The signs and sounds of Christmas are all around. This year, the decorations came early. Locked down by COVID-19, we collectively, Christians and non-Christians alike, longed for a season of hope, joy and peace. Driving through our neighborhood, I took childlike delight in the early stringing of Christmas lights. Lighting our Advent candle last Sunday night (Nov. 29, the first Sunday of Advent 2020) and reading the assigned Scripture texts took on a special joy.
Today, moving ahead in my Advent preparations, I read the lectionary texts for next Sunday, the Second Sunday in Advent (Dec. 6). Often, we read the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson but regrettably leave out the Epistle lesson. However, the Epistle for next Sunday are particularly on point. The lesson comes from 2 Peter and I think it speaks well to our current situation and time. Not only do I have an affection for First and Second Peter, but they were written for a church under persecution and in a time of societal distress.
The opening words of the Epistle Lesson (2 Peter 3:8-15a) are arresting. There is a pointed emphasis that is meant to focus our attention. The Common English translation (CEB) reads, “Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends.” The New Revised Standard (NRSV) translates, “But do not ignore this one fact.” The epic King James (KJV) offers, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing.” The passage flows outward in the unshakable promise of the Lord’s coming.
“The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” (2 Peter 3:10-11)
It is here we must pause. The Lord is speaking to us of an unusual attribute of today's instant gratification culture – patience. The Lord is reminding of an unbreakable promise in a society littered with crumpled remains of unfilled promises. The Lord is talking to us about a future of which we barely dare dream. “But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” (2 Peter 3:8a, CEB)
Take these three key elements in this time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child, the Savior of the world – patience, promise, and a new future. They weave together a tapestry which makes this time we call Advent special.
Patience sounds good but it hits hard in a culture of instant gratification. I am the kind of guy who prays, “Lord grant me patience and I want it right now!” Through the Holy Spirit in this season of preparation, God challenges me to pause. I think this is universally true. We all, individually and collectively, need to pause and take in our breath. In doing so, the beauty and joy found in a time of preparation is magnified.
In our patience, we can hear the Lord again speaking, “Comfort, comfort my people! says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) In the peace of the pause, we can take in the magnitude of what Christ’s coming means. “The Lord’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.” (Isaiah 40:5) The words of Galatians come back to me. “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness.” (Galatians 5:22)
A couple of decades ago, we were politically engaged in a periodic restructuring of Social Security. There was a great cry by politicians across the spectrum about honoring promises made by paying into the Social Security fund. One of the political slogans that sticks in my head was “a promise made is a promise kept.” My angst in that slogan is that it is not necessarily true! All too often promises are broken. Society is littered with broken promises – divorce, court disputes, the agony of a broken justice system, busted employment promises – the list goes on and on. The phrase “I never promised you a rose garden” is itself testimony of the struggle to keep promises.
Here, in the Holy Scriptures that lead us to a Bethlehem stable, is the opposite. We are given a rock-solid reminder that with God a promise made is a promise always kept! The text is clear. “The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.” (2 Peter 3:9)
May on this second Sunday of Advent we hear again the Prophet Isaiah speaking to us:
“A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.’” (Isaiah 40:3-4)
In the promise, we are given a glimpse of a future we barely dare to dream of in this pandemic infested present. It is the vision of a peaceable kingdom, the Kingdom of God. This is not an ending with a wistful hope but rather the focus of the Second Sunday of Advent’s proclamation. It is a veritable shout springing forth from the text.
Do not ignore this one fact! Our final hope is not in the election of our preferred candidate nor in a job promotion nor even in some vast societal improvement. It is in the coming of the Lord. It lives with patience through the promise of God. Again, that craftly old prophet named Isaiah got it right.
Go up on a high mountain,
Raise your voice and shout,
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Here is the Lord God,
coming with strength,
with a triumphant arm,
bringing his reward with him
and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
he will gather lambs in his arms
and lift them onto his lap.
He will gently guide the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:9-11)
The Lord is coming! Let the words linger in the back-brain part of your mind.
In the 1920s the great poet Langston Hughes wrote of the coming kingdom in his poem “I Dream a World.”
I Dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind
Of such I dream, my world!
Do not ignore this one fact. The Lord is coming! How then shall we live? Let the text again guide us as we step forward in this second Sunday of Advent. “You must live holy and godly lives, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God.” (2 Peter 3:11b-12)