For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Schlimm's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

Nowadays, if we hear the word "holy" outside church, it’s usually in the expression “holier than thou.” The phrase is reserved for pompous religious know-it-alls who think they’re better at Christianity than everyone else. The title fits individuals who desperately need to re-read what the Bible says about humility.

As a seminary professor, I’ve seen my share of people with holier-than-thou attitudes, and it’s never pretty. Spend time with these individuals, and you find yourself wanting to go sin just to distance yourself from them.

It’s unfortunate that the word “holy” is caught up in a phrase with such negative connotations, because the word “holy” refers to what’s beautiful, sacred, immaculate, and pure. When the author of 2 Peter tells readers to be holy, he isn’t saying, “Start acting like you’re better than everyone else.” He’s not saying, “Pray in public with fancy words.” He’s not wishing that his readers would draw attention to themselves.

He’s saying that the day of the Lord is coming, and we should live in such a way that we feel at home in God’s presence. Advent is less about making our homes ready for Christmas, and more about making ourselves ready to be at home with God.

Matthew Schlimm

Matthew Schlimm is professor of Old Testament at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. He has written several books, including This Strange and Sacred Scripture and 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know.

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