Advent 2: 10 December 2 Peter 3:8-15a
The letter addresses what the passing of two millennia no longer sees as a problem. Clearly many expected divine intervention, the day of the Lord, within their lifetime or soon thereafter. This was the case with Paul. It hasn't happened; and it hadn't happened by the early second century when this letter was probably penned. Such intense hope has lapsed. Occasionally people have stoked the expectations. There have been the speculations at the turn of the millennia and many others at other times. Our author, writing with claims to be or represent Peter, himself, urges caution.
It is interesting both to observe the tradition with which he works and to see what he does with it. The idea of a future day of the Lord remains. It was after all fundamental, had its roots in Old Testament hope (although Amos warned that unless things changed people should not really look forward to it at all!), and appears to have been central in Jesus' message, despite the attempts from time to time to rescue Jesus from such an embarrassment. It was part of their world. It is as little part of ours as belief in a flat world or a demon based cosmology is. What do we then do? Join the scoffers whom the letter confronts?
Notions of a final conflagration were by no means confined to Jewish speculation. From a totally different perspective we can probably affirm something like this - in millions of years time; or in the case of a nuclear holocaust. But such parallels should not invite regression into a flurry of future prediction based on 'Bible prophecy'. Theirs was conceived differently and seen as a divine initiative, not as a terrorist strike or a consequence of the planet's overheating.
The author's retreat from the speculative, points to useful possibilities for us. He focuses not on the event but on God and God's time. While at one level this will have been a rationalisation for the delay, it also shifts attention to what we can know - or at least trust. This return then leads to an assertion about God's being: God does not want people to perish. This is a move - not taken very far - but a step which has the potential to unravel some of the speculation and the notion, crudely put, that God will finally want to destroy all who do not repent or punish them eternally. The author does not go that far, but it is significant that this catches his attention.
He then resorts to the suddenness argument: beware it can come at any time - a bit hard for us to sustain. The attention then turns back to appropriate behaviour. It goes beyond a scared waiting, to an eagerness which feels more like hoping for a fulfilment of something good rather than for something bad. The hope then shifts to a new heaven and a new earth - which might look like a simple replacement theory, but the key vestige of good news is in the assertion that the new reality will be a place of righteousness or justice. The hope for transformation, which winds up in desperate thought to a pitch where the old melts and there is something totally new, is born ultimately in the pain of injustice, one's own or that of others. It is as though flamboyant images of dramatic conflagration are the verbal arm waving of people in crisis reaching out for liberation. Of course, this is only half true. The author writes reflectively and people in those days took such images more literally. We can nevertheless link arms with people in such plight. It is the original context of our whole movement. We are to belong to those who yearn for justice, even if our poetry is less dramatic and expectations more measured.
The purity and godliness espoused in this letter may have a strongly moral quality and focus on piety. For us such purity and godliness has to be transposed into singleness of endeavour and solidarity with God's action and promise that there can be peace and there can be justice in this world - within people and among them. Part of our task is to transpose the eagerness and urgency from the cosmological speculation to the register of human need and the state of the present world and its future.
Gospel: Advent 2: 10 December Mark 1:1-8
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