2nd Sunday in Advent
Texts: 2 Peter 3:8-15a;
Mark 1:1-8; Isa. 40:1-11
THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD’S PATIENCE
Patience is truly a virtue during these holidays, isn’t it? Let me tell you a quick story about my day yesterday, and see if you can relate. I was out running errands and was near the mall area when I finished, so I thought I’d get in a bit of quick shopping at Best Buy before heading home. Yes, I said, “quick”! Funny, right? Most of you have probably been to Best Buy — I hope not yesterday! — so maybe you can imagine this in your mind.
The first line I had to wait in was for getting a parking space. I grabbed a cart, but you could barely get around with it in the store because there were so many people. I did manage to get my items relatively quickly, but now the real test of patience was coming: check out! They had a long line, with arrows taped to the floor winding you through the whole appliance section. And that was just the line to get you in line! When you finally got to the head of that line, there was an usher of sorts who would put you in one of the register lines.
Here’s the clincher: I was shopping with a couple of coupons I received in the mail this week, one for a bigger item, and the other for music CD’s or videos. Well, when I finally get to the register, I’m informed of the fine print at the bottom that tells me I can only use one coupon per purchase. Now what am I supposed to do?! Put one of the items away and come back to stand in line again to use the other coupon? No way! That was when I lost my patience. It was difficult for me to hide my frustration at that point. I hope my “Happy Holiday!” to the manager as I left didn’t seem too insincere.
Well, can you relate? Having the patience to wait in the long lines, to get parking, to navigate the traffic — it’s really a virtue. And it is especially difficult to wait when we are so busy getting ready for, and attending, all the extra holiday activities: concerts, caroling, cookie baking; programs for the kids, parties at work. Here at church, we also have the chore of being patient to observe Advent, waiting to sing the Christmas carols that we’ve been hearing everywhere else in our culture which doesn’t observe Advent. And then there’s this whole business about giving and receiving gifts. As we get closer and closer to Christmas, our kids get less and less patient to open their gifts. And sometimes we even have a hard time waiting to have our gifts opened. We can’t wait to see their reaction. Yes, patience is truly a virtue to pray for during this Advent season.
But hold on! What was that in our second lesson? It’s not talking about our patience. It’s talking about God’s patience. The really Good News of the Advent season is that two thousand years have passed since that first Christmas — since the Prince of Peace came into this world showing us how to be true sons and daughters of God by being peacemakers — and God has still not lost patience with us for not becoming those true sons and daughters, for not becoming true disciples of God’s Messiah, the Son of God. We can be very thankful for God’s patience with us.
It’s pretty remarkable, when you think about it, really. Already at Jesus own day, at the time of he and John the Baptist, God had already been awfully patient with God’s chosen people. With Abraham, God had already gotten us started on the road away from sacred violence. When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, God intervened and said, ‘Stop! Here’s a ram instead. Don’t do that anymore!’ We still weren’t ready to believe that God didn’t want us to kill in his name. Abraham is almost another two thousand years ago — four thousand years of God’s patience with his people!
And even when God’s people of Israel, our descendants as people of God, were freed from slavery, we had another chance to live by the gracious law of the Ten Commandments and stop killing even animals in God’s name. But we still weren’t ready. The killing went on for more than another thousand years, despite prophet after prophet who said that God didn’t want that. “I want mercy, not sacrifice,” said God through the prophet Hosea (6:6), and Jesus repeated that message.
Have we God’s people in Jesus Christ been any better? The Crusades is often a good place to start when we are trying to be honest with ourselves. They are far enough away from us now that it seems a safer place to start. We Christians found the Muslims occupying the Holy Land to be desecrating it, so we did what? We went to kill them in the name of Christ!
O.K. Let’s get a little closer. When we Christians came to this continent, we found the natives to still be doing ritual sacrifice, bloodletting in the names of their false gods. Some of the native people, like the Aztecs, were still knee deep in the blood of human sacrifice. So what did we do about it? We killed them in the name of our God! We used their supposed paganism as an excuse to kill them, neglect them, and to forcefully push them off the land that we true believers wanted. The question we have to ask ourselves, of course, is that, when we kill them in the name of our God, are we any less pagans? Are we any less true to the God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Jesus and Mary?
Let’s get even closer to home. A little over a year ago some Muslim extremists killed two thousand innocent people, some of them Muslim themselves, by flying planes into buildings. They did so in the name of their god. Now, when we head out to kill them, to use force in stopping them, what god are we killing them in the name of? Two thousand years have passed, and we need to ask ourselves: have we yet to truly comprehend the true God which Jesus came to show us? When Jesus himself was killed in the name of God as a blasphemer, did he recommend revenge in the name of his God? Or was the whole point that his God was, in fact, their God, the God of their ancestors, the God of all our ancestors, because he’s the God who created all of us? So we might ask ourselves: Did Jesus forgive those who killed in the name of God so that we could be forgiven for all the subsequent times that we vengefully kill in the name of God? Or did he forgive those who killed in the name of God so that they could begin to repent and stop killing period?
The Good News, I think, is that it is both. Obviously, those of us who claim the true God — Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike — obviously, we still aren’t quite ready to stop killing, so we can give thanks that God is so incredibly patient with us. Peter writes: “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.” Two thousand more years God has patiently waited for us to repent! That’s patient!
Let me very briefly put this matter in another way that goes literally close to home — in our homes, in fact. We began by talking about the patience we need during this season of Advent, this season of getting ready in our culture for Christmas. And we can ask: why are we thankful for God’s patience? Because we know from our own experience what happens when we lose patience. For us, the opposite of keeping our patience is losing our temper, isn’t it? Or should I say loosing our temper, letting it loose? When we lose our patience, we generally find our anger. And the anger can so often turn into violence unleashed in our homes, at those we love the most. We are all too familiar, on a daily basis, with the pattern of losing our patience, finding our anger, and lashing out in violence to hurt one another.
And so we have generally projected that same pattern onto God. Even John the Baptist still represented the kind of prophet proclaiming a God whose way was to lose his patience and someday unleash his anger. But John the Baptist also came to proclaim readiness for a new way of God to pioneered by the one to come after him, God’s anointed one.
After the patience of a couple thousand years, God finally gave the gift of a Son who would truly reflect the true God’s glory, a glory not of our way, the way of anger unleashed on our enemies, but the way of Christ, the way of submitting to our anger and violence so that he could show us the true and ultimate power of peace in this world, the power of a forgiving and loving presence with us in the face of our anger and violence.
In a sense, we can give thanks that God did lose his patience in at least one respect: God let us open our Christmas present early, because, even after two thousand years, we still haven’t proved worthy of it. We still kill in the name of our false gods in order to justify our loss of patience, our anger let loose on our enemies. Yet the whole point of the Good News in Jesus Christ is precisely that God’s way of losing patience is completely different than our way of losing patience. God has lost patience by giving the gift of divine forgiveness early — even before we have truly repented of the way of losing patience. God has given us the gift of forgiveness in order that we might repent, in order that we might come to see and be embraced by a different way, a Holy Spirit, the way of loving forgiveness.
Not only that, but as we have continued to insist on our way, the way of vengeance and killing, God has continued to offer us that present to open over and over again. Our Risen Lord comes again with that true power of life again this morning, in the bread and the wine of his presence. He comes to forgive us, so that we might repent, so that we might go in peace to serve him, so that we might go to share the Good News that: ‘The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you and me, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.’ All to come to God’s way of peace. Amen
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Our Savior’s Lutheran,
Racine, WI, December 8 & 11, 2002