specifics, her prayers to God come down to basically just two prayers: “Help me, help me, help me!” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Author: Doug Bratt
We usually think of a “last will and testament” as a dry legal document by which a now-dead person divvies up his or her possessions. Yet we periodically see or hear about a last will and testament that’s really a kind of testament that communicates the deceased person’s final thoughts.
Sometimes its words scold family members for past sins. At other times wills express unfulfilled desires for reconciliation. Sometimes those words even remember the dead person’s past, as well as express his or her hopes for the future.
Those who proclaim this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson might ask our hearers what they would write if they were writing their last communication to those whom they love. Peter, after all, seemed to think about this as he pondered his second epistle.
This letter is a kind of last will and testament for the apostle. After all, 2 Peter 1:15 at least implies that he sees his own life as ending soon. He senses that he may not get another chance to speak to his friends. So the apostle makes every last word of this epistle count. In those last words, he wants to make sure he talks about Jesus’ failure to return even as Christians, including the apostles, are dying.
God’s adopted children aren’t surprised that Peter spends much time in his letter talking about “the last things,” about the end of time. It’s good for the apostle’s modern adopted siblings in the faith, as well as Peter’s original readers, to reflect on those last things. After all, even if Christ doesn’t return for all of us in our lifetime, he will, in a real sense, return for each one of us when we die.
The Holy Spirit can strengthen and prepare God’s adopted children for that return by pointing us forward, through Peter and others’ words, to the new earth and heaven. That new creation is the place of our ultimate hope beyond physical death.
2 Peter 3, however, is also an excellent passage to study during the season of Advent. The apostle, after all, originally wrote it to people who were very concerned about the fact that Jesus hadn’t returned after thirty years or so.
So the apostle reminds his readers that our time isn’t God’s time. “With the Lord,” he writes in verse 8, “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” So Jesus, as we sometimes assume, isn’t slow in keeping his promise to return very soon. He’s merely showing his patience that he designs to lead people to receive God’s grace with their faith.
However, if the passage of time concerned people in Peter’s day, it may be even more worrisome for both those who proclaim and hear 2 Peter 3. Peter was probably exaggerating when he compared a thousand of our days to one of God’s. However, thinking in terms of thousands isn’t an exaggeration for modern Christians. After all, Christ has already waited thousands of years to come back.
Much time has elapsed between Christ’s lifetime and this year’s celebration of Advent. So God’s beloved people too probably need to hear that no matter how much time has passed, Christ’s return is still coming.
So how can we keep waiting for Christ’s return? Perhaps we begin by remembering that Christ is already present with us, by his Spirit. He has, in a real sense, already returned by coming to us through the Holy Spirit.
Christians have already waited a very long time for Christ to return. We may still have to wait a long time. However, he is already with us in a very real, warm and loving way. So in a real sense, Christ’s return will simply fulfill what we already enjoy, by God’s amazing grace.
That’s why Peter can write that though we look forward to a glorious future, we now try to live holy, blameless and, thus, glorious lives that are at peace with God. Christians don’t need to obsess about what will happen when God dramatically renews all things at Christ’s return.
Jesus’ followers have enough to focus on right now as we live in God’s salvation in Christ’s presence. Verse 9 suggests that Christ waits to return because he doesn’t want anyone to perish. No matter how we understand that, it’s at least an invitation to make good use of his “delay” to bring the gospel of what verse 15 calls “salvation” to as many people as we can. So both those who proclaim and who hear 2 Peter 3 support the work of missionaries, church planters and other kingdom workers.
After all, while we live between the distant past of Christ’s first coming and the indeterminate future of his second, our time is full, not empty. Jesus’ followers aren’t just floating between Bethlehem and Armageddon with nothing to do. No, we make full use of this time by living what verse 11 calls “holy and godly lives.”
But of all the ways to live holy and godly lives, perhaps relatively few Christians think of caring for God’s creation. Yet Peter may be trying to tell us something about that by talking about the original creation before transitioning from that to talk about the new creation.
The angels’ message about “Peace on earth” means many things to different people. However, I suspect most of us don’t think about peace for the earth when we consider it. Yet in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson the Spirit bends Peter’s thoughts back to the Word of God that created all things from nothing and will someday also remake all things.
Verse 10 may point to God’s destruction of everything that we know at Christ’s return. But it’s clear that when the fire goes out and the smoke clears, God’s adopted sons and daughters won’t be left with some ethereal clouds, but a new earth and heaven. That new creation will be what verse 13 calls “the home of righteousness,” or as Eugene Peterson vividly translates it, a place “landscaped with righteousness.”
Since that’s the home to which both those who proclaim and those hear this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson are looking forward, holy and godly living includes celebrating and caring for God’s creation right now. So Christians make good use of our wait for Christ to return by enjoying things like plants and peaks, rivers and rainstorms. We also make good use of our time by lovingly care for the air and water, plants and animals, all of God’s creation.
Advent’s the time when we like to think of unusual things like angels dancing in the night sky, stars blazing in the east and a baby being born in a barn. We even celebrate it by sometimes turning our parks, stores and neighborhoods into fantastic shrines to Christmas.
Those things, however, are strictly temporary. The angels and the baby Christ return to God’s eternal presence. The bright lights and green trees also come down, boxed for another year. In Advent, however, Jesus’ followers try to concentrate on the things that will last. We think of the Word of God who created and continues to hold all things. God’s dearly beloved people think of the One who lives in our hearts every day but will soon return to make all things new.
Jesus’ adopted siblings live holy and godly lives in the light of those lasting realities. After all, Christ’s first coming in Bethlehem signaled nothing less than the renewal of all things, including the renewal of all things in our lives right now.
Some day, as Peter tells us, Christ’s return will affect every last part of his creation. For now our lives are a kind of “sneak preview” of that as each part of them is marked by his presence in them, by his Holy Spirit. Even now we’re a “home of righteousness” that points people to the complete home of righteousness in the new earth and heaven.
Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman’s Willy Loman is arguably one of the stage’s most tragic in the last seventy years. He’s an almost incurable optimist who, as it turns out has little about which to be optimistic. Yet his son Happy says of Willy: “Dad is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something!”