Sermon - Advent 2 - Year B - | DB Home | RCL Resources Index |

The patience of our Lord

[Note: Although it comes primarily from the Lectionary epistle for today, 2 Peter, this sermon also needs the gospel concerning preparation for the coming of the Lord in the message and role of John the Baptist who is traditionally remembered on this day.]

Members of an early generation of Christians who received the Second Letter of Peter were encouraged to remember the "the Patience of our Lord" [2 Peter 3:15a]. They had been talking about the coming of the Lord at the end, and they were often advised to be patient, but ready and alert, to watch and wait for him. It is a nice contrast to compare God's patient regard for us with that Advent theme of waiting patiently for God to come, to see that while we may be impatient and need to learn how to wait, as I was saying recently, it is an essential part of God's dealing with us that he is prepared to wait. He gives us time to prepare for him, and time to receive and respond to him. His patience with us comes from his love for us. We say with John in his first letter:

And love is patient:

It is, sadly for all of us I fear, certainly for me, that we can see clearly that we fall short of the love of God when we compare our own behaviour with these words about love. Consider the contrast ... It [love] does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. How often do we think that God will insist on having his way as we often do when we love something or someone; and how often we are resentful when it doesn't work out! Yet it is not so with God. The love of God is the same as that love with which Paul called upon the Corinthians to love one another. In Christ he made himself weak and vulnerable; he did not insist upon his way.

So the love of God for us is patient. He allows us time to learn to love him too: time to repent, to rid ourselves of those things in our lives that are unworthy of him, to remove the barriers and make a clear path for him to come to us. That was the point of John the Baptist's warning:

Here Mark recalls Isaiah's great proclamation of escape from captivity. They learned that God would come to rescue them and allow them to start a new life:

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. {2} Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. -- Isaiah 40:1-2

These tender words of comfort and restoration came to a people who had suffered much in the destruction of their city and captivity in Babylon. The prophet saw an act of salvation by God in their release by the conquering Persian King, after one of the great battles of history, leading to the end of one empire and the rise of another, which was fought at Opis on the Tigris in 539 BC, when the Persians under Cyrus defeated the Babylonian army. So they learned from what happened in history more about God, as one who comes to the rescue, and they celebrated the idea of his coming in the words that John the Baptist quoted. "Prepare a way for the Lord." John aimed to prepare people for the coming of the Lord in the person of the Messiah. To prepare them he called on people to repent, to turn from their sinful ways. Preparing in their hearts was like the preparation for the Lord coming through the wilderness with the valleys lifted up and rough places plain. [Is 44:3-5]. The barriers to be removed were within the people now:

When Jesus came he talked about a further coming of the Kingdom of God when all evil would be overcome and he warned people to be ready for it. After he died and rose again his followers saw another dimension of the way the Lord comes. He comes in triumph over sin and death, and they looked forward to the completion of this victory when he would appear again. It was when a later generation of Christians were thinking about this final coming of the Lord that they were advised to remember the patience of God. It was important in what theologians call the economy of salvation. God gives us time to be ready for him. It is like what happens when people cannot pay their bills. They might say, "Give us more time to pay" and they will be allowed a time of grace. It is an act of grace by our gracious and patient Heavenly Father that we are allowed to live in a time of grace. So in Second Peter we read:

It is a strange thing to our scientific and historical ways of thinking, that to appreciate the Second Letter of Peter you really need to know that it was written after Peter died. In fact it seems to have date from many years later, and may have been the last of the New Testament books to have been written. It was certainly one of the last to be accepted into the "canon" of scripture with authority as part of the Bible. It was received by a later generation when the writings of Paul, who died about the same time as Peter, had already been accepted as scripture (as the letter itself makes clear [2 Peter 3:15-16]), and it appears to quote at length from the letter of Jude which was itself written in a later period after the apostles had died. No doubt it represents the faith and the teaching of Peter the apostle, but it came to a later generation who were troubled by the delay they had experienced in waiting for the Lord to return.

Remember, one of the earliest Christian prayers was "Come, Lord Jesus". This is how the book of Revelation ends:

These last verses of the Bible show how important the return of the Lord Jesus was to the first few generations of Christians. As we prepare now to celebrate his first coming at Bethlehem we cannot help but see in the scriptures not only the general character of God as one who comes to heal, help and save, but the hope and expectation of believers that Jesus would appear in triumph. This was something they longed for, but as time went by and the original believers and especially the apostles like Peter had died, some began to doubt and false prophets appeared [2 Peter 2:1] saying "Perhaps he is not coming, perhaps your faith is not well founded, perhaps God was not in Christ after all." Do hear any echos of that in public discussion today? - Most of what opponents of the Christian way say now is far from being new although they will say it as if they are ahead of the game. The first and second generation of Christian struggled with much the same contempt as we experience:

So the writer says that it will all happen in God's good time, but God's time is not our time:

You see the delay is for our sakes, to give us time. God is patient because of his love for us.

[In what follows I am indebted to the Rev. Allen Gibson of Ashfield Christ United Methodist Church, Ashfield, Kentucky, and the wonders of modern technology which brought it to me on the Internet.]

2 Peter tells us that we are to continue to wait, that what seems to us to be slowness is actually God ripening the time. In his own way (one day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day) 2 Peter is telling us what the scriptures have always told us-- God's ways are not our ways, God's perceptions differ from our own. The end of all we know will come, and it will be a dissolution of all that exists. It will not be a cosmetic restructuring, but it will be a cataclysmic de-structuring so that God's new thing can come into being. Knowing that there is an end, a time when all will be revealed to God and be exposed to God's judgement, we should then live lives that evidence our understanding of that reality. Knowing that God is not indolent or slow but is instead patient so that none shall perish and all shall know God's saving help, we should use this time wisely. We should consider this time a gift of God, an evidence not of God's unfaithfulness but instead as evidence of God's steadfast love. And, we should use that time so that God's love may be extended to all, and in so doing perhaps hasten the coming of God's final judgement.

A Quote, and a story-- from John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the New testament, II Peter 3:8: "'A Thousand years are as one day . . .' That is, no delay is long to God. . .Therefore, he is longsuffering and he gives us space for repentance without any inconvenience to himself. In a word, with God time passes neither slower nor swifter than is suitable to him and to his economy; nor can there be any reason why it should be necessary for him to delay or hasten the end of all things . . ."

A Story-- Francis of Assisi was hoeing the gastery where he lived. Another monk ran up to Francis and exclaimed excitedly that the world would end in 15 minutes. "What are you going to do, brother Francis?"

Calmly, Francis answered-- "I'm going to finish hoeing these beans." May we live in every day and in all ways as Francis, so that whether we hoe beans or read or employ ourselves in some other way, it is just what we would be doing if Jesus returned in final glory.

There is probably no better picture of waiting peacefully for God, in his patience with us eventually to come to us, than to see St. Frances with his hoe. He knew about the promise of the day of the Lord's coming:

Of course he knew too of the dreadful things that people feared with the coming of the Lord:

That kind of fear, however you might express it, whether in the fiery language of the old prophets or with inner feelings of shame and dread, was not the feeling with which believers looked forward and prayed "Come, Lord Jesus." They knew of the fear and there was a time many of them would have feared judgment like that, as they remembered the prophets' warnings:

They remembered, but they were no longer afraid. How would you feel if you knew that Jesus was in the next room waiting to meet you. Would you be afraid? Would you be glad? Think about it for a minute. How would you feel? St Frances obviously could wait his fifteen minutes in peace because he was prepared. He had already made good use of his time of grace, thanks to the patience of God. He knew that no matter what others feared, those who called upon the name of the Lord would be saved.

You can think of this in many ways: how you will be accountable in the end as we were thinking of it in a recent sermon; and how we live from day to day, whether in fear or peacefully expecting the Lord to come into our live in love and patience, even as at the same time as he banishes evil. All of that hope will be included in our prayers "Come, Advent God", which we will say in a few minutes. We are able to offer such prayers for ourselves and for others because we believe in the patience of God who allows time for people to learn how to return his love. "Come, Lord Jesus."

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