Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This waiting thing during Advent is a difficult thing, especially these days. Christmas runs full bore beginning with Black Friday through 9am Christmas morning. And then it should be done. After that we move into bleak winter, or look forward to Valentine's day or spring. The time of "Peace on earth" is over, let's get on to the next thing. But, here in Church we have it all backwards. There's the yearly struggle between Pastor and the Christmas decorations. He says we should wait till the week before Christmas, we need to get it done while people are still in the mood to decorate for Christmas. Pastors can be such Scrooges when it comes to Christmas time. When we talk about waiting, we are trying to swim up stream, kicking against the goads, as Jesus said to Paul. (By the way a goad is a cattle prod). Waiting is the last thing we want to do these days. We want what we want and we want it now! Hey, I'm not just talking about you here. I'm talking about me. It's easy to click that little button on the web order to get the package in 2 days rather than 5 days, the heck with how much it costs. So, when we talk about waiting... When God tells us that we should be waiting, that's hard for us, all of us.
Well, the waiting at Advent isn't about killing the joy of Christmas, or fighting against the culture. It's about reminding ourselves what we are really waiting for and what that waiting is to look like. What St. Peter wrote in his letter he wrote to us, he could have just as well said, "to the church at Creston". He reminds us, those who have obtained faith... by our Lord Jesus Christ (1:1), why we are waiting.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:8–14, ESV)
So, talking about all this burning up and destroying doesn't sound very Christmassy does it. But it is good to remember, that this life that we live is heading somewhere, and that somewhere is the return of Jesus, our Savior. The judgment of the whole world. The setting of all wrongs right. A new heavens and a new earth where there is no more waiting, or pain, or sorrow, or trouble, or death. If we keep our eye on the ball, that is looking toward Jesus return, the ultimate goal of Christians, then everything will make sense. So that's exactly what we are doing during Advent. Christmas Day is a day full of Joy to the World. We have every right to celebrate. God became man in Jesus Christ. The account of his coming is something special. The whole world recognizes that. But we push off the joy just a bit during Advent, just as we are right now waiting for the joy of his coming again. And so St. Peter helps us keep our eye on the ball. Everything he says here could be summed up like this: While you are waiting for the coming of Jesus, live lives of holiness and godliness.
Well, talk about kicking against the goads. Living a life of holiness isn't exactly in vogue. Just a quick example. We all pretend that the great deals we are looking for on Black Friday are for Christmas gifts. But most of the mountain of purchases that packed on already full credit cards this year were not Christmas gifts. They were opened at home right away. We pretend to be in a giving mode but our favorite giftee is us. How quickly the giving season becomes self-centered when there are shiny things to be had. Well that's certainly not being holy, is it?
Let's make sure we understand exactly what the Bible means when it tells us live in holiness. First, we usually think that holy means to be good, or sinless, or perfect. And while that's a part of the meaning, there really isn't an English word that gets it all. In Bible the word holy most often means "set apart for God." The opposite of holy isn't sinful, the opposite of holy is common. That is able to be used by anyone, for anything.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
It means to set aside the Sabbath day for God's use. That's why we come together here, isn't it. We receive the things God promises to give us here, on this day. We set aside this time for God to do what God wants to do. This day, this time, is holy, that is set apart for God's use.
And so St. Peter says that while we wait the coming of the Lord, we are to live lives of holiness, to be holy. So, he means, lives set apart for God. You have already been set apart for God, you are already holy. Another way to say this is to say that you are a 'saint'. Now you know that you are not perfect, or sinless, or better than anyone else. You are a saint, because God says you are. You were made a saint, that is holy, in Holy Baptism. There God declares you his holy, forgiven child, because Jesus' life, death and resurrection are yours. God removes sin from you and sets you apart as his.
In his other letter St. Peter describes you like this:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9–10, ESV)
There we have it. You are holy, that is set apart for God, to "proclaim the excellencies" of God. You are set aside for God, to proclaim the great things that God has done. You have received mercy, forgiveness, life forever, salvation, through God's work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You do this by living life as God directs. Because you are set aside for God, you do as God would want. Now that's quite a bit different from what's going on in life around you. People live for themselves. You live for others. People sleep in on Sunday morning. You make Sunday holy to God, set aside for him. People do what ever they think is right. You do what God says is right. It's because you are holy, set aside for God.
Ah, but there it is, isn't it? You don't think your are holy because you don't live up to any of these expectations. You find yourself being selfish. You find yourself skipping church. You find yourself influenced by what the world says is right. You know it isn't as God would have you live. If only you could live a perfectly holy life. Now we go back again to what St. Peter said.
[God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
God is not patient because he tolerates sin. He is patient, because he sent Jesus to suffer the punishment for your sin. He doesn't just push sin under the carpet, he pushes sin onto his son, Jesus on the cross. And repentance is just that. Seeing our sin, and pushing it on Jesus on the cross, and receiving forgiveness through faith that Jesus death is my death. His punishment for sin, is my punishment for sin. Because of Jesus I have received mercy! So, I am set aside for God, to do what God would have me do, to be holy as God is holy.
And so, we look forward to a time when we won't have sin to give to Jesus. A time when everything will be perfect and holy. A time when there will be no more waiting and everything that God promises will come to completeness.
Until then we wait. And so we wait at Advent. Looking forward to the coming of Jesus, and the joy of the stable. The joy of the stable, the baby Jesus, is the joy of sins forgiven at the cross. The joy of Christmas is the promise that all things will be made new again, and that Jesus is coming again at any time, in a day or a thousand years. And when he does there will be such joy. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.