December 4, 2019
"Scoffers will come . . . saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!'" (2 Peter 3:3-4). The season of Advent is meant to train us in hope and expectation. As we look ahead to Christmas, we remember the longing that ancient Jews felt for the first coming of the Messiah, and we remind ourselves of Jesus' promise to come again and make all things new. To heighten our anticipation, scripture passages like today's reading from 2 Peter 3 remind us that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief" (v. 10). But, ironically, this is where the formative function of Advent starts to break down. Jesus' return may be utterly unpredictable, but our celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day tend to happen right on schedule. Certain gifts may be surprises for some of us, but the date of Christmas is no surprise at all. We even have Advent calendars and devotionals designed to help us count down the days until our anticipation is relieved. Christmas happens like clockwork for us. Advent inadvertently trains us for our hopes to be fulfilled right on time.
It wasn't so for the early Church. To dare to hope every day that Jesus would return also opened early believers up to daily disappointment. As years and then decades went on without Christ's return, this disappointment led to a variety of reactions in the Church. Some began to wonder if Jesus' return had already occurred but hadn't been noticeable to everyone (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2). Others felt they needed to reinterpret Jesus' promise to return. Had he meant something else? Still others felt that talk of Christ's return sounded too superstitious and ought to be downplayed to make the faith more palatable to the logically minded Greeks. Writing to correct all such "scoffers", Peter framed Jesus' delay in terms of his grace: "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" (v. 9). From this angle, Jesus's delay in returning is no cause for shame. Instead, it proves that he is gracious and merciful. Jesus may be taking longer than expecting to return, but that just gives more time for more people to hear the good news and enter the Kingdom of God.
This is good news for us today, as well. When things in our lives don't happen like clockwork, when we find ourselves waiting longer than expected for our hopes to be realized, we can trust that God's slower pace of working in our lives is somehow a sign of his grace. In the meantime, our souls "wait for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning" (Psalm 130:6). May the Lord grant us such patience this Advent.
Grace and Peace,