A reflection on 2 Peter 3:8-13 for the season of Advent
The American writer Janet Lewis is best known for her novel “The Wife of Martin Guerre” but I’d like to share with you her poem “The Candle Flame”
I feel myself like the flame Of a candle fanned By every passionate claim, Flickering fast, Or brought to an upright stand In the curve of a hand. There is nothing certain, nothing steady About the mind That can so alter and wind Itself in sorrow and mood, And be ever ready To change like the leaves in a wood. And what of our loyalty? That would turn, alas, To a flickering vagrancy, The shadow of grass, Were it not for the certain ever-recurring calm Of the unknown sheltering palm.
Here Lewis brings together several things that resonate with our service tonight, with our candles, our reflections, and our reading from Scripture
We have lit candles to represent hope, the light of the world, the Christ we remember and wait for in this Advent season. We lit these candles against the background of the darkness into which Christ comes, the darkness of human suffering and of human sin.
And the light of Christ, of our risen and ascended brother Jesus, is the light of hope, of a promise, of faith in the loyalty of the God Jesus reveals, that Jesus is, who has promised us that our pain, our death, our separation from the God who alone is good, that all this will have an end.
Light, hope, loyalty: Lewis brings these things together in the image of a candle sheltered in an unknown palm.
The images in our Scripture reading, in the towering apocalyptic prose of second Peter, are altogether less comfortable, less domestic, but they speak into vary similar concerns but reach towards the culmination rather than dwelling in the difficult waiting time when we must seek the unseen shelter of God’s unknown hand.
The letter reminds us that what seems like slowness to us is not slow in God’s time: a thousands years is but a day. It tells us that God’s delay in bringing our trials to an end is merciful, not thoughtless: it allows us time to prepare ourselves. It likens that day of the Lord to a flame that melts away all that is wrong and false clearing the way for the creation of new heaven and new earth, of that world in which all the darkness we have confronted tonight is banished.
Until that day comes, the day when God’s promises are made good, when our faith is vindicated and all is remade, the human condition will continue to be one dominated by sin and death. Yet Peter reminds us we know what kind of people we ought to be “in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day”.
It can be hard, confronted with the ills of the world and our own struggles, to keep our eyes on the Kingdom, to yearn for and believe in the possibility of a world where injustice, war, poverty, disease and death are put behind us, where peace reigns and all is well. The mind, as Lewis puts it: “can so alter and wind itself in sorrow and mood and be ever ready to change like the leaves in the wood”.
When this happens our only recourse is to look for the “certain ever-recurring calm of the unknown sheltering palm”, to trust in God’s promise and cast ourselves on God’s merciful grace.
In the name of Christ Jesus, our Saviour, who was, who is, who will come again.