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December 6, 2020

“While You’re Waiting…” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, December 6, 2020, Year B / Advent 2 – Isaiah 40:1-11  •  Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13  •  2 Peter 3:8-15a   •  Mark 1:1-8

THEME:  Live as if Christ will return soon.


Have you ever given serious thought to the possibility that tomorrow – or next Friday, or the following Monday – just might be the day when Jesus returns? 

The day when the Biblical promise of his judgment actually happens?  And the world as we know it is replaced by God’s Kingdom in all its glory?

And, if you truly believed that, would you live differently?

That is what the writer of 2nd Peter is urging us to consider.  Now, whoever this writer is, he has assumed the voice of the apostle Peter, but Peter himself has been dead for almost 40 years.

This writer is probably a pastor or maybe a bishop writing at the end of the first century.  His letter is what he thinks Peter would offer his flock as a last testament.  The purpose is to inspire them to hold onto their belief that Jesus will return, in spite of social pressure to abandon that belief.

This Christian community exists in a sophisticated, secular culture, maybe in Rome or one of the cities of Greece or modern-day Turkey.  Wherever it is, this congregation is experiencing some serious internal division. 

A faction of the membership has become skeptical of Jesus’ second coming.  “Look at the facts,” they say, “Christ did not return in our grandparents’ lifetimes.  Nor did he return in our parents’ lifetimes.  And there is no reason to believe he’s going to return in our lifetimes.  In fact, we don’t think he’s ever going to return.  So, let’s forget about it and have some fun!”

Swirling all around them are Greco-Roman philosophies and lifestyles that encourage them to do just that.  Social organizations that are no more than glorified drinking clubs. Fertility cults where sex is a form of worship.  Belief systems that encourage the self-centered pursuit of material and sensual gratification as the highest and wisest ideal by which to live.

I think we would all agree, that is a far cry from the Christian life.  But if you have no expectation of ever being held accountable for your actions, and no hope of living in a future realm built on righteousness and self-giving love . . , well, I think we can all see how appealing this hedonistic lifestyle might be.

But hedonism is not all it’s cracked up to be.  What it lacks most is hope.  Hope is essential to happiness and central to our religious belief.

We see proof of that today.  Just last year, Pew Research published results of a study showing that actively religious people across numerous countries, including our own, are significantly more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” compared to those who are not actively religious. 

And yet fewer and fewer Americans consider themselves actively religious.  

One of the mantras I hear frequently is “I’m spiritual, but not religious.  I just try to be a good person.”  That’s really just another way of saying our beliefs don’t matter, that it’s only how we live that’s important.

Don’t try to sell that to the writer of 2nd Peter.  He understands that wrong belief leads to corrupt living.  And he’s alarmed that this is happening right in the midst of the church!  It’s creating moral and ethical decay within the congregation, like a bad cavity that turns into an abscess and rots the tooth from the inside.  

As tempting as it was for the skeptical faction in his church to dismiss the gospel promise of judgment and redemption, it may be even greater for you and me.  Almost 2,000 years have passed, and Jesus still has not returned. 

So, how should we view his promise of a second coming? 

It seems to me that in our culture there are two extremes when it comes to approaching this promise.  

On the one hand, there are those ultra-serious, neo-fundamentalist Christians who like nothing more than trying to identify the specific date of Christ’s return and the end of this world as we know it.  These folks spend hours on websites that keep track of the supposed signs of the end times.  Needless to say, in our current situation, their expectations are reaching a fever pitch.

These are the same folks who can’t get enough of fictional depictions of the apocalypse, like the popular Left Behind series a few years back.  They themselves, of course, are certain they won’t be the ones left behind, and equally certain that some others will be.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe the Bible itself is fiction.  They give absolutely no consideration to the possibility of Christ’s imminent return.  They have written off that promise as a fairy tale.

I suspect most of us, however, are somewhere in between these two extremes.  We trust the promise of coming judgment and God’s Kingdom, but we aren’t entirely sure what form it will take.  And we’re even less sure what to make of the long delay.  If we’re honest, this makes us a bit unsettled, anxious.

        But we can take comfort in knowing that judgment is God’s business, not ours. 

Further, God’s sense of time is fundamentally different from ours.  1,000 years to us could be like a single day to God.  And what happened to us yesterday, could be like 1,000 years in the past in God’s eyes.

But the greatest comfort of all is knowing that the delay in Jesus’ return is proof of God’s patience and grace.  What looks to us like slowness, is really evidence that God wants nothing more than to bring all people to himself.  

That is part of God’s nature.  It’s just who he is. Time and time again, God was patient with Israel.  Over and over again, he forgave them when they failed to be faithful and obedient. 

And when the wicked folks of Nineveh repented, God forgave them, too.  As his prophet Jonah put it, “I knew you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

So, God’s slowness is not cause for doubt and scoffing.  In fact, it’s reason to rejoice and be grateful.

So, then the question for us is how should we live in the meantime?  

First and foremost, we need to respond to God’s patience with our own.  We need to be at peace and offer to others the same patient grace God shows us.

And there is no use fueling our anxiety by trying to interpret cosmic and earthly signs in the misguided attempt to decipher God’s timing.  Not only is that useless, but it suggests our pride has gotten so out of control that we feel we can put ourselves in God’s place.  That is one thing God never tolerates.

The far better and wiser path is to focus on the hope that comes from trusting that Jesus will actually do what he promised.  It’ll happen in God’s time, when the time is right in God’s eyes.  And, when it does, you and I will find ourselves in his Kingdom, the realm where righteousness is at home. 

In the meantime, our job is to live in a way that anticipates that kingdom, a way that points to it.

That means acting out of love for our neighbors, even the annoying and obnoxious ones.  Sharing our money and food with those who don’t have enough of either.  Whispering words of hope to those whose reservoir of hope has run dry.  

It means encouraging folks who’ve lost their courage, and being a friend to those who don’t have many.  It means stepping in to lift the suffering of those who are left out and elevating those who are low, so that both can enjoy a life that’s whole. 

And doing it all not for our own sake - and certainly not for some future reward - but to genuinely – humbly, faithfully – reflect the love shown to us by a patient, gracious God.  God who’s been slow to punish, and quick to love.  God who’s been the first to cry with us and refuses to leave us. 

God who came to us in the soft flesh of an infant, and died for us in the broken flesh of a man. 

And who promises to return one day to bring us home.  

That is the promise Peter and the apostles handed down to us.  Times may change, cultures may differ; but that promise remains constant from generation to generation until the day it is fulfilled.  

And, here in this season of Advent, we renew our trust in that promise. 

But do we trust it enough to live each day like Christ and his Kingdom will return tomorrow?



Last Published: December 8, 2020 10:05 AM
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