Advent is a little bit of a mysterious season to celebrate. Historically, as the season emerged in the Christian Calendar there were two strands, one emphasizing joy and festivity and the other penitence and fasting. Interestingly, both of these emotions have continued to mark the celebration of Advent down to the present. Because of this some liturgical scholars complain and ask, ‘well which is it?’ But the idea that this season would be both joyful and yet filled with some penitence and some tension seems exactly right if we consider what it is we are celebrating.
Advent is the season that leads up to the Feast of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord. But it is important to point out that the Church calendar is not elaborate play acting. We are not acting as though God has not yet come to us in Jesus. Rather, the Christian year teaches us how to pray and how to think and live as disciples. In Advent, we consider the many ways in which God has come to the aid of his people all culminating in the birth of Emmanuel. But as we survey these various comings of the Lord, it is immediately obvious that when God draws near it can be a terrible and exhilarating thing. When God comes to his people there is generally a good bit of fear and trembling. Even the “good guys” are fearful and filled with awe and wonder at the power and majesty of God. And the “bad guys” are usually not only terrified and ashamed, their wicked deeds are brought to light and they are destroyed.
Peter’s letter was written to first century Christians (probably Jewish converts in particular) who were being hounded by false teachers. These false teachers were probably various sorts of Judaizers, Jews who were pressuring Christians to cling to the old Jewish laws, temple, and the city of Jerusalem. But Peter warns these Christians of the coming “destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1-6, 12, 3:16). He has already insisted that the prophecies of Scripture are not of “private interpretation” and that the “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (1:20-21). His epistle is meant to remind his readers of the prophets and the apostles (3:1-2). Likewise, Peter commends the writings of Paul to his readers (3:15-16). When Peter refers to the Scriptures, he includes the writings of Paul and very likely the gospels themselves. Given the historical context of this letter, the specific “prophecies” that Peter has in mind are those which foretell the coming of Jesus to judge Jerusalem (Mt. 24, Lk. 21, Mk. 13). And Paul wrote extensively concerning the Judaizers. The whole point of being circumcised and keeping ceremonial laws was to be able to draw near to God in the temple. Paul, Peter, and the apostles insist that baptism and faith in Christ is all that is necessary to draw near to God. And if King Jesus is planning to destroy the temple, turning back to that place is sure destruction (2 Pet. 3:16).
Peter references other great “advents” of the Lord (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, 2:4-9), and calls upon his readers to be steadfast in the promises of God even as they wait for the “promise of his coming” (3:4). He says that the destruction of Jerusalem will be rather like those events of fire and water. When God comes it won’t be easy, but if believers cling to the promises of God and keep the commandments of God in holiness and godliness (3:12), they will be saved. Even though heaven and earth will pass away, the word of the Lord Jesus will not pass away (2 Pet. 3:10-13, cf. Mt. 24:34-35). Therefore Peter calls upon his readers to be diligent to be found in Him in peace, without spot and blameless (3:14) and to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior (3:18). Since we have been brought into the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (3:13), we are to pursue living that life, making our calling and election sure (1:10).
Even though Peter is addressing a particular historical circumstance, his words have great bearing on our lives. We might apply his warnings and admonitions to our historical and cultural situations. Do not merely think that going back to the “good old days” will save you or your children. Do not think that our country is exempt from the judgments of God; America is not the “kingdom of God.” Beware of false teachers. These “wells without water” are political idols, celebrities, military might, and everything that promises greater security than the Word of God.
Advent is both a joyful and penitential season because when the Lord comes, he comes in glory and holiness. Our God is a consuming fire. God is at work building his house in you and in his church, and when the glory of God comes and fills the house, it consumes and tests the materials of that building (1 Cor. 3:9ff). Just as Peter called his readers to faithfulness to the Scriptures, keeping the commandments of the prophets and apostles, in steadfastness and purity, so too Paul promises that our works are tested and revealed by the fire of God’s presence. When God comes into the presence of his people in worship, when he comes in judgment in families, in nations, and in entire cultures, he destroys the wood, hay, and straw which can be burned up. But those who are faithful and build on the foundation of Jesus Christ will build with the silver and gold and precious stones which will endure to the end. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). All the advents of God are but small pictures of the Last Day, the great and final judgment where we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. That will be a great and terrible and wonderful day. Therefore confess your sins, turn away from every sin, whatever entices you away from the grace of God, and rejoice in the sure salvation of Christ. Advent is a call to confession and repentance, and Advent is a call to believe the sure word of God that he is longsuffering toward us not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. That we may be found in him, not having our own righteousness but having the righteousness of faith in Jesus Christ, all the glories of a life marked by the work of the Spirit. This is good news indeed.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!