Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday of Advent, year B
texts: 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; Isaiah 40:1-11
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
That’s some vision of a restored world in Psalm 85. I can’t wait to see it.
We sang that the salvation of God is very near, salvation that looks like this: righteousness and peace kiss each other. Steadfast love and faithfulness meet together. Considering the divisions that fracture our society, the injustices and humiliations that some in our country daily endure, the self-centeredness and fear that drive the actions and thoughts of so many in our nation, such a vision as this would be a marvel to see. Think what the rest of the world could do with it.
God’s steadfast love meets with our faithful service to God and each other? All people would surely find a better life, a safer world. God’s righteousness embraces our work for shalom – peace, wholeness, justice? We would surely see a transformed world. If Advent is a time to practice waiting for the coming of God, this vision is what such coming might be in reality.
What if we’ve got this waiting backwards, though? This season we sing of the God for whom we wait, as if Advent teaches us to wait for God to make Psalm 85 a reality. Peter today suggests otherwise.
The question is whose responsibility is this broken world?
We seem to spend a lot of energy placing this in God’s job description. The prophets’ dreams speak of God coming to restore all. The Church has always rested hope on the promise of God’s new creation and life for the world, beginning in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Yet Peter today speaks of the patience of God, the waiting of God, not our waiting. Encouraging people who were worried that God was letting the problems of the world pile up and not coming to heal all, Peter says the Lord isn’t slow about his promise. God’s just being patient, hoping that all will come to repentance.
Isn’t that interesting? John the baptizer called people to repentance, to a turning around. To prepare themselves for the way of the Christ by walking in a different direction than the one they were going. So if God is patiently waiting for all to repent, so none perish, Peter is saying our repentance is the way God’s restoration will happen.
That is, the healing of the nations, the blessing of the cursed, the enriching of the barren wastes is not something God is going to do for us. God, in fact, is the one who waits for us to turn into this way, repent, find the path. The way to the salvation of Psalm 85 is through God’s children.
This is an entirely different Advent, to consider the patient waiting of the Triune God.
To see the pain and suffering of this world and instead of sitting back and praying that God restore the creation, rather to turn our lives around from the ways we contribute to the destruction. To turn around to find the path of Christ, the path of the cross, already announced at this beginning of Mark’s Gospel.
What would it mean if Advent became a season where we sang of God’s waiting for us to be about the healing of this world? If we heard John’s call to repent not as some minor course correction – stop doing a sin or two, whatever you can come up with – but as a drastic road altering project the likes of which Isaiah proclaims?
This is ours to do: look at Isaiah. The call to make a new path, a safe road in the wilderness of the world is to us, not to God. God’s doing plenty: God will come to us, take us up in loving arms like a shepherd, feed us like a mother sheep.
But we’re the workers here, the ones to fix the mess this world’s in. Because we’re the ones who made it.
It’s our sin of over 300 years in this country against entire races of people that has given birth to the injustice and sickness of racism that still infests our courts, our laws, our police forces, our churches, our public squares. That’s our doing.
It’s our sin of greed and capitalism of 300 years that has given birth to greater and greater inequality of wealth and a disgusting reality that people can work two full-time jobs and still not earn enough in this so-called land of opportunity to feed their families. That’s our doing.
It’s our sin of nearly 400 years in this country of rabid individualism and obsession with personal violence that has given birth to murder rates and gun insanity that no other civilized culture on this planet will tolerate but that we absolutely refuse to address, while week after week our children are shot, our sisters and brothers are abused and killed, and our police feel threatened every time they go out into the streets. That’s our doing.
If this world is a wilderness, an unsafe place, we needn’t look far to find who has made it so. And God patiently waits for us to admit it and turn around, change our direction. So life can begin to be restored.
God’s patience, however, is at great cost.
That’s what patience means. Our word for patience, like the Greeks and the Romans and other cultures, is related to the word for suffering. When we speak of patience, for thousands of years of human language, we speak of waiting that involves suffering.
This is God’s patience: to suffer as we destroy this world and wait for us to change rather than wipe us out. God made a good world, where righteousness and peace embraced, where God’s steadfast love was everywhere. But we refused to live in love with God, neighbor, and creation, and made it as it now is.
Because God wants us to freely choose such life, God is also committed to our solving this mess. God will inspire, empower, command, even model such a way, such a path, in person through Christ the Son of God. God’s love we see on the cross forgives us when we fail, we know this.
But God will not do this all for us. Think of what kind of suffering that puts the Triune God through. To see all the hatred and violence and injustice and destruction we do to each other and this creation, and know we could change it all but won’t. To hear us pray for dramatic rescue from God while refusing to do anything ourselves. It must make God sick at heart.
This waiting costs God. Costs the world, while we go our way of destruction. The longer it takes for us all to repent, the greater the pain of the world, the greater the pain of God.
We say we can’t wait to see this healing. God can and does wait. So what shall we do?
Peter says we could consider what sort of people we want to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness. We could repent, turn around, John says. We could start making a clean path in the wastelands we’ve created, Isaiah says, so God’s healing can spread.
With the ills and evils that plague our society, it seems impossible any of us could find any new direction that would heal. But we have each other, this gift of Christ. We talk to each other, help each other listen better to the world and walk the path of the cross. We support each other in changes – big and small – we begin to start making in each of our lives, as we begin to turn: How we vote. How we see the world. How we treat others. How we spend our money. How we deal with violence. What we talk about and care about.
We say the problems are too great, we can’t do anything. Meanwhile, God patiently, sufferingly, waits for us to stop saying that.
Today our Prayer of the Day didn’t ask God to stir up power and come. We asked God to stir up our hearts to prepare the way of Christ in the world. That’s the Advent prayer we need.
The Lord’s patience is so that none will perish, all will live.
This is the great grace, why we regard the patience of the Lord as our salvation. The great heart of the Triune God suffers and longs even more than we do for the healing of all things, hopes beyond hope that we, and all God’s children, will see this path and turn into it. Will build new bridges and paths in the wilderness so others can see and find hope and light. Will turn our lives around so all the world’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live in a better world than we do.
In God’s Advent waiting we find our call to love and life and service, and the world finds hope in us, sees the healing of God come to reality through us.
That I can’t wait to see.
In the name of Jesus. Amen