What’s Wrong with Holy? December 10, 2023

December 14, 2023

 Year B, Advent 2                                                                                     2 Peter 3:8-15a                                                                                                   

            This year, I have been eager to get the
house decorated as soon as possible.
Typically I drag my feet as I have all this ambivalence about decorating
during Advent.  Advent is supposed to be
a season in and of itself.  That’s why we
don’t sing most Christmas carols during Advent or decorate the church until the
4th Sunday of Advent.  Then
again, I really like Christmas decorations, especially the lights during this
time of year when our days are short and the darkness sets in far too early. 

The best picture I could find of our Advent wreath.

year, I’ve been almost panicked about decorating.  As I was tearing apart boxes in the basement
because I had to find our Advent wreath in time for the first week in Advent
(even though I had never done that in a timely manner before), I found myself
wondering—why the rush? It wasn’t just a rush, I actually felt a little
panicked, like if I didn’t find this Advent wreath—baby Jesus would not be
born. Then I realized what my panic was really about, I wanted our new house to
feel like a home, and what better way to make it feel like a home than Christmas
decorations and an Advent wreath?   

            You know what Christians in the 1st
century were feeling a little panicked about? 
Maybe panic isn’t the right word. 
They were anxious about the fact that Jesus hadn’t returned.   Early Christians believed that Jesus would
return in their lifetime.  Before Jesus
left, he spoke to them of his return and it would have been natural for them to
assume that his return would be imminent. 
It would be like a good friend leaving and saying, “See you next time”
and then never returning.   By the time 2nd
Peter was written 50-60 years after Jesus was resurrected and ascended, most of
his followers had died and people were starting to wonder— if he hadn’t come
back yet, was he ever going to come back?

our reading for today, the author refers to the “scoffers”—those who were critical
of early Christians—who were questioning the legitimacy of the Christian faith
because Jesus had not returned.   That
was a real critique at that time and a difficult one to defend against.  The author of Peter was trying to help those
who were dealing with that critique.  

have heard a lot of criticisms of the Christian faith, but none are based in
the fact that Jesus has not yet returned. 
Christians are worried about a lot of things, but I haven’t met a single
one who is worried about Jesus’ return date. That is understandable, because
it’s been 2000 years.   We have stopped expecting that Jesus will return
in our lifetime.

            While I am glad that is no longer a
major concern, I worry that we have lost our sense of urgency.  We have lost the fire. One of the things that
motivated early Christians to be good and holy was the idea that Christ was
returning to judge the living and the dead. 
While we still talk about that final judgment, I doubt it’s a motivating
factor in our lives right now.  How many
of you, when you are faced with a moral dilemma, factor in God’s imminent return?  Anyone? I know I don’t.

            After Peter writes of the 2nd
coming and refers to everything dissolving into fire, he writes, “Since all
these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to
be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the
coming of the day of God?”  Forget the
fire and everything dissolving for a minute. 
Those images, while evocative can distract from the bigger point.  Instead focus on the question: “what sort of
person ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?”  What sort of people are we supposed to be?

people talk to me about what kind of person they strive to be, they typically
use words like good and kind.  Sometimes,
someone will use the word spiritual.  But
very very rarely (in fact, I am not sure it’s ever happened) has someone told
me that they want to live a holy and godly life.   I am not sure I have ever said that about myself
and I am a priest.   When we think of holy,
we think of objects and sometimes people like Jesus, or the pope.  However, typically when someone is using the
word holy to describe a person it comes with a modifier—holier than thou, or
a holy roller.  It’s rarely a compliment.
Why don’t we want to be holy anymore?

            The literal translation of holy in
Greek is to be set apart by or for God.  That’s
a problematic description.  Over the
years people have taken holy things and holy people and set them apart from the
common people.  People thought that holiness
needed to be protected, untainted. Therefore, your average person could not
possibly be close to that which was holy, let alone be holy.  We stopped striving for that. Sure, we could
be in a holy place, but we stopped thinking we could be a holy space ourselves.

            But consider the most holy person of
all, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ was born
to a human woman so that he could bring holiness to the people of the
earth.  The most holy being of all
dwelled in a woman’s uterus.  At the
time, child birth was considered unclean by Jewish purity laws.  Women were considered unclean after they gave
birth.  For the most holy being of all to
enter this world through an unclean process was revolutionary.  It was unimaginable.  That was how important it was to God that
people see holy not as a separate thing or person but as deeply connected to
every part of our lives.

            Holiness is not being separate, it’s
living in a way that we feel at home with God.  That means that wherever we are, whether we
are in church, at home, at work, in public transportation, we can feel at home
because we know God is present with us. 

            I was so stressed about having our
new house look like a home for Advent, that I missed the big picture.  It’s not about how we get our homes ready.  It’s not about how we are doing on our
Christmas shopping list. It’s about whether we are ready to be at home with
God.  Is there space in our hearts and
minds for God’s presence?  If you are
feeling frantic (as I am) about being ready, I want to encourage you to take
some time to consider how holiness is fitting into your life.  Where is the space for God in your soul? 

you think you can’t be holy, that you have too much sin, too much baggage…then
embrace the confession and the absolution we offer at the beginning of every
Advent service.  Read it every day.  Remind yourself that you are holy.  You are a temple and a sacred place.  But it is up to you to embrace the holiness
and allow others to witness that holiness in your.  It’s ok to feel panic and stress, but don’t
think you can only enjoy this season and time if everything is ready and
perfect.   It never will be.  That’s the things about holiness.  It doesn’t depend on our own perfection, it
depends on the space we create for God’s holiness (which means we have to let
go of our own need for perfection). We were each created to be holy, to be a
home for the divine.  I truly believe
that if we can embrace ourselves as holy beings, then we will always be ready
for the holy one.