Second Sunday in Advent
2 Peter 3:8-14
December 10, 2023
The Second Epistle of St. Peter isn’t a text that often comes up in our lectionary. In fact, in our 3-year lectionary, Second Peter is only read three times. And Second Peter isn’t that long of a letter, so to spend a little time meditating on it is certainly good.
And our text today from 2 Peter is an appropriate text for the season of Advent.
These four weeks which lead up to Christmas, the “mass of Christ,” the celebration or liturgy or worship of Christ our Lord who was born of the virgin Mary, are weeks of preparing and waiting. Each one of the candles on the Advent wreath represent a facet of preparation and waiting. We first wait and prepare in “hope,” knowing that God always fulfills His promises and that He is coming. The second candle, which we lit today, is the “love” candle which reminds us that, as we wait and prepare, God, out of His great love for us, is coming not only to save us, but to forgive us and give us an eternal kingdom, and that because He loves us, we should learn to also love one another. Next Sunday we’ll light the pink candle, the “joy” candle, the “Gaudete” candle, because the waiting is almost over and so we should joyfully expect the Lord’s coming at any time. And the last candle to light, which we’ll light on Christmas Eve morning this year, is the “peace” candle which symbolizes the peace that God has with man through Christ – the eternal peace and goodwill given to the world – and that we must strive to also be at peace with one another.
Of course, the middle candle is called the “Christ candle,” and it is lit on Christmas morning and stays lit throughout the 12 days of Christmas and it symbolizes the presence of Christ among His people, the Light of the world shining and calling sinners to repentance and faith.
In the meantime, however, we do as children who see the presents gathering under the tree and who can only dream of what’s inside, and we wait…and while we wait, we hope and we love and we seek peace, and we have joy because the day is soon to come when we can rip those presents open and see the true gift inside. The day is coming soon when, what is now hidden from us, will be revealed when our Lord returns.
But what do you do as you wait? How do you live your life each day surrounded by other people who, like you, are both a saint on account of Christ, but also a sinner according to your flesh? Knowing that this world WILL pass away and nothing you have will remain with you into the next, how should you live and think and act, and how should you use the gifts God has afforded you in this short time before the coming of the Lord?
Well, in our Old Testament reading, Isaiah has some advice for us, some words to share concerning our lives and our time on this earth. He says, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it.”
See, the biggest problem with human beings is that each one of us has a “god complex.” We either think we are like God, or we think we can become like God by investing our entire lives into this world.
And what’s funny is that God offers us His kingdom and He offers it freely. But rather than receiving His kingdom with thankfulness and joy and in hope – rather than waiting for the full revealing of His kingdom on the Last Day, we humans want to create our own kingdoms here and now, kingdoms created in the image and likeness of our own minds and desires.
And I’m not just talking nations and countries that rise and fall generation after generation, but I’m talking our own individual kingdoms built upon the shifting sands of ego, pride, foolish sinning, and human works.
We get impatient in our waiting on the Lord. We start to conclude that His kingdom isn’t coming, that nothing’s going to change, that God has left the building, that He is so slow in fulfilling His promises that He probably never will.
And then, in our doubting and lack of hope, we pit everything in this world against His coming and we go on with life.
Whenever I preach or teach on matters such as careers and school and sports and money and retirements…I’m not saying that having a career is evil, or that excelling in school is ungodly, or playing sports is a one-way ticket to hell, or that money and saving for retirement is devilish. In fact, these things are neither good nor evil…they’re just things. A career can be a very good thing. School can be good and beneficial; sports can be a wonderful way of developing teamwork skills and discipline. Money puts food on the table and retirement savings is certainly important in a day and age where people are living much longer than in the past.
BUT, it’s when career forces our Lord’s coming to take a back seat, it’s when school or sports pushes the Advent of our King to the back of the line and we put all our hopes and dreams into winning the next game or when all our time and effort is put into it so that we have no time for God or church, it’s when money or retirement becomes the goal of our lives, the reason we live – to have and to save and to possess – it is when the things of this world take precedence over the things of the Kingdom of God that we lose our way. It’s when we make idols of our own lives, bodies, or desires that we have a problem because all flesh is grass, here today and gone tomorrow.
Such worldly pursuits only distract us from the kingdom of God and the coming of Christ. And this is our problem isn’t it? The very fact that we sin and that our inner desire is to sin and make ourselves and our plans and desires to be God means we are sinners who need the power and working of God in our lives.
All flesh is grass, and its beauty is like the flower of the field. It is here today and gone tomorrow. But the one thing that shall last forever, the one thing that will never leave you or forsake you, the one thing that will always be there to lift you up, to comfort you, to give you hope and purpose – the Word of the Lord. See, you are not going to find hope and peace and rest and assurance in the things of this world, no matter how inciting they may be. Oh, you will try, and you will try, and your friends and loved ones will tell you to try harder, but you will never find what you’re looking for because this world cannot offer what it doesn’t have.
We break God’s commands because we are still fundamentally convinced that lying, cheat, adultery, sensuality, anger, wrath, theft, a refusal to rest in the Lord, that all these things will bring us joy and purpose, but they don’t. They certainly leave us with trouble and pain, but never with joy or hope or peace or purpose.
But Christ’s death on the cross and what His death means for you, this will NEVER fade away, it will never run dry, it will never fail you or leave you with a broken arm or fire you or cut your pay. It will never lose value based on the stock markets, it will never lose to another team at playoffs. But His death will certainly see you through to the end, will give you a sure win, and will burst open the treasures of heaven forever.
In our Gospel reading today, we see how John the Baptist came to “Prepare the way,” to, “Make straight His paths.” And what did John do, what did he say? He preached the message of the ages, the same message preached by angels and holy men from the beginning: repent and believe. Come out of the illusion created by the evil enticing of sin, death, and the devil, that the things of this world are so important and that you can have your best life and be truly happy by having and earning and possessing and excelling at the things of this world, and open your eyes and ears to see and hear what is true and real. That everything, from creation to this very moment, has all been for your salvation and eternal life. That the Garden of Eden was created because God needed to save you, that He sent the flood of Noah because God had in mind to save you, that He created the nation of Israel…to save you…that He sent the prophets, including John the Baptist, to save you by preparing the world for coming of God in the flesh.
All of this was to save you. And knowing that God, in Christ, has done all these things for you, how ought you respond as one who has received His redemption? While you wait for the Lord’s coming, how ought you live? Knowing that this universe will be dissolved, destroyed, how shall you who has been saved from this world’s fate, live and prepare and wait?
Well, look intently at a little child who sees his presents under the tree. His eyes are filled with anticipation and joy. It is pure thankfulness and hope as he imagines what having that unknown gift might be, what it might look like our sound like or how it might feel in his hands. Nothing else matters; it’s almost an obsession. He talks about it, he asks questions, he might even plead with his mom and dad to give him a hint…it’s like his entire world shrinks down to what’s under that Christmas tree.
If you’ve ever watched “A Christmas Story,” you know what I’m talking about. It’s about Ralphie and that Red Ryder shot gun, right? And when he finally gets it…well he “shoots his eye out,” right, but it becomes his prize possession, and the movie ends with him sleeping with the gun at his side and as an adult he looks back and realizes it was the best present he ever received.
As you wait for the coming of your Lord, I pray you learn to look at His coming as young Ralphie. “Career? Yeah, I have a career, but the Lord is coming!” “Sports? Yeah, I play basketball at school…but Jesus is coming, and I want to be ready when He comes.” “Money? Yeah, I make a living, but it’s chicken scratch compared to the gift of God that is right here and soon to be revealed.”
And while you wait and anticipate what the Day of the Lord will be like and what His kingdom eternal will be like, flee from the impatience of sin and falling for the demise of boredom and distraction. Set your eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfector of your faith, and when this world comes and offers you all the pleasures and lusts of the flesh, don’t fall for its lies, because this world is passing away; it will be burned up along with all its futile passions and temptations. Instead, stand firm on the solid foundation of a kingdom that shall last forever. The Lord is with you, and He is refocusing your eyes, every day, to see what is important, what is real, and what is eternal.
So, focus on that great and eternal gift given for you at the foot of the cross, Christ and His body broken for you, and wait. Amen.