Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?
I’m not an athlete and have never really felt an inclination to jog mindlessly, or to run a marathon. But I am inspired by people who “just give it a try.” Not the athletes, or the people whose names will go in the record books, but the people who keep on running when the winners crossed the finish line 2 hours earlier. I’m always fascinated by the shots of family or friends waiting for “their” runner to cross the line. The media are gone, the crowds looking for the thrill of “the win” are gone. It’s just people who love or care about the runner standing around, waiting patiently for their friend to “complete” the distance.
Advent is the season of preparing for the coming of the Lord. After 2000 years of preparing for the second coming of Jesus, we might be inclined to express our sentiments in the same way “the scoffers” did in the first century (2 Peter 2:4). “They say” nothing has changed, everything just goes on as it has since the beginning of time. That may be a similar sentiment on the minds of many of us this Christmas. Enough already, when are You going to wrap this up?
Kind of like the media or the race thrill-seekers. They might stay around for 15 or 20 minutes after the winners and front-runners have completed the race. But they aren’t going to wait around for another 2 hours while Joe or Mary complete the run. They have no personal attachment or concern.
Peter counters the scoffers’ argument by suggesting that just as God spoke at the beginning of time and created, by that same word God has promised a day of reckoning, a day of judgment. It’s as sure a reality as creation itself. But why this inexorable wait for that day of reckoning? Peter tells us it’s not that God is slow, or has forgotten, but that God is patient, “not wanting any to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God is not toying with us, instead God is extending compassion to the n-th degree.
I think we need to see God as the spouse, parent, or friend of the runner who is still running the marathon. He’s not tapping his toes impatiently; he’s not checking his watch, saying “the heck with this, I’m packing it in.” God is genuinely concerned, perhaps agonizingly concerned, that all who will complete the race have done so, before things are wrapped up. Because, in the case of God, and the culmination of God’s intentions for this world, there are consequences for not finishing the race.
Our Lectionary passage in 2 Peter 3 goes on to say a number of other things about this day of reckoning (judgment, destruction, perishing, fire). Peter uses language, and suggests “advent” outcomes, that we may be uncomfortable with in our “everybody-gets-a-ribbon-for-participating” times.
The Lectionary framework is intended to help us reflect on the whole counsel of God, the length and breadth of the Scripture record. That’s why Numbers 17:1-11 and Psalm 90 are included with our 2 Peter 3 reading.
The story in Numbers 17 is the culmination of several incidents of grumbling and rebellion by the Israelites wandering in the desert. They feel that promises made about a land flowing with milk and honey have not come to fruition. And this journey to the promised land is just taking way too long. Moses and Aaron become their target in this dissatisfaction. God isn’t happy and says “let me just wipe them all out and start over.” But Moses and Aaron plead with God that that doesn’t seem fair; as a result God only punishes the ring-leaders not the whole nation.
In reaction the people are now angry with God, not just Moses and Aaron. This time God sends a plague and 14,700 people die, before Moses and Aaron’s intercession succeeds in changing God’s mind. Finally in Numbers 17, God confirms to the nation that Moses and Aaron really are the leaders they should be listening to. In essence, this waiting and preparing for the entry into the promised land is all part of God’s purposes, don’t be impatient.
In Psalm 90, (a prayer of Moses the man of God), we get a glimpse into how Moses understands all that has transpired. This Exodus is God’s project from beginning to end. Moses understands that God’s timeline is not the same as an Israelite trekking through the desert (“a thousand years are like a day”). He has seen the anger of God, a consequence of the rebellion of the people, and he has seen the compassion and unfailing love of God relenting in response to Moses’ prayers. Moses says he wishes people understood what God could do if he chose. In conclusion he asks God to teach the people the value of their short lives, in history’s vast timeline – that wisdom might be gained from that insight. He asks that knowledge of the true character of God would be passed to the next generation.
And that’s the final takeaway from Peter as well. Since this Day is coming, “what kind of people ought we to be?” Peter urges his readers to “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with God.” There is a promised new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells, but justice and the righting of wrongs precedes that desired outcome.
In these days of Advent, as we wait and prepare for the Day of the Lord, the Second Coming, we should recognize that many people had given up waiting for Messiah and the First Coming. Many people were disappointed then, as are many today, that God seems to have forgotten the plan. Scripture’s word to us is that it is God who is waiting. God is the longsuffering parent waiting for their child to cross the finish line, even if its hours beyond expectation.
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