“The waiting is the hardest part.” Those are lyrics from the song of the same title, sang in 1981 by Tom Petty—God rest his soul.
And back in the 80’s waiting was hard because back then there were no smartphones or tablets. The only hand held devices were outdated magazines! But today, we have multiple entertainment options right at our fingertips while we wait—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Words with Friends, Candy Crush, and the like. Yet despite all the technology, Petty’s words still ring true, “The waiting is the hardest part.” We wait at airports; we wait in waiting rooms; we wait in traffic; we wait at the post office; we wait at the bank; we wait for a human when calling customer service—“Thank you for waiting. Your call is very important to us.” We want for the sermon to be over!
We have to wait… but do we wait well? If you’re like me…no.
So maybe we need a little planning to prepare us for our next wait, to make the wait positive, productive, and perhaps even fun. For example, here’s a list of things Google came up with to do the next time you have to wait—like during the holiday season perhaps.
Strike up a conversation with a stranger and learn their story.
Pull out your journal and describe everything you see in the waiting area. This trains you to be observant.
Work through your unread emails.
Make that appointment with your dentist or any of those other medical types you dread but need to see. It will make the waiting seem less painful by comparison.
Buy cheesy postcards from the newsstand and write notes to your friends and family.
Ask whoever is next to you about their favorite band or podcast and give it a listen right then.
Cull through your phone’s photo gallery and delete pictures you don’t need.
Ask a server, cashier, or flight attendant how their day is going. They will likely have some eye-opening stories to tell!
Skype your parents, grandparents, kids, or grandkids.
Read an online Advent Devotional.
Prepare a brilliant Children’s Message and tell your Pastor you’d love to do it next Sunday.
And of course you can always pray.
Bottom line… When it comes to waiting, there is something we can easily do to get through the wait, and wait well.
But what if the wait time is going to be longer—like, maybe, a couple of thousand years? That’s the dilemma the early church was facing after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, as told in the book of Acts. Jesus had promised to return, and many in the church believed that return was imminent. Namely the Disciples who, at the Assentation of Jesus, stood starring at the sky until one angel told them to stop gawking and get back to work. The Disciples and others thought Jesus said, “I’ll be right back.”
But as time passed, and as persecution of Christians intensified, and as the world became less and less Christ-like, the waiting became the hardest part for God’s people. In fact, some were beginning to question whether Jesus would return at all. That’s the situation the writer of II Peter addresses.
This letter reads more like a theological instruction manual than a typical epistle and for good reason. In I Peter, the writer encourages the church, which is being pressured by external forces; while here in the second letter he addresses the problems arising from internal sources— namely, false teachers who were skeptical about Jesus’ return and whose teaching thus encouraged looser ethical and moral behavior.
II Peter reminds the church that Jesus will return as promised to bring justice and abolish evil, ushering in the new creation, and that the way we conduct ourselves as we wait for his return will have far spread implications.
Imagine that—How Christians conduct themselves will have far spread implications.
Peter understands the waiting is the hardest part, but he further understands that what seems like a long, slow waiting period for Christ’s return is actually a gift from God. God is not slow or tardy, but rather extends God’s own patience to allow time for people to “come to repentance” (v. 9). The “day of the Lord” is coming like a “thief” and on that day the deeds of all on earth will be “disclosed” as if cleansed by fire (v.10).
In the interim—yes, a long interim—Peter asks, “What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?” A new heaven and new earth are coming in which “righteousness is at home.” This all sets up the questions Peter is addressing: What should we be doing while we wait? How can we wait well?
The short answer for Peter is that those who follow Christ should begin living the righteous life of the future new creation as though it has already arrived. We are to live as those who have expectant hope for what is surely coming. There will be a period of waiting, but it’s not to be a passive one in which we, like the disciples at the ascension, keep staring up at the sky waiting for the new Advent of Jesus. Instead, Peter says there are certain things we should “strive” to do in the interim.
If we look closely at the message of II Peter as a whole, we can unpack three intentions we can strive to do while waiting for the new Advent.
First, grow in the image of Christ. When Jesus returns, Peter urges his readers to “be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish” (v. 14). In fact, this was the way we were meant to be from the beginning when we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) before we became subject to “corruption” because of human sin. Because of what Christ has done in his life, death, and resurrection, we can once again become “participants of the divine nature,” as Peter calls it earlier in this book.
Peter thus urges us to make every effort to support our faith in Christ through acting out the virtues of goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love. Focusing on these virtues will reflect Christ to others, and show a better way, which can lead to the invoking of hope for what is surely coming. This is what Peter means by living lives of “holiness and godliness”—lives that look more and more like Jesus (v. 11).
Second, Peter urges us to pay attention to what it is that masters you. In chapter two verse nineteen, Peter criticizes those false teachers for promising freedom while being “slaves of corruption.” He then makes a poignant statement: “People are slaves to whatever masters them.”
As we move through the Advent season, that’s a great question to ponder: What is it that masters us? To what have we become a slave? Is it money, sex, power or something else? As Bob Dylan once sang, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Who are we serving?
And third, Peter instructs us to use our time wisely and to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation” (v. 15). In this interim period as we await the return of Jesus, we have the opportunity to use the time God has given us to share our faith with others. Peter, like the apostle Paul, spent every waking minute looking to share the Good News about Jesus with anyone he met. They did it with a sense of urgency in anticipation of Christ’s coming.
Disciples of Jesus recognize that God has given us time to spread the word about Jesus, and we need to use that time wisely. Those conversations we might have with people in the waiting room or on a plane, or wherever, are opportunities to have spiritual conversations. And no, not conversations that include asking, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where your soul would go for all eternity?”
But rather conversations that show we have faith that God is at work for good despite all the bad happening around us. As Peter says in his first letter, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
As we celebrate the season of Advent, it’s a chance for us to remember again that God has come to us in person in Christ and, in doing so, God has confirmed the truthfulness of God’s promises toward us. The Lord for whom we wait is always true to his word!
That is a message of hope in hopeless times.
And today, there is someone in your life—someone you will have interactions with—who needs a message, a word, a glimpse of hope. Let us be ready to give it.
The waiting might be the hardest part of being a Christian, but it’s also the most important part. God has given us the tools and the time to bring God’s Good News to the world in anticipation of a Second Advent.
So may we seek to grow in the image of Christ, and reflect that image through our actions. May we pay attention to what is master in our lives, and make sure it’s Christ and nothing else. May we use this time wisely, and spread the hope we have found. Do this, and we will wait well for Christ’s next Advent. Amen.