Last week was the first Sunday of Advent – New Year’s Day for the Christian church! So exciting! We eagerly came into the sanctuary to see the lights and the wreaths. We joyously watched a family begin our familiar Advent story and light the first candle on the Advent wreath. We dusted off the Advent hymns, and even snuck a little Christmas carol in for good measure. We were told to stay awake! We don’t know the time when Christ will come, but surely it will be soon, and when we least expect it, so STAY AWAKE!
It’s not that hard to stay awake on New Year’s Eve when one is surrounded by celebrating people, good food, music, and a city-wide party. The excitement in those shared moments is palpable. We know what we are waiting for, and exactly when it will come. We count down those last 10 seconds with the rest of the eastern time zone, we watch the ball drop or the fireworks light the sky over Bronson Park, we shout Happy New Year! Perhaps we kiss someone special or sing Auld Lang Syne.
But, what if that moment didn’t come when we expected it? What if our expectations were shattered and the ball remained frozen mid-descent? What if we waited hour upon hour, day upon day, year upon year. How do we stay awake amid what seems an endless delay?
Second Peter is a letter to a group of believers dealing with that question. There was this huge buildup. Jesus was the Messiah! Jesus was crucified, AND was resurrected! Jesus promised to come again, and at that time, peace and justice would rule. The world as it existed would be dissolved and replaced with a new heaven and a new earth – one in which Jesus was King, and Caesar was no more.
They fully expected the full fruition of this promise in their lifetime. They counted down, and nothing happened. They waited and waited, and some of them died still waiting. They did not understand how Jesus could have failed them. Were they wrong about who he was? They were frozen in place, not knowing how to proceed.
The author of this letter seeks to reassure the readers that God’s timing is God’s own, and God’s promises are trustworthy. He admonishes them to think of what they perceive as a delay as a gift. God is giving them time to get it right – to repent, to reach out to others, to do what the Gospel calls them to do – love, and act on that love.
Advent waiting is not about being frozen in place, waiting for God to come in and wipe out all the wrong like some kind of cosmic do-over. Advent waiting is active. Advent waiting is about doing while we wait, about reaching out to those who are hurting, seeking reconciliation to those with whom we disagree, and – above all else – striving and reaching for justice in this world and showing God’s love to all we meet. God does and will always faithfully keep God’s promises. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do.
As the character of Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot says, “Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not.”
Ours are the ears that hear the world’s cries. Let us do something, while we have the chance.