Why I Need to be Have Patience
One of the early scandals to afflict the early Christian community was the delay of the Lord’s return. Times were tough. The Roman persecutions and the disdain of the Jewish leadership took their toll in lives. The apocalyptic hope that the Lord would return and take vengeance on their enemies lingered with some of the early followers of Jesus. It was hard to explain the delay of the Lord’s coming to their critics and detractors.
We have the same problem today. Many have given up the practice of their faith when they see so much violence in the world and scandal in the church. Most want to believe in God (though polls say this number is dropping), but choose to do so without any active participation in the local Christian community. People want results, and want to see that God is making right what is wrong with the world, but they see very little evidence of it. There is a loss of patience with belief systems and so people comfort themselves, taking pleasure in material things. The Epicurean philosophy of old rules the day: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
These words were directed to those who were left behind in Jerusalem, while all the most talented were taken away in exile. Life was hard in exile, but it was even worse for those who were left in Jerusalem. After a “term” exiles were returning and things would be better for everyone. The “comfort” Isaiah prophesied was more than the lessening of suffering, or doing away with it altogether, but instead a willingness to bear and share the burdens of one another and a promise that God would send a good shepherd to lead them to green pastures.
Jesus is that Good Shepherd. Jesus stepped into the stream of apocalyptic hope, that God would return and do violent justice to their enemies, acknowledged it, but led this thought in a different direction. God, his Father, cared about all his children in this world. When God returned he would identify and comfort all his children who have suffered the most from the powers of this world. God would not be a vengeful God as people expected. God would not add to the “sacred” violence that human beings do to one another, but rather identify and save all the victims of that violence. When Jesus returns it will be as a true Prince of Peace, in contrast to the princes of this world, the Principalities and Powers, who have caused so much death and destruction to secure their goals.
What we see in Jesus’ teaching is violence gradually purged from the notion of God’s return on Judgment Day. Instead God will bring forgiveness of sin as a way to bring about repentance (a complete change of thinking) in humankind. This reverses our usual thought that repentance must come before forgiveness. Jesus taught the opposite. When a human being realizes they have been forgiven all their sins, their tears of freedom and gladness wash away the stains of even long years of sin and un-repentance.
This is the big difference between John the Baptist and Jesus: John preached that a person must repent first or else face fiery judgment, but Jesus taught that forgiveness should come first as a first step and help make possible a sincere change heart in a person. The “embarrassing” delay in Jesus’ return is a function of God’s patience. God is most patient with us and forgives us over and over. Why? So that we might change our thinking (especially our desire to see God wreak vengeance upon our enemies) and be able to truly rejoice in the Lord when God returns to establish peace on the earth, either at the End of time, or our personal last day. We don’t like delays, but often a delay is for our eternal benefit.
This Second Sunday of Advent teaches us patience in the face of delay in the Lord’s coming. God is patient with all people, in various stages of repentance or not, so they might experience the joy of repentance and change their lives. The Lord we await is coming. The Holy Eucharist is an experience of God with us in the here and now and a pledge that God will come and save us in good time.
Come Lord Jesus!
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.