Paul on Paul – 6th December 2020

2nd Sunday in Advent; Year B
2 Peter 3:8-14

But there is one thing, my friends, that you must never forget: that with the Lord, ‘a day’ can mean a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not being slow to carry out his promises, as anybody else might be called slow; but he is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to change his ways. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and fall apart, the earth and all that it contains will be burnt up.
Since everything is coming to an end like this, you should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come, when the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat. What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace

There is a podcast I listen to call ‘Clerically Speaking’, where two young okay priests just talk about things. Every episode, the look at things they find interesting on Twitter, and this week they looked at a great question someone shared on twitter the other day which was really funny. Unfortunately, the tweeter has made their account private so I can’t share it without directly – but this was it:

“If babies don’t sin will we ever be holier than when we were babies”?

There’s a seriousness to this idea – that babies, who can’t know good or bad, can’t commit evil so we are at our absolute best the moment we are baptised, and it’s all downhill from there. It’s as if it would be better for us to say ‘give up’ before we even experienced life with its difficulties and trials and, inevitably, our bad decisions. Because, if we keep what we have, we keep that holiness that comes with Baptism – then we can’t besmirch our perfection.

But how, then, can we square that with what Peter (not St. Paul this week) write here. “…you should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait…”? The plain fact is, we can’t. Because if we only think about “holiness” as “avoiding bad things” then we fail to appreciate what God wants from us and fail to appreciate what Holiness really is.

Thank back to the Readings of the past few weeks. The man who hides what is given to him (the Parable of the talents) and the division of the sheep and goats – where the goats did not feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned etc – what do these passages reveal to us? I would suggest they show the positive obligations of ‘holiness’ and this completely flips the baby question on its head.

Yes there are things that we can do that lead us from holiness – and Peter warns us about this too, warning us to live without “spot or stain” so God, when he comes again will “find [us] at peace”. But, as I said earlier, babies can’t know good or bad. And while that means they cannot commit evil, that also means they are unable to share vitue, and thereby increase their holiness.

We have the ability to spread good to others, and in doing so increase our share in God’s holiness. During the season of Advent, in a year characterised by acts of kindness and sacrifices for the sake of love – a year that has very much seems like a thousand years for many – we must realise what St Peter is telling us: that we must live holy and saintly lives, and in doing so prepare for God’s great return.

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