We spend a great deal of our lives waiting. Waiting for it to be lunchtime. Waiting in line. Waiting for our vacation to start. Waiting to grow up. And now, waiting for a vaccine. For we creatures who exist in time, “now” is always fleeting, and it is easier to live in our minds either in the past or the future.
I envy the writers of stories. They have the option of simply skimming over in a few sentences the time their characters spend waiting for something to happen. At the stroke of a key, they can make days, weeks, or months go by for their people. They only have to linger when something’s going on. But real life often seems the exact reverse of that, isn’t it?
In Advent, we are called to practice waiting well. Advent is about practicing real presence in this uncomfortable, in-between time where we hold in tension the first coming of Jesus, fleshed and vulnerable as any human, and the second coming of Jesus, the Word that establishes the world, in all his glory and majesty. The question Advent prompts for Christians is: what does it mean to wait well?
The Christians to whom Peter was writing in his second letter were waiting for the second coming of Jesus. They had been waiting already what seemed like a long time, and they had been acting under the assumption that Jesus was going to return right away. But time was passing, and the first generation of Christians were beginning to die. There began to be rumblings in the communities. Where was Jesus? How long must they continue to endure? Why was God late?
That is why Peter is at pains here to point out to people that their perspective on time is not the same as God’s perspective. To God, Peter says, one day is no different from one thousand years. God exists outside of time as we experience it. God sees it all just the same; not as past, present and future, as we must.
The Christians Peter writes to were beginning to feel that God was being tardy. It’s rude to keep people waiting, isn’t it? You tell them you’re coming by to see them, but you don’t say when. So they are left hanging around at home in order to be sure they don’t miss your visit, even though they have other stuff they could be doing. What Peter is gently saying to his readers is that their mistake was in imposing their own limited conception of time onto God. God’s purpose was not to hurry back and whisk his people away from suffering and death. No, Peter says, God has another purpose for what appears to us to be delay: the Lord is patient with us, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
So Peter’s point is this: we don’t get to decide when God is late. We have a different responsibility. We are waiting. We don’t know how long. So what we need to do is wait well.
“Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” What does it look like, to be found at peace? I think that in the context of this passage, and in the context of Advent, of waiting for the coming of Christ, being found at peace means making peace with your life as life finds you, moment by moment. One of the common traps we can fall into when we are waiting for things to happen in our lives is that we think of what is going on now as an interruption that is keeping us from our real lives. “When I’m sixteen and can drive, then my life will really begin.” “When I graduate, and get a real job, and my own place, then my life will really begin.” “When I meet the person I’ll marry, then my life will really begin.” C.S. Lewis wrote something in a letter to a friend that I return to again and again, as a reminder of what “real life” actually is for a Christian. He said, “The great thing, if you can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of your ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is, of course, that what you call the interruptions are precisely your real life – the life God is sending you day by day: what you call your ‘real life’ is a phantom of your own imagination.” Practice being present in your life as it is, not as you wish it was. Only then will you be found at peace.
Be found at peace, without spot or blemish. The second part of this injunction means that we have work to do while we wait. Peter has been describing what the day of the Lord will be like. It will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. But it will arrive with a bang! “Then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.” This is the image of a refining fire, one that melts down our lives, our work, our actions and choices and words, and burns away all the things that don’t matter to eternity, leaving us with only our purified selves. In that day, we will finally be revealed as God has always intended us to be: full-fledged image-bearers of God. But remember again, God is not bound in time as we are bound. There is a day of the Lord coming in our future, but the day of the Lord is also our present and our past. This work of “dissolving with fire” is ongoing in our lives right now. While you wait for the coming of Jesus, are you allowing God to refine your life, to dissolve with fire all those things which are not eternal? What place has our impatience, our grumpiness, our petty resentments, in the perfected lives God is offering to make in us? While we wait, allow God to refine you, to make you without spot or blemish.
Your life is never on hold, so don’t live as though it was! We aren’t really waiting out this pandemic, as though we were in some kind of stasis. Life hasn’t been cancelled. Advent isn’t cancelled, and Christmas isn’t cancelled. We stand with John the Baptist, and with Peter the Rock. Prepare yourselves, for the Kingdom of God is at hand! Amen.