Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

Text: James 5:7-8
Be patient, then, my brothers, until the Lord comes. See how patient the farmer is as he waits for his land to produce precious crops. He waits patiently for the autumn and spring rains. You also must be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord's coming is near.

Be patient!

A pastor was making a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was pounding away, he noticed that a little boy was watching him. The youngster didn't say a word, so the preacher kept on working, thinking the lad would leave. But he didn't. The little boy just stood there watching patiently as bit by bit the trellis took shape.

Admiring the boy’s quiet patience, the pastor finally said, "Well son, you have been patiently standing there for quite some time, trying to pick up some pointers on how to build a wooden trellis?"
"No," he replied. "I'm just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer."

Patience is
looking for a parking spot at the shopping centre during the lead up to Christmas;
waiting at a fast lane check out at the supermarket when the person in front has an item that requires a price check;
waiting for a teenager to come home after a night out.

In our text today James is encouraging us to be patient. Patience is a quality we admire in the driver behind us as we have several goes at reverse parking but one we can't stand in the driver in front of us who is just dawdling along.

There are many things that encourage us to be impatient and to demand instant action. There is medication that promises "fast, fast relief," and there are Express Mail Deliveries, emails and text messages that can be answered instantly, microwave dinners, instant cake mixes, instant information through computer technology, online shopping from anywhere in the world with fast deliveries. And if we don't get action within a reasonable time we get annoyed.

Be patient, says today's text. "Be patient until the coming of the Lord". This is a thought found elsewhere in the New Testament. Galatians lists patience as one of the fruits of the Spirit. Paul in Colossians states, "May you be strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience" (1.11). And later in Colossians we read, "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, cloth yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience".

And of course there are many examples of both patience and impatience in the Bible. Moses' patience came to an end when he caught the people of Israel in idolatry worshipping the golden calf. He threw down the stone tablets on which the law was written, smashing them into a million pieces. And also, he impatiently struck the rock when the people of Israel were again, true to form, impatiently complaining of their thirst. And for that, Moses lost his privilege of entering into the Promised Land.

I guess, if we examine the Bible's understanding of patience we would discover several aspects of that word. One of them implies a bearing up under suffering and evil. In other words, being longsuffering. James in our text refers to the prophets who though speaking God's Word nevertheless suffered at the hands of those who had no time for their message. We often speak of the "patience of Job", coping in spite of extreme suffering. This kind of patience is often required of us too when pain and grief come our way. We don't know why these things happen to us and what God has in mind at this point in time, but we are urged to be patient and to remember that in spite of everything that has happened, God's care and love for us is still the same. Patience, the patience that is spoken of by James today is not some limp, sweet sense of polite resignation saying: "We'll just have to be patient, to sit and wait until something happens?

Patience, Christian patience, is that quiet, but clench-fisted confidence
that God lives,
that God acts,
that God cares,
that God loves,
and that even though we may not feel his presence in our lives, nevertheless he is always there and in his own time we will see him move into our circumstances and make a difference. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But be sure he will act.

Patience is closely connected to hope. Without patience we would lose hope, become discouraged, prematurely defeated. Patience gives us the ability to keep on hoping even when all hope seems to have vanished. Patience enables us to endure because we have a certain hope that with God everything will turn out okay. Patience believes that God has not abandoned us and we wait for the day when God will bring about change in our lives. Like the wife who patiently prayed for over 50 years for her husband to trust and believe in Jesus, she never gave up hope that God would soften his hardened heart. Her patient and persistent was answered just weeks before he suddenly died.

During the Nazi and then communist regimes in Latvia the Christian church was limited in its activities according to communist laws. There were few pastors and the official membership of the church declined. Yet the day Communism lifted its grip on Latvia, as if out of nowhere, Christian communities appeared – Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal – churches were restored and built. Christians openly worked together and were given the right to conduct religious education in the public schools. For fifty years, those Christians had been secretly celebrating their faith, teaching their children, witnessing, praying.

A visitor to Latvia asked, "How in God's name were you able to do it?"

"Well," replied a Latvian Christian, "fifty years is a long time, but not an eternity. We always managed to take the long view."

And the long view is that teeth-clenched patience the Latvians were sure that God would in his own time and in his own way deliver his people. They patiently waited for the day when their religious freedom would be restored.

And that leads me to another aspect of patience. Patience also implies steadfastness, waiting it out, or in modern jargon, "hanging in there" and persisting. William Wilberforce "hung in there" for over 20 years campaigning to end slavery. A Bill to abolish slavery in the colonies was passed as he lay on his death bed.  Slavery ended because Wilberforce was patient and persistent in his determination.

This kind of steadfast patience can also mean putting up with unfortunate and even intolerable circumstances. This can be seen in our relationships with one another. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and is listed along with love, joy, peace, kindness, compassion, self-control. If others irritate us we can sure that we are irritating others too, by our habits and attitudes. The Bible encourages us to be patient with one another and not allow impatience leads us to grumbling, bitterness or resentment. In the power of the Spirit we are patient with one another and make allowances for one another's weaknesses and annoying habits. Simply, we "hang in there" and don't give up on people even if they are really annoying at times.

In today's Gospel we see John the Baptist confused about the Messiah and impatient with Jesus. John had preached fiery and energetic sermons about being ready for the Messiah and that the Messiah will bring fire and judgement and final deliverance. He was waiting for Jesus to act, but he hears only of a Messiah who loves sinners, keeps company with all kinds of undesirable people, and has children sitting on his knee. Instead of bringing judgement as John expected, Jesus demonstrated God's patience with his people and gives them every opportunity to believe and trust in the One sent by God and have everlasting life.

In fact, as we read the Bible we marvel at the extreme patience of God as he persists in carrying out his plan of salvation from the very early days of the history of the human race to the completion of that plan in the birth, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Over the thousands of years that it takes for God to carry out his plan, he displays amazing patience in the face of the persistent rebellion of his people.

That patience of God has not diminished in any way today. He is as patient with us as he has been throughout the history of the world. He sees us daily turn away from his will; he even sees us deliberately make choices that are dead against everything he wants for us but his patience - his steadfastness and his commitment to us is unparalleled. He made a covenant with us at our baptism that daily Christ's cross would make us right and clean and he is sticking by that.

James in his letter is calling his readers to patience. "You also must be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord's coming is near". The early Christians were sure that Jesus was returning soon, exactly when they didn't know, but soon. But in the meantime they were to wait patiently, to be longsuffering and steadfast, "hanging in there" filled with faith until he comes again.

Remember from your childhood when your mother was talking busily with one of her friends, or taking a long time doing something and you were becoming restless. And your mother said to you, "Be patient!" What she meant by that was - sit there quietly for a bit longer, stop complaining, don't touch anything, don't get into any trouble, I won't be much longer (really meaning, I will come when I am ready)! That's not what James means when he tells us to be patient here in his letter today. He is not telling us to be passive, to do nothing, to sit on our hands or to twiddle our thumbs until Christ comes again.

He is telling us to be steadfast in faith and hope and good works. In spite of all the ups and downs of life we have a Saviour who cares for us and who lifts us up and strengthens our weary feet as we seek to serve.
Be steadfast in your conviction that Christ is your Saviour, steadfast in your hope of eternal life, steadfast in your service to one another.
"Hang in there", be long-suffering when things aren't going well for you in these last days before Christ comes.
Take the bigger picture as the Latvian Christians did in their time of trial. There will be an end to it. But in the meantime be as patient as the farmer who is waiting for his land to produce precious crops. He can't hurry the season along. He can't make the sun to shine or the rain to fall. He must simply wait patiently. And so James also says,
"You also must be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord's coming is near.

The prophet Isaiah talks about waiting - to wait you need patience. Let me finish with his fantastic words on patience.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.
They shall rise up on wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary.
They shall walk and not be faint.

And that, my friends, is worth waiting for!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
12th December 2010

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