Third Sunday of Advent: Revealed by Fire
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
A few months ago, a room of elementary school students laughed me down.
I was presenting at chapel at Pittsburgh Urban Christian School when it happened. I started by asking them about their most precious possessions—beloved toys, baseball bats, souvenirs from important trips. “What would you do,” I asked, “if that thing—your favorite thing—broke? Would you throw it away?”
“Noooooo!” they responded, a bit insulted. What kind of heartless children does he think we are?
“Great,” I said. “So let’s talk about God. Please stop me if I get any part of God’s story wrong. Let me know if I say anything that doesn’t make sense or seems like something our God would not do.”
I began: “In the beginning, God created everything—the heavens and the earth and everything in the heavens and in the earth.”
Yes, they seemed to agree with their silence. We’ve heard this before.
“Then, the creatures God made used their powers to abuse and damage everything God made.”
Uh huh, they nodded. We know this too.
“And then, God destroyed everything God made.”
”NOOOOOOO!” they screamed. “WHAT?!”
The richest part was that they laughed. They had never heard anything so ridiculous.
I couldn’t be heard over their laughter. They literally laughed me down. From the mouths of babes, the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.
One way to read 2 Peter 3 is to hear that God is going to destroy the earth—annihilate it. A quick search will show that biblical scholars are not sure which word to use here. With a roar everything will be...destroyed? Dissolved? Consumed? Revealed? Not only are these words significantly different from each other in meaning, they lead to significantly different futures. Different worlds. Different hopes.
What a difference a word makes.
If it is true that God is going to destroy the creation, two other things are also true. One, God throws away things God made when they break. And two, don’t get attached, because it’s all going to leave you. Don’t love or appreciate or enjoy anything outside of yourself. Do not take the time to learn or explore. Take up no hobby or interest or fascination. Do not allow yourself to take any delight in the world—any real or true pleasure. It will leave you one day. It’s all gonna burn.
And speaking of burning...
My young friends and I set fire to two things that morning of my chapel presentation. One was a piece of tissue paper. It burned spectacularly, quickly, completely. Literal incineration. There was nothing left.
The second was a ball of tin foil wrapped in tissue paper. Again, the tissue paper was gone in a moment, but then—the second fire left a sparkling multi-faceted jewel. It was cool to the touch.
I asked the children which example illustrated what God was going to do at the Second Advent.
They looked back at me with all the patience and understanding children can muster for slow adults.
Because they also knew this: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Annihilation. Reconciliation. Redemption. What a difference a word makes.
Advent is the perfect time to try something desperate. Might we try hoping for something more grand and more good than we have previously dared to hope for? What happens to our hope and anticipation for the future when we allow ourselves to imagine Jesus returning and restoring everything? Is it possible that, thus far, we have only been enjoying the world on a flat tire? On run-down batteries?
We are what we hope for.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Dave Bindewald is Director of the Center for Play & Exploration. He served on CCO staff for 10 years, ministering to students at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University and serving as a Partnership Coordinator.