(A sermon based on 2 Peter 3:8-15a for the 2nd Sunday of Advent 2014)
Given the myriad problems faced by those of us living here on Earth, it is only natural that we who are looking for the return of Jesus Christ wonder why God is taking so long to send him back. After all, it’s been 2000 years now since he was here the first time. Would it make you feel any better to know that people were already wondering about that just a few decades after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus? Well, they were. Why? I can think of at least three reasons.
First, the memory of the Church was that Jesus had seemed to imply that he would come back soon, maybe even within a generation. Second, people are by nature impatient. Third, people have a misconception of what time is and especially of how God relates to time.
The truth about time, according to the science of physics, is that it’s relative. Einstein theorized and all physicists now agree that time is relative to how fast or slow you are going and to what kind of gravity you are experiencing. Have you seen the movie “Interstellar” yet? A basic plot point of that very interesting film is based on the fact that under the right conditions one person would experience the passage of time much differently than another person. So time is relative even for us.
But since none of us will have the opportunity to travel at speeds or to experience the kind of gravity that would show us how relative time is for us, it’s how time is relative for God that matters to us here today.
It’s not that time passes slower or faster for God; it’s rather that time doesn’t affect God one way or another. It’s not that God has all the time in the world; it is rather that all the time in the world doesn’t matter to God. Sure, in God’s grace God chose in Jesus of Nazareth to become time-bound as we are but ordinarily—and this would still go for the Father and the Spirit when the Son was down here among us—God lives outside of time; that’s what it means to be “eternal.” That’s what the Bible means when it affirms that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8, quoting Psalm 90:4). That’s not math; that’s theology.
When we join our concern about things that happen in the world to our inaccurate notions about the relationship of God to time we end up being impatient. Thank God that God is patient. As today’s Epistle text affirms, “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). John Polkinghorne, who is both a theoretical physicist and an Anglican priest, said
When we think of the history of creation—the 14 billion year history of the universe and the three to four billion year evolving history of life on earth—we see that God is patient and subtle, , by no means a God in a hurry. When we think about God’s nature as love, we can see that this is how we would expect the divine purpose to be fulfilled, by the gentle unfolding of process rather than by the overwhelming operation of instantaneous power [John Polkinghorne, Living with Hope: A Scientist Looks at Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), p. 36].
What seems to us like a long wait, then—and this should not be surprising to us—is a sign of God’s love and grace in giving people plenty of time to open their lives up to the good news of Jesus Christ.
God’s patience also provides us with ample opportunity to be who we are and to do what we are supposed to do.
Let’s note a couple of things about how the patience of God impacts the way we live here in the meantime.
First, we live in hope that mirrors God’s hope. God’s patient waiting is an indicator of God’s hope for the people of the world. So long as we are still here there is still hope for us. So long as the world exists there is still hope for the world.
Second, we live in patience that mirrors God’s patience. As God’s people living in the world we want to think about, to deal with, and to act upon circumstances as much like God does as we possibly can. We are moving toward the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth but we who trust in and follow Jesus are already living in the kingdom of God. So we are to be “leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11b-12a).
As L. Ann Jervis said, “Life during the time of waiting for the end is to be lived in light of the good future. Since what is coming is a creation cleansed of sin—‘new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwell’ (3:13)--now is a time for believers to live what will be” [L. Ann Jervis, “Commentary on 2 Peter 3:8-15a,” WorkingPreacher.org, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=181, retrieved December 2, 2014].
Now is the time for us to live what will one day be. What an opportunity we have!
Yes, God is giving people a chance to get ready for the return of Christ by opening their lives up to his love and grace.
And God is giving his people a chance to get even more ready and to show others how to get ready.
How do we do that?
We do that by living out the truth of what St. Teresa of Avila said a long, long time ago:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
We who follow Christ get ready for Christ to return by being who are …