Another Advent Reality Check: Patience Truly is a Virtue
Lessons: Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-11, Matthew 11:2-11
Hymns (from Christian Worship and CW: Supplement): 275, 751, 16, 14
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
It is said that patience is a virtue. Some attribute this insight to the Chinese. Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman of “Carthage must be destroyed” fame, is also credited with a similar statement. Cato is in agreement with the Holy Spirit. Patience is a virtue, or, to use the Biblical term, a fruit of faith. Paul includes it in that list of qualities and characteristics that define and identify the Christian: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
James, the brother of Jesus, the author of this epistle named after him, also agrees. Or, better, through him, the Holy Spirit repeated that message. Repeatedly in James 5:7-11 Christians are called to be patient, to wait, to stand firm, to persevere. James writes: Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
Here’s our third Advent reality check: Patience truly is a virtue, not an option. As we wait for Christ to come, as we turn our eyes to the true, real, revealed, and entire Christ, we live patiently. With which most of us admittedly struggle. How patient are you on hold? In line at the store? With incompetence? With someone who isn’t your favorite person? With your favorite people? Answer: Usually not very. And usually that’s just kind of blown off: It is what it is. This is who I am. I’m just an impatient person. That may be what it is and who you are, but that’s not consistent with your faith. Faith without deeds is dead, James wrote. Paul tells us that patience is indeed one of those deeds of a living faith by which we see that a man is justified.
Today James puts patience in an Advent perspective. It’s eschatological patience that flows into our entire lives. He says, Be patient then until the Lord’s coming. Hold on, bear up, stand fast, because no matter how bad things are, no matter how much you get taken advantage of or hurt, when Christ comes, whether you’re living or long dead, your faith will be vindicated. The dead will be raised and the faithful will be taken up with Christ into heaven. What more do you need? That outweighs all sources of impatience.
James then connects it to two major problems in the life of the Christian. He says be patient as you put up with troubles from the outside, especially remembering that this has happened before, it has been this bad. Whether it’s the rich oppressors James described in the previous verses who used their wealth to take advantage of the less fortunate; whether it’s the persecutors who put the prophets and apostles to death; whether it’s the devil who took away Job’s family, children, house, possessions, and health; or whether it’s whatever it is that is pushing your buttons towards impatience and irritation, towards unfaithfulness to Christ, no matter what it is, that has not invalidated Christ and His promises. He said simply, In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
And at first, this creates great camaraderie among Christians. Sharing troubles initially creates a siege mentality that allows us to buck up under pressure. We unite, as America did after 9-11. But very quickly, that spirit dies. And so James warns, Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. It has also been said that every revolution eats its own children. One generation of revolutionary leaders get executed by the next. Witness the incredible fracturing into parties, sects, divisions, and denominations of the Christian Church after the Reformation. Or see it in cults, as there are now at least 12 different Mormon groups all claiming to be the true successor to Joseph Smith. All they have in common is hating each other. So quickly, we turn on each other. We hold grudges against each other. We treat strangers better than brothers and sisters in Christ. We treat co-workers better than spouses. We treat neighbor’s kids better than ours. We get impatient with them. We grumble against them. Sadly, familiarity does breed contempt.
This should not be. And if it is, it comes not from faith. It’s not a reflection of the Advent joy that is ours in Christ. And so we must do what Jesus pointed John’s disciples to do – read the Word, look at Christ, and by faith, figure things out. The prophet Isaiah said, Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you…. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. The LORD is coming. He’s preparing a road to heaven. But only the redeemed will walk there. Only the ransomed will return. Not the impatient. Not the grudge-holders. Not those who take the judging power of the LORD into their own hands.
Thus we repent, we turn wholly to God, as we realize that there’s no time for this garbage. Because His coming is near! The Judge is standing at the door! We have no time for petty squabbles. We have no time for holding grudges, having grudges, creating grudges. And there’s no reason for them, our Advent joy removes this! So much of our impatience, so much of our grumbling against each other is because we haven’t let our reality be checked by Christ. What does James say about Him today?
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Just as the farmer waits for the seasonal rains, we wait patiently for the Lord to provide. The autumn rains loosen up the ground for planting. The spring rains sustain the growing crops for the dry season. Thus provides our God. He provides water at the beginning, middle, and end of our life. He brought us to life in water – the water of our mother’s womb. Then He brought us to real life in the waters of Baptism, there clothing us with Christ our Savior. Then He provides water daily up until the very moment we die. And wherever we are the waters of our Baptism follow us, so that we might drown our sins once more and rise up renewed in Christ, resurrected with Him who died and rose for us.
Then James says, We consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Job’s story is well known, both the beginning and the end. God allowed Satan to take everything from Job but His life. And at the end, we read, The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. Because the LORD is full of compassion and mercy, and Christ is that compassion and mercy in the flesh. Christ is the Redeemer Job knew was alive, whom Job knew He would see with His own eyes. Christ is the God who came and gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute, movement to the paralyzed, life to the dead. Who Himself rose from the dead, our Redeemer, with our sins paid for, our death died, our life in His hands. Who has given us every reason to be patient. He has been patient with us from the beginning of time, seeing our sins in His foreknowledge, dying for those sins in our time, preparing a house for us in heaven in eternity. And it’s almost here. Yes, I am coming soon, He says. You’ve waited this long. You can wait just a little longer. Amen.