Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The First Wednesday in Advent

First Wednesday of Advent
November 30, 2011

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. (Psalm 14:7)

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. (2 Peter 3:8-10)

A few years ago I went to the doctor because of a respiratory infection. I sat on the paper-covered examination table while he checked things out and asked me a series of questions. In the process he discovered that I worked for a theological seminary, so he took advantage of the circumstance of my medical captivity to interrogate me about when Jesus was scheduled to return. As much as I tried to dodge the issue—after all, he was the guy with access to needles and probes and such, and I feared retribution for offering an unacceptable answer—he persisted. I finally reminded him that I was sick and needed repair, so he prescribed some antibiotics and I went on my way, leaving the question of Jesus’ expected return unanswered.

People have been trying to get that date on the calendar for a long time, to no avail. The psalmist doesn’t demand precision in terms of timing, but he echoes the cry of Israel for God to bring deliverance so that their exile and oppression will end. The anticipation was that deliverance looked like the restoration of Israel’s glory days.

The early followers of Jesus saw deliverance in a new light. Rather than expecting to be delivered from the rule of the Roman Empire, they came to understand that God, in and through Jesus, had delivered them from the power of sin and death—all that was behind earthly oppression. Deliverance for them looked like turning to the God who had rescued them from every demanding voice of dominance that was not God, and freed them into a new life.

Still, they anticipated that something the ancient Hebrew people called “the day of the Lord,” when God would upset the order of the earthly kingdoms and make things right, especially for Israel. The early Christians still looked forward to that day, but now with broader scope. The God who would make things right wanted things to be right for all people, “not wanting any to perish.”

Peter spoke of that day in dramatic language, signaling a global change in everything we’ve come to know. His words mirror those of Jesus in Revelation 21, as a new heaven and new earth are established, and he announces, “I am making all things new.”

In this season of Advent, we are drawn into the newness of God’s story. We don’t have to wait for a distant, highly-publicized date of return on the calendar to enter into what God has made new: It’s all here now. As Peter spoke of God’s desire for all people, we are invited to turn (which is the meaning of “repent”) to the God who has made himself known to us in Jesus.

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