I suspect most of us are familiar with the old joke about the man kneeling in prayer and asking, “God, is it true that a million years are only like a second for you?” “Yes, my child,” the Lord answered. So the man followed up this way: “And is it also true that a million dollars are like a penny for you?” Again, God replied, “Yes, my beloved.” So then the man asked, “Lord…can you spare a penny?” to which God replied, “Sure… give me a second.”
We human beings are often naturally impatient, but the Advent season is all about waiting. Anticipation italicizes this opening season of the Christian calendar as we join with countless generations before us in praying with ransomed Israel, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Today, holiday impatience is stoked by modern marketers who test our limits with algorithms programmed to entice our spending at Christmastime. And children know firsthand the impatience leading up to Christmas, even as the winter darkness drags them ever-so-slowly to December 25th.
The Apostle Peter penned this farewell discourse to Gentile Christians who were scattered throughout Asia Minor, now modern-day Turkey. These first-century Christians were undergoing persecution, so Peter wrote to comfort and encourage them to maintain hope by remembering God’s perspective, which morphs even the precision of time: “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (3.8).
Peter reminds all of us who read this letter to recognize that this “one to a thousand and thousand to one” paradox is a fact grounded in the patience of God, who doesn’t want anyone to perish. Instead, God’s tenacious, beckoning grace offers us a great gift by patiently inviting all of us into relationship.
But in the same way that children discover that all of their holiday hype has a way of dissolving like their torn, cast-off gift wrapping before sunrise on Christmas, Peter indicates that the day of the Lord ultimately arrives — quickly yet stealthily. In the end, Peter challenges all of his readers to live faithful and faith-full lives, recognizing that God provides all that is necessary for our spiritual growth.
What kind of people does God want us to be? Peter says we’re called to lives of holiness and godliness (3.11). Sounds like a “one-in-a-thousand shot” to many of us, I recognize. But literally, Peter says we’re called to be set apart, awaiting God’s patient movement every moment of our lives.
This Advent season, could I offer you a penny for your thoughts? What are you waiting for? Even now, God is working patiently on making all things new, where we can be at home with righteousness (3.13), and with the Spirit’s power, we can regard the patience of our Lord as having saving power as we strive to live at peace with God, with others, and ultimately even ourselves.
So beloved, rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.