Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent 2

Advent is, of course, a time of expectation –
expectation of the birth of Christ
but also of his second coming –
and in today’s first and second readings
we have voices that present us with images
of the coming salvation of God
that involve a cosmic transformation
of the very fabric of the universe.
Isaiah tells us that, “Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low,”
and, even more strikingly,
the Second Letter of Peter says that,
“the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire,
and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.”

These voices remind us that world as we know it
is merely temporary, not eternal,
and that the very fabric of reality will be transformed
in the marriage of heaven and earth –
transformed by God in a way that we cannot even imagine
and so we must speak of it in metaphors
of valleys being filled in and mountains being laid low,
of heavens roaring and the elements being dissolved in fire.

After presenting such dramatic images Second Peter asks,
“Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be?”
In other words. . . so what?
If this is all true, how does it affect my life now?
Peter answers his own question,
saying that if this is true we should be,
“conducting [our]selves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”

Waiting and hastening.
These two things might seem incompatible.
How is it that we can patiently wait for something
and yet still impatiently seek to hasten its arrival?
Even more, how can we,
by acting with holiness and devotion,
do both things at the same time:
both waiting and hastening?
In answer to his own question
of what people we ought to be
in the face of God’s coming transformation of the world,
Peter says our lives should be a hastening that waits
and a waiting that hastens.

We need somehow to work for the world’s transformation
while at the same time waiting for that transformation,
which only God can bring about in God’s own time.
That day we work to hasten
is what Second Peter calls “the day of God” –
the day whose coming belongs entirely to God and not to us.

A hastening that waits and a waiting that hastens:
what Peter says about the kind of people we ought to be
might at first sound quite strange and paradoxical
but perhaps it is not so unfamiliar as it first appears.
Think of the process of growing from a child into an adult.

Of course for me that was a long time ago,
so I think of this in terms of my more recent experience
as the parent of teenagers.
I know that, as a parent, I want my children
to work at developing into adults
and to act like the adults they are becoming,
How many times have I said,
“you’re too old to act this way”?
At the same time,
I want them to be patient with themselves,
not to rush too quickly into adulthood,
but to let it arrive in its own good time.
How often have I said,
“Sorry, you’re too young for this”?
I want them both to wait for adulthood
and to hasten toward it.
And this is not, I hope,
simply one more unreasonable parental demand
because, oddly enough,
these two things often occur simultaneously
in a hastening that waits and a waiting that hastens.
Sometimes it is a step toward maturity to recognize
that you are not yet mature enough for something
and that the most adult thing you can do
is to let yourself be a child for a little while longer.
At other times maturity involves stepping forward in faith
into a risky new experience,
despite all hesitation,
trusting that, whether your succeed or you fail,
it is all part of your becoming an adult
though it may require patient waiting before you can see that.

Maybe if those of us who are adults
can recall how it was that we became adults
we can have some idea
of the sort of persons we ought to be
as “we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.”
If we listen to the voice of the apostle Peter
calling us to cultivate lives
of holy waiting and devoted hastening,
then the Advent season can be for us
a time both of anxious yearning for the world’s redemption
and of patient waiting to receive it as God’s gift.