2 Peter 3:1-10
3This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincereintention by reminding you 2that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken through your apostles. 3First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4and 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!’ 5They 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. 7But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgement 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. 9The 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. 10But 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.
Patience. Constantly touted as a virtue, patience ranks up there with the quality “quiet” in running in magnificently short supply in our household. Between the boys not wanting to wait, and me not being able to wait for boys' own waiting, our house does not have much in the way of patience...
Patience is all about the ability to wait. A patient person is able to wait, foregoing more immediately present rewards for something larger to come. Clearly those who seek self gratification, that is, the immediate payoff, are not patient. They have not been formed by the practices of putting off the small reward here and now for the greater reward in the future. I wonder how the economy might be different if instead of seeking the quick short-term gain in stock prices, the CEOs would have been trained in waiting for long-term real value to be added to a company.
Every virtue walks a middle ground between two vices. One vice is the sheer lack of the virtue, but the other is the virtue taken to an extreme. In this sense then the other vice associated with patience is waiting for absolutely nothing. In the play, “Waiting for Godot” by Thomas Beckett, it remains to be seen if the two main characters, Estragon and Vladmir, are exercising the virtue of patience or in fact have moved beyond patience to idleness. While much can be made of the endurance and discipline needed for patience, it is folly to continue to wait and work for a fantasy.
But patience cuts between the two extremes, between the excess and deficiency. And those who are disciplined in their waiting often draw criticisms from others. Why wait until you have money saved up to buy the large screen television? Just use the credit card. Why wait until the baby is born to find out its gender? Do it now! Or on the deficient side, the college buddy who can't understand the friend who is getting married, cutting off his choices, so to speak. We may wait for someone, but not an endless list of options. There must be something tangible at hand for which we wait.
And that is perhaps the criticism that Peter is hearing when he writes, in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4and 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!’” Nothing is changing. Nothing is any different. You are not waiting for anything!!! Everything is just as it always has been. We have nothing to fear. There is no final end. We need not hear of return and judgment. Why hasn't it happened if God were going to do it? You're not patient. You're misguided. You have fallen into vice.
But Peter assures his readers and us that any delay is not a mark of our deficiency in patience, but actually a mark of God's patience. He is indeed waiting for the fullness of time before he executes his judgment and he will then act, and decisively so. But God's vision is not like ours. For him to wait and endure entails a waiting of love and grace, allowing that humans might be given the fullest amount of time to repent, to turn again to God God's patience is rooted in his love for humans so that none of them might perish. God endures the continued brokenness of the world, the unbelief, the recurrent transgressions. God is disciplined to wait for something greater to come. Christ was able to be patient, that is, endure the suffering brought upon him by the world, that he might be raised and become the way to eternal life.
We now are grasped by Christ's grace that we too might partake in this divine patience. The eternal Word, Christ, the Son of God, created this very world and now upholds and sustains it so that we might endure bearing witness to the scoffers, that in fact things are changing. Our very lives are being transformed, being made holy, sanctified, as a sign for the ultimate act that God will bring about with a loud noise and elements being dissolved by fire, and everything done on earth will be made known.
But we are not born patient. Nor do we remain so without some aid. God has given us practices in the church that we might endure in the faith until the end, either of our lives or Christ's coming. To endure in the faith, one chief practice is prayer. Christ has given us his name to call upon in every assault of the devil, the world or our own broken selves.
We are given the witness of the martyrs who suffered, and continue to suffer, for the sake of the gospel. Remembering those who stand firm while under persecution has been a source of strength for the church, and not a source of embarrassment or shame. We learn to endure by the witness they provide.
We are given this season of Advent. In the midst of gross and conspicuous consumption that could not even wait for Thanksgiving, the Church resists, remembering not just the birth of Jesus, but dwelling on his coming. Retailers are desperate for our money. They work hard to get us to hand over our money, to consume great quantities. In essence they tell us, “Forget that future stuff. Get the good life now! This is the great promise! This is what we were created for! YOU.CAN.HAVE.IT.ALL.”
But Advent calls us back to prayer, devotion and remembrance. As we gather in the growing darkness of winter, we may realize that we enter into God's very character of patience. Waiting, watching, and praying for the redemption of a broken world... witnessing to the very promises of God—promises for which he endured and continues to endure so much.
Thanks be to God.