Thursday, December 1, 2011

The First Thursday in Advent

First Thursday of Advent
December 1, 2011

. . . yet you did not return to me, says the Lord. (Amos 4:6b)

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. (2 Peter 3:11-13)

The prophet Amos spoke harshly to the people of Israel. In chapter four he speaks for God, who chronicles all the disasters that have come upon the people, taking credit for each one, yet lamenting with each remembrance that the people did not return to him.

Israel’s history as it is told in the Bible is one of the people’s faithfulness that morphs to idolatry and unfaithfulness, and then back again, over and over. It’s a roller coaster ride of relationship with the God who had called them to be his people for the sake and blessing of the world, and the cars were riding off the rails. Amos speaks harshly, but behind the words we can hear the heartbreak that God seems to suffer because of the people’s refusal to come home.

I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to avoid God in both bad times and good—I don’t discriminate at all. When times are bad, I’m busy figuring out how to get things back to normal again or being just plain depressed about the circumstances. When things are going well, then I forget about God all together because I’m feeling self-sufficient and able to take care of myself. I think I have a lot in common with Amos’ first audience. Maybe you can identify with that.

In light of what the early Christians expected and what the Scriptures teach—that everything that now exists will one day be transformed into God’s new heaven and new earth—Peter asks the question that cuts to the heart of our core identity. As God’s people, expecting what God will one day bring about, how should we live? What kind of people should we be? Peter doesn’t point to natural disasters as motivators for repentance, but rather recognizes that we belong to God’s future, even though we live in an earthly present. So do we live within the boundaries of the present status quo (this is a particularly important question in a US election year, when the season on hatred and false witness is open to all), or do we live as citizens of the kingdom of God?

Peter says that we do, indeed, wait for God. But we also live as God’s children, set apart by him for the blessing of the world.

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