December 6, 2020

2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

“A Letter of Peace”

During this Season of Advent, I decided to focus my preaching on the Epistle readings that are set in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday. We’re looking at these snippets of letters to the early Christian communities, with our ears open for words of encouragement that may strengthen us in this challenging time of the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic.

Today’s Epistle reading comes from the third chapter of the 2nd letter of the Apostle Peter. Since I didn’t know the letter well, I went back to the 1st chapter to find out who Peter was writing to, and I found this salutation:

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

So, unlike some of the letters in the New Testament that are addressed to a particular congregation and dealing with their unique issues and concerns, this one is written to all people of faith who have come to believe in Jesus the Lord. It’s what is called a “pastoral letter” – a letter that was written by a church leader and circulated among the various congregations for the benefit of all.

After a little more research, I learned that 2nd Peter was not likely written by the actual Apostle Peter that we read about in the Gospels. The content and language suggest that it was from the end of the 1st century, long after Peter would have been dead. But it is written in Peter’s name, showing that the church leader sees himself as following in the footsteps of Peter and his leadership in the early church.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, I read the passage looking for a message of PEACE (in keeping with today’s Advent candle) and I read the passage looking for encouragement during this time of waiting, and I found both those things and more.

While all the early Christian communities were waiting, watching, and expecting Jesus to return some time soon, the late first century context of this letter means that many of the Christians reading it have started to get pretty impatient about the coming of the Lord. Second Peter’s audience exhibits even less patience than those who received Paul’s letters. We hear that “scoffers” have appeared, and these folks have run out of patience entirely.

“Where is the promise of his coming?” they ask. “For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” In other words, generations have gone by and things seem just as bad as they ever were. I’ve heard people in our Bible studies today say very similar things!

If it was Paul responding 40 or 50 years earlier, he likely would have said, “Wait! Watch! Hold on, because Jesus is coming on the clouds again very soon.” Paul preached immanence, as the biblical scholars would put it. But Peter approaches the question and the impatience differently.

He begins today’s section of the letter with a philosophical inquiry into the nature of time itself. Quoting from Psalm 90, he invites them to think about the idea that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” In other words, TIME is not the same for God as it is for us humans. Don’t hold God too closely to regular human calendars and seasons.

Well, that’s an interesting point to ponder – that God is outside of time as we know it. But it doesn’t exactly help us when we’re waiting, watching, wondering, and worrying about the state of our world, and longing for things to be made right. A thousand years still feels like a thousand years to me, and I don’t know if I can hold on that long!

The author of 2nd Peter doesn’t suggest that the time of waiting will be over soon. He’s not like a politician during the pandemic who tells us to just hang on for a few more weeks because then we’ll probably be able to get together for Christmas. But he’s like a more straight-forward leader who says, “Yes, it looks like this is going to take some time. In the meantime, here’s what you can be doing to help things along.”

The passage goes nicely with today’s Gospel reading as well – the one where we hear about John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness preaching: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” In other words, he doesn’t just say “The Lord is coming soon.” But he says, “The Lord is coming soon, so you better get ready. Repent! Be baptized! Turn your lives around now because the Lord is coming soon!”

Instead of focusing on trying to be patient, 2nd Peter focuses on in what condition its readers might wish to be discovered at whatever time God does in fact appear. Whereas the impatient Christians might perceive it as God’s delay (calling Jesus “slow” in appearing) 2nd Peter says that it’s actually God’s grace. Jesus has not yet returned because God’s giving them (and us?) a little more time to get ready.

The issue is not about whether we will be patient as we wait for the second coming, but how patient God will be with us in giving us time to prepare our hearts, turn our lives, and amend our ways.

Patience is a familiar biblical virtue. We know it as one of the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit that we learn about in Galatians, and as one of the attributes with which God clothes of God’s chosen ones in Colossians. But it is rare to speak of God’s patience. God’s patience with us when we continually turn away and worship ourselves and the idols of this world. God’s patience with us when we are slow to turn our lives towards Jesus’ loving Way and let the Spirit fill and guide our daily lives and decisions.

After a few generations of waiting, watching, and wondering, the author of 2nd Peter is encouraging his Christian readers not to give up because of the seeming delay of God’s coming. First of all, God doesn’t do time like we do. A thousand years is like a single day!

And second, the delay is good news for you. After all, if Jesus had come earlier, you probably wouldn’t have been ready yet. You might benefit from having a bit more time to get your act together before God shows up.

I expect that’s true for most of us. I know it’s true for me. And if Jesus hasn’t returned yet, I know I’ve got work to do today and tomorrow, to get my life more in line with Jesus’ Way of living and being. We’ve got work to do as church and society to get our communities more in line with Jesus’ way.

On this day – December 6th – a couple of things come to mind. First, it’s the 31st anniversary of the Montreal massacre of 14 young women who were studying to become engineers. It is a horrifying example of hatred and violence against women, but it is not the only case. Women continue to suffer from domestic violence and other forms of abuse in our country, and Indigenous women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected.

Today is also St. Nicholas Day, so we remember a church leader who, as legend has it, gave generously to save young women from being forced into lives of prostitution. As we remember his example, may we strive to work in a similar fashion, showing care and concern for those today who are similarly violated, sold, and trafficked.

Although the Advent Epistle readings at first glance seem to be all about eschatology – about the question of when and how Jesus will come again to make the world right – today’s passage is less about eschatology and more about holy, godly living. In speaking about the coming Day of the Lord, the desire of God is made clear – that God wants everyone to reach repentance before the day of judgment.

And that is good news for us. That is news that should encourage us. That is news that should give us peace because God loves us that much. We don’t need to be impatient with God because God’s got plenty for us to do in these days of waiting to work cooperatively with God to change a broken and violent world. And God’s showing patience with us as we try, and sometimes fail, and as we try again to follow the Way of Jesus day by day.

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. Amen.