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? 2 Peter 3:11
Back in Peter's day, people thought that Jesus was coming back very soon, the world as they knew it would end and the Messiah would establish a whole new order. By the time Peter wrote his second letter, the wait had gone on long enough that people were wondering just what the hold up was all about. "Remember," he tells them in their distress, "to the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. What seems long to us might not be as long as we think. 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."
In other words, Peter is saying that perhaps God is waiting for us to be more ready before springing the end times on us. Perhaps, by delaying Christ's coming, God is simply being patient with us, giving us more time to get prepared. And so, Peter wonders, what are we being asked to do with this extra time? How will we conduct our lives in holiness and godliness while we wait? Instead of just complaining about the delay, we can use the time we have to get more ready - and to help others get ready, too!
I have learned more deeply than ever this year just how much life can be completely changed in an instant, and how "the day of the Lord can come just like a thief," as Peter puts it. I know many of you also know what it is like to live through an apocalyptic change of some kind - an experience that feels like "the heavens have been set ablaze and dissolved, and the very elements have melted with fire."
But even if you have not had a tough personal loss recently, the stress and anxieties of our divided nation have set everyone's nerves on edge. Our cultural values and norms are being deeply challenged. Those already on the margins are being pushed further toward the periphery. Those who are poor or outcast seem at risk of being completely forgotten. These are not gentle or abundant times for most of us.
Yet, 2000 years later Peter's advice still holds. We can still consider how we are being called to live into holiness and godliness, despite all the brokenness and pain of this world. Maybe, instead of complaining about the godlessness of the world, we can live into the godliness we want to see. This reminds me of Reinhold Niebuhr's serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Even in difficult times, we can still prepare the way of the Lord in our lives, our neighborhood, and our world.
I want to share something quite personal with you this week. As Christmas, then CarlEmelia's birthday on Dec 27, and then the first anniversary of her death on Jan 28 approach, I have found myself feeling at times profoundly sad, at other times anxious and stressed, and at most times unusually scatterbrained and forgetful. I just want to put that out there, because I'm assuming this condition will only increase for a while this winter and I want to give you a heads up about it, since no doubt you'll notice. I can't change my grief, nor the events that caused it. But I can trust in God's love for me, and can trust in the love we all share in our parish. And I know I am not the only one among us at St. James with a fresh loss this holiday season. We all need each other - this and every year - and I am unusually aware of what a gift it is to be a part of a faith community during difficult times.
Two weeks from tonight is our annual Blue Christmas Service. In troubled times like ours, this seems a particularly important year for this well loved, welcoming and open liturgy. Please help spread the word about it - flyers are available in the office and at the back of the church to post around town - and you can share the event from the church Facebook page on your own page. It may be a way for someone who is hungry for God's peace to find a taste of it. It may be a sign of God's abiding love and presence for someone who does not have a faith community surrounding them. It may be one way that you and I can together wait for and hasten the coming of Christ into our broken world.