Sunday, December 4, 2011
Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent (December 4, 2011)
“God’s Patient Waiting” (2 Peter 3:8-14)
Don’t get too attached to all those things on your Christmas wish list. After a while, they’re going to wear out. Break down. Get dropped. Smashed. Run over.
Not only that, you’re going to grow out of them. Your body is going to grow, so those clothes you receive this year may not fit next year. Will you grow this (↑) way or this (↔) way? Your mind is going to grow, so that toy you played with when you were five seems rather childish now that you are ten.
Moreover, in the end, everything in creation is going to pass away with a roar. Burned up. Dissolved. Melted away. So why place your affections on things that were not made to last? We do, though, don’t we? Even if we haven’t actually made a wish list, we have our eye on things that we sure would like to have. The type of Christmas we have become accustomed to breeds a lot of coveting.
Advent is a good time to change our perspective, to see things from God’s viewpoint. The Apostle Peter helps us change our perspective on the things of creation by reminding us about God’s perspective. “[D]o not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8) St. Peter is not trying to give us a time frame for the days of Genesis chapter 1, as if to say that those days were long periods of time as opposed to normal, twenty-four hour days. Rather, Peter is teaching us that time is no concern for God. A thousand years is like a snap of the fingers to God. And you thought the first 18 years of your child’s life went by fast. God sees things from a completely different vantage point than you and me. You and I are rather myopic. We often concern ourselves only with recent history and the immediate future. But God sees the big picture. He lives outside of time. And that God who lives outside of time broke into time and space and intervened in human history. The Old Testament is a testimony to the ways in which God acted on behalf of his people … promising a Savior to Adam, delivering Noah through the flood, giving a child to Abraham and Sarah when they were beyond the years of childbearing, rescuing the Israelites from the slavery in Egypt, preserving a people in order to bring about the birth of that promised Savior.
The same God who lives outside of time broke into time and space in the most remarkable way when he took on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. But this wasn’t just so carol writers would have something miraculous to sing about … although it was the greatest miracle of all time. This wasn’t just to give us a warm, sweet story about a homeless couple and his pregnant wife, teaching us about the importance of hospitality and generosity … although God’s love certainly moves us to be hospitable and generous. God broke into time and space in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ Child, who grew up to take our place under the Law and to suffer and die for the ways in which you and I have not kept God’s Law.
Advent is indeed a good time for us to change our perspective on things, to see things from God’s perspective. Last week’s sermon was about patiently waiting for the coming of Christmas while patiently waiting for our Lord’s Second Coming. The theme of patient waiting continues in today’s text. Here, though, it’s about how God is patiently waiting.
Verse 9 of our text says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) The first part of chapter 3 addresses those who mock the Church’s belief that the Lord Jesus will visibly return one day. Their ridicule could also lead Christians to doubt whether the Lord will ever return. And so the Apostle reminds his hearers about God’s perspective on time, and then tells them the reason why the Lord is delaying his Second Coming. He is giving people more time to repent of their sins. He is showing his patience … and his love. I’m reminded of St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4). God’s desire is not to snuff you out. Isaiah declared that “a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Is. 42:3). Our gracious Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). He doesn’t get his jollies off of sending people to hell. Instead, he desires that all might “reach repentance.” The Lord desires that all people would one day turn from their sins and turn toward Jesus with contrition – true sorrow over sin – and with faith in Christ’s saving death and resurrection.
Repentance was front and center in John the Baptizer’s preaching. People went out to him in the wilderness and heard him preaching a “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk. 1:4) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John cried out (Mt. 3:2). The people went out to him, confessed their sins, and were baptized in the Jordan River. In this way, their hearts were prepared to receive the grace and salvation that the Messiah would give, the Messiah who was waiting in the wings, whom John would soon point to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Jesus’ message was no different. He proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15). The time was fulfilled. All that the Old Testament had foretold was now coming to fruition. The Messiah had come. His kingdom was at hand. Repent. Turn from your sins. Believe in the Good News of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ atoning death.
This Advent message of repentance from John the Baptizer is for us, today, too … especially as we begin to view things from God’s perspective, knowing that this world will not last forever, knowing that he is patiently giving us more time to repent of our sins. Repentance does not end when we become a Christian. Repentance is the shape of the Christian life. Recall the first of Luther’s 95 Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” In repentance, we turn away from our sin and turn toward God’s baptismal promises given to us. We turn away from our sin and turn to Jesus. We turn away from our sin and turn toward the Holy Spirit who through water and the Word stirs up our hearts and makes us ready for the coming of God’s only-begotten Son, so that by his coming we may be able to serve him with pure minds.
Peter reminds us that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” So be patient, but not complacent. The Second Advent of Jesus will come as a surprise, when you least expect it, like a burglar invading your house while you assume you are safe and sound in bed. And it will be a day of judgment. It will bring the destruction of all that we know and have come to love. “The earth and the works done on it will be exposed.” How does that sound to you? That does not sound very comforting. How would you like to be exposed? Found out? Everything you’ve done, thought, said, all laid out for others to see? All laid out for God to see (as if he hasn’t seen it already)?
Peter asks, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” A holy way of life. Set apart. Serving God and your neighbor. A life of piety. Devoted to the Lord. But what does this look like? You would expect to hear a bunch of commandments and laws and instructions on how to live at this point. Rather, Peter simply points us to a righteousness which is not our own: “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish and at peace.” It’s the “precious blood of Christ,” the “lamb without blemish or spot” that covers over all your sins (1 Pet. 1:19). In Holy Baptism, your sinful spots and blemishes were washed away. In Christ, you are at peace with God. That’s the comforting message for you today, the message that is spoken tenderly to you. Your iniquity is pardoned. Therefore, you do not need to fear the Day of the Lord. You can eagerly look forward to it with joy.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.” That Word tells you about God’s perspective. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day to him. He is not slow in keeping his promises. He is patiently waiting for everyone to come to repentance. Heaven and earth will pass away one day. But “we are waiting for a new heaven and new earth in which righteousness dwells” … an eternity of comfort and joy and peace in the presence of the Lord Jesus, your shepherd who will gather you, his lambs, into his loving arms.