Waiting and Hastening
It’s an odd juxtaposition, “waiting and hastening.” But that’s what the epistle lesson, II Peter 3: 8 – 15, for Advent II this coming Sunday, urges upon us.
Moreover, an article in yesterday’s New York Times on churches paying off the medical debts of those who cannot offers a pretty good example of what Advent’s paradox of “waiting and hastening” might look like. More on that in a moment.
“Waiting” is a big theme of Advent. In Advent Christians wait. Not for Christmas. Advent is not really the religious equivalent of “22 shopping days left to Christmas.” We await the coming future of God, the consummation of all things. Or as it is put in II Peter, “we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” We begin at the end.
The waiting part means that it’s not all in our hands (thank God). The future is the future of our God. The hastening part is that as we wait for the fulness of God’s “new heavens and a new earth” we hasten that day by action in our waiting.
Here’s Fleming Rutledge on this paradox:
“How can you wait and hasten at the same time? That . . . is the secret of the Christian life, knowing how to keep those two modes in creative tension, ‘waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God . . . [the] new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.’ This is so typical of Advent, the time of contrasts and opposites: darkness and light, good and evil, past and future, now and not-yet. Finding the right balance between waiting and hastening is the challenge of our existence in the body of Christ until he comes again. We might call it ‘action in waiting.'” from Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ
Yesterday we read, perhaps you did as well, of an organization that helps retire the accumulated medical debt of those laboring under its crushing burden. That organization is called “RIP Medical Debt.”
When Vanessa Matos and her husband opened a letter saying that their medical debt had been purchased, that is paid off, by RIP Medical Debt she thought it was a scam, but it wasn’t. It was for real. RIP Medical Debt is working with congregations across the country to purchase the medical debt that burdens so many people.
Here’s the silver lining. Purchasing debt in this way is a great deal. You can buy someone’s debt at $1 for a $100 of medical debt. The article explains how and why. But the economics of it make our participation not just an act of mercy, but a wise investment.
Is this the solution for a broken health care system? No. Laws and policies need to change. We wait for that as we wait the future that God surely promises and will bring. (Hopefully, policy change will happen sooner than the Second Coming!) But in the meantime, we hasten that coming by living toward God’s future.
That’s the deal with Advent. We live, friends, between the already (Christ has come, the new age has begun) and the not-yet (Christ will come again in final glory, his work to complete). And as we wait, our lives and actions may point toward and bear witness to God’s reign, to those “new heavens and new earth, where righteousness is at home.”