This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Advent day two: Emmanuel, God with us

Mark Rupp is the Pastor of Christian Formation at Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church.  He is a graduate of both Bluffton (Ohio) University and The Methodist Theological School in Ohio.  Mark enjoys naps and warm sunshine almost as much as his two cats, Rory and Oswin.  

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A meditation on 2 Peter 3:1-18

Every year, the Christmas season seems to slip earlier and earlier into November (and perhaps even October). No longer do we have to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to hear our favorite Christmas songs on the radio. No longer do we even have to wait until Thanksgiving is completely over in order to get all those great deals on all the stuff we probably do not even need. No longer do we have a clear sense that the Advent season is about waiting, patience, and hope.

In general, our society treats the days leading up to Christmas more like a month-long extension of Christmas joy and celebration. The Church, however, calls us to a season of anticipation, preparation, and hope.

This may seem like only a subtle difference, but when the Church allows itself to dwell on hope and anticipation rather than skipping ahead to celebration, we are more capable of speaking and enacting good news to the places in our communities and our world that are hurting. The prophetic nature of our faith calls us to see and speak the truth about the world around us, even when it is hard. It is from this posture of truthfulness that we are able to celebrate the good news that God is here among us and that new life is possible.

The author and the original audience of the book of 2nd Peter were no strangers to the idea of waiting and anticipation. Part of the context behind this letter is Christianity’s transition from an apostolic to a post-apostolic age when the original apostles of Jesus began to die, leaving the transmission of the Christian faith in the hands of a new generation. Many early followers of Christ assumed that Christ would return within a generation, so when this did not happen, a shift or rethinking of faith began to occur. This is the context out of which the author of 2nd Peter writes, extolling the virtue of patience by drawing parallels to God’s patience with creation and God’s existence outside of human concepts of time.

The same doubts and questions that this passage deals with are certainly some of the same voices we hear today. We see a world that is not as it should be and think, “Where is the promise of Christ’s coming?” We see more and more clearly the ways that sin has become ingrained in the systems that make up our lives, so we throw up our hands saying, “All things continue as they were from the beginning!”

Yet in the closing section of the letter, the author offers a vision for how we are to live in this season of hope: “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by God at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

So let us not skip over Advent.  Let us not use our celebration as a cheer-filled charade that attempts to cover over the realities of our world.  Rather, let us dwell in this season of hope in a way that helps us understand just how much we need Emmanuel, God with us.  Let us live in such a way that we never stop striving for peace. And, finally, let us find in the patience of God a salvation that both calls us into the future and grounds us in the present.

2 Peter 3:1-18 (NRSV)

This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and 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.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 

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