This past Friday evening (December 5th) was my turn to lead Evening Prayer for our diaconate formation class. For some time now, we’ve been including a reflection by the candidate leading Morning or Evening Prayer. In sharing one of my reflections before on Life At 25, I said that it was rather like “practice preaching” to prepare us for the day when we will be delivering homilies before the People of God either at Holy Mass or at a public celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours is the daily prayer of the Church, and thus to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, even alone, is an act of “official” public worship in the Church, and that is true for members of the the clergy and the laity alike, although members of the clergy are under an obligation to say the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office, every day.
On Friday evening, our formation class gathered for a weekend of instruction, and began, as we always do, by worshiping God in Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. Below is the reflection I gave based on our scripture reading from 2nd Peter.
READING 2 Peter 3:8b-9
In the Lord’s eyes, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day. The Lord does not delay in keeping his promise – though some consider it delay. Rather, he shows you generous patience, since he wants none to perish but all to come to repentance.
Tonight’s scripture verse appears periodically throughout the year in the cycle of readings for the Liturgy of the Hours, but it is especially apt for the season of Advent. In this passage, the writer of the second Letter of Peter encourages some of the early Christians that he is writing to by reminding them that the Lord is patient and long suffering and that in due time, and most importantly in his Divine time, the Lord will return as he has promised. The early Christians believed that the parousia, the return of the Lord, was imminent in their own time, and there is certainly evidence that they shared that belief with others. Earlier in this same chapter of 2nd Peter, the inspired writer warns of those who scoff and mock at the promise of Jesus’ return, asking the question: “Where is the promise of his coming?” We are warned that many people will ask this question in the “last days” because things aren’t happening according to what we might call a human time scale. Such distinctions of time as we ourselves might make in our world and universe have no meaning to God or how he may choose to do things because everything is in the present moment to God, God Almighty simply is.
What this passage is ultimately about, however, is the same message that Advent is about, and indeed the very message that enlivens our faith in Jesus Christ: The message of hope. Humanity cannot live without hope, and at the center of our faith is really a twofold hope. Firstly, there is the hope that when we pass from this life that our souls will be united with Christ in the Father’s House.
We are given the opportunity in this life to prepare ourselves for this Heavenly reality through the sacraments, and certainly through the celebration of the Eucharist, where Jesus has literally given himself to us Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and brought Heaven down to earth to us in a very real sense. Secondly, we are given the hope, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4, that we will again be united with our bodies at the Resurrection on the Last Day, and those who have been faithful to God in this world will “ever be with the Lord.” The Book of Revelation ends with a vision of a new Heaven and a new earth where the reign of God will be everlasting, and we are reminded that yes, to quote something we might have heard before, at the end of the book, we really do win!
Throughout the history of humanity, mankind has waited for this deliverance, and has often done so impatiently. At the time of Jesus, they were waiting for a royal Messiah to come and throw off the yoke of foreign oppression, and give the Kingdom of God a literal and dominant place among the kingdoms of this world. People were waiting for God to bring them justice and to make things right, to correct all of the wrongs and the injustices of this present world. Nobody was expecting God’s deliverance of humanity to come as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem during a Roman census.
Today, people still wait for God to bring this final justice, to right all of the wrongs that it seems that human beings have wrought upon this world. During this Advent season we await what St. Cyril of Jerusalem said was the “twofold coming of Christ,” the first, he said, was marked by patience, and the Second Coming will be marked by the “crowning of a Divine Kingdom.”
In the relatively recent past, I have counseled people who are often in a hurry to “get things done” during the Advent season to do their best to slow down and reflect on what this precious time of the year really means, and that by doing so, they will be able to have a more joyous and holy Christmas season. I still thoroughly believe in that advice, but I have to admit that the reality that I am now an expectant Father, with all of the preparation that goes into preparing our home and our life for a new baby as best we can, I have come to better understand why some people can appear hurried and impatient this time of year, because there is a sense of hope, joy, wonder, and expectation, but there is also a lot of work to be done to prepare ourselves.
Let us ready ourselves together to celebrate Jesus’ coming into our world as man by, among many other things, asking ourselves if we would be ready if he came again today. Are we “getting ready” for Jesus? Do we long, as the prophets did of old, for the final fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, when that perfect justice will reign supreme? As we await the Kingdom of God together as pilgrims on this journey, let us do our best to reflect Christ to one another, and come as Jesus to those in our community who most need him and who cry out for that justice. The Lord doesn’t delay in keeping his promise to us, so let us not delay in rendering faithful service to him.