Scripture: 2 Peter 3:8-15
“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”- 2 Peter 3:9
I want to begin today with a modern day parable:
For the Kingdom of God may be likened to business owner who hired two women who worked as coworkers for many years. When each woman was hired, the owner warned them that the job did not come with a pension, and that one day their retirement would be upon them, advising them to prepare and save for the day.
One woman, knowing her retirement was many, many years in the future decided to spend her salary on the pleasures of this world. The woman enjoyed her exciting life so much she collected massive debts for a lifestyle beyond her means. Her only thought for the future was her weekly purchase of lottery tickets – her financial plan.
The other woman, also knowing her retirement was many, many years in the future, saved a small portion of every paycheck and enjoyed her life in moderation, refusing to go to every expensive party or purchase the latest fashions. She lived a comfortable if simple life. Many months she longed to spend her savings on the finer things of life, but she remained disciplined striving to maintain a steady contribution for the future.
After many, many years of work, the owner came to the women and said: thank you both for your service to me all these years, the time has come for your work to finish. May you both have a blessed retirement!
The second woman, thanked the owner and went off to celebrate her accomplishments with her friends and family – secure that she would be well taken care of in her retirement.
The first woman was shocked, she pleaded with the owner for a retirement bonus or to let her continue her work: she had no savings, she had debts to pay and no means to pay it. The owner chided the woman, ‘Was I not generous with your pay while you were working here? Did I not warn you that your retirement day was surely coming, when I hired you?’ Why did you not live your life in preparation for this day?” The owner sent her away.
Now before any of you ask, why I’m giving you financial advice, I want merely to use this story as a way to open up a conversation about our passage from 2 Peter today and what it means to wait for Jesus’ Second coming with a longview rather than short-sightedly.
As Steve mentioned last week in his sermon – and as our readings once again emphasize – in Advent we prepare ourselves as much for Jesus’ second coming as we do to celebrate his first coming on Christmas Day. Theologian Fleming Rutledge writes:
“In a very deep sense the entire Christian life in this world is lived in Advent, between the first and second comings of the Lord, in midst of the tension between things the way they are and things the way they ought to be.”
Last week, we heard Jesus’ exhortation to vigilance, to being watchful and aware prepared for the day of the Lord that only God the Father knows hour or the day. And that doesn’t always sit well with us, either we try to circumnavigate God’s wisdom and begin to predict the end as we heard about last week, or we get fed up and give up any hope or expectation that Jesus will ever come back.
In fact there are groups of Christians who believe that Jesus will never come again, that either there is no way that it will happen after 2000 years of waiting so obviously we have misinterpreted Jesus, because the ‘requirements’ (the Gospel preached to the ends of the world for example) can never be fulfilled for one reason or another, or just a general hopelessness about the prospect of things being put right.
If you find yourself in these categories don’t fret, it’s not a new phenomenon – in fact it goes pretty much back to the very beginning. It is clear from our passage from 2 Peter that the church even in the earliest generations after Jesus’ death and resurrection were concerned that Jesus wasn’t coming back as he promised. We know this because Peter took the time his letter to calm the fears and doubts of his readers over Jesus’ return while keeping their gaze on the promise.
Our passage today begins ‘But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Peter gives two reasons to stop worrying: firstly Gods time is not our time; and secondly that God is patient for our own benefit.
To the first point: If you have ever prayed for any length of time for something or for someone – perhaps for an illness, or that someone might come to know God and Jesus – then you are well aware that God’s timing very rarely matches up with our own. We want God to be on our time, we want him to respond immediately, and for him to respond in just the way we imagine he should. And while there is certainly a possibility that God will act in the ways we want him to, the reality is that more often than not God acts in his own time and in his own way. Time is neither an imperative nor a constraint to God – after all one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day.
And to the second point, that God is patient with us: what hope that gives to us and to the church – to believe that God’s desire for the world is that no one would perish, that all would receive the gift of his love and mercy, that all would enter into his kingdom – that is a wondrous vision and hope. Something that each of us can cling to even in our darkest moments of doubt and fear.
But Peter doesn’t let his readers remain there, he continues by reminding them of the reality that Jesus is coming, and that he will come like a thief, and that the heavens and the earth will pass away with loud noises, elements being dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything on it will be destroyed.
And then with all of this to come to pass, Peter leaves us with a question: if this is true how should you live? How should we live; how should we live in preparation for the cataclysmic end of the world, the end and destruction of all things. For some people the answer is just to set their eyes on Jesus, on their relationship with him, and forget everything else because everything else doesn’t matter, everything else will be burned up at the end of all things. This passage seems to give them license to this kind of thinking.
Everything in this world becomes like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – a pointless endeavour on a sinking ship – because the earth, the church, our daily lives none of it seems to have a future since God is going consume it all in the end. What is the point of taking care of the environment, or of going about this church business or about seeking to cultivate a more just and fair society – because it’s all just going to be destroyed anyway?
But this sort of thinking entirely misses the point of what Peter was trying to get across and it entirely misses one of the main themes in the Bible: God cares about our world, he cares about the material things of this world. So much so that he chose to send his Son Jesus to rescue to the world, he sent him as a human child, to human parents, in a particular historical time and place.
As we prepare for Christmas, and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we remember that God cares deeply for this world – God cares deeply for creation, the environment, the bees threatened by extinction, the natural habitats bulldozed for new developments, even the raccoons which prey on your trash cans; and God cares deeply for all of humanity, he cares for the poor, the oppressed, the rich and powerful, the saint and the sinner alike. And that brings us back to our parable, the two women and how they lived awaiting the day when their work would cease. How we live now, matters to God, it matters even if Jesus is coming to wipe the slate clean and a new heaven and a new earth will take their place.
In our reading, Peter writes “therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace without spot or blemish.” Our salvation, the restoration of all things is assured in Jesus, but still we are exhorted to live lives in preparation. We are called to strive to live lives of peace, without spot or blemish. We are called to a life of preparation, a life of active waiting for the great day of the Lord.
Like the woman who in the parable who adjusted her life in preparation for her retirement, we too are called to adjust our lives, to strive to live out the justice and mercy now, to strive to live out the care for God’s creation now. It isn’t always exciting, or sexy or always the most fun way to live, it isn’t like the first woman who lived only for the moment and for herself – God invites us into a fuller life, a life lived not merely for ourselves but for others and for the world.
As we heard two Sundays ago, the life of following Jesus is marked by care for others, the least – the poor, the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger. God cares about these people now, even if in the end all things will find their fulfillment in Jesus. God wants us to care for these things now. Similarly, God cares for the earth, he cares for creation the beauty and wonder which he spoke into being even if in the end he will bring about a new heaven and a new earth. God wants us to care for his creation now, too.
The Good News, is that God does not expect perfection: Peter exhorts his readers to strive to be found without spot or blemish. We strive to live lives of justice and mercy, caring for the poor and the oppressed – and in those moments when we fail to live up to this calling, the Good News is that we can fall on the grace and mercy of God and he will lift us up setting us on the right path again. We strive to live lives caring for the environment, making sure the gifts of creation are well-maintained and cherished – and in the those moments when we fail to live up to caring for the world, the Good News is that we can fall on the grace and mercy of God, repent and return.
And so this Advent, with two weeks until Christmas, remember that we are not merely getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming and we’re also not just longing for the day of Jesus’ Second Coming – we are called to a lives of active waiting, lives which provide windows to God’s Kingdom of justice and mercy here and now.
May you take up the challenge to live lives of justice, and peace this Advent season, may you know the presence and peace of God as you care for God’s people and God’s world. May you be prepared for Jesus to come into your life and into this world, whether it be this morning or at the end of all things. Let us pray.