3 Advent Proper A3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
James 5:7-10 Sermon
December 12, 2010
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
8 "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates"
10 "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns"
1 "Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding"
13 "Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending"
PATIENCE MY CHILDREN
TEXT: ď 7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lordís 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. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lordís coming is near. 9 Donít grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! 10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.Ē
As I was studying our Scripture lessons for this Sunday, I found it quite interesting that our Epistle reading appointed for this day was this little snippet out of the final chapter of the Epistle of James. It's an exhortation to be patient. Now what an appropriate thing to be hearing just before Christmas!
As Christmas comes just around the corner, perhaps we all need a few reminders concerning patience. As for myself, Christmas is one of the more demanding times of the year. And as I think back over the activities of just this past week that I have personally encountered, I have been almost ready to tear my hair out a number of times. And I still can't figure out exactly where I've found the patience I've needed.
In times of stress, patience can indeed be a virtue. Taking things as they happen, one day at a time, is just about all that we can do. "Be patient and stand firm" is what James writes in our Epistle for today.
We need patience in many areas of our life. Think about the amount of patience we need when we have to wait an extra half-hour for dinner or wait for a pizza to be delivered when our stomach is growling. Perhaps we have had to wait through three light changes at a busy intersection when we're running late for something. Or maybe we have had to spend time waiting in a queue at the supermarket when we need to get home with the groceries. Or maybe that first pot of coffee in the morning just isn't brewing fast enough. Yes, we need patience in those everyday little things that are part of our normal living experience.
But when Christmas time comes around, then we see patience needed in several areas. Parents need to find that little bit of extra patience when children dictate their Christmas list for the umpteenth time, to the point that mother and dad have it memorized backwards.
And then we find the children. The Christmas tree is up, and the presents are underneath, tantalizing the kids as they systematically pick each one up and shake it, trying to figure out what's in them--and they are doing this every time they walk by. We'll find kids snooping closets and other out-of-the-way places searching for suspicious looking boxes. But the thing that seems to require the most patience is the night before Christmas, trying to get children to sleep, and then trying to put together that "easy to assemble" toy with the directions written in broken English.
I could probably go on a lot longer about those various things that take patience, and that try our patience. But it is safe to say that patience is one of those things that we all need, and that most of us could use more of. So the message of the day today is, be patient. Regardless of who you are, or how young or old you are, God is looking at us and saying, "Patience, My Children."
It might surprise you just how common the subject of patience is in Scripture. The word "patience" is used 48 times in the Bible, "forbearance," which carries much the same concept, is used another 31 times, and there are other areas that directly allude to the concept of being patient.
Patience is, of course, a Christian virtue. I think that one of the things that continually points up that we are sinful human beings, is that we lose our patience. Patience comes in greater or lesser degrees in everybody, but we all have that breaking point where our patience can take no more. We break. We lose our cool. And many times, we just can't help it. Our blood just seems to boil, and off we go!
James comes up with several good examples of patience. "Look at the farmer," he says. A farmer plants a seed, and then he waits. He waits for the rains to water it. But regardless of how patient or impatient a farmer is, the seed must take its own good time to sprout, to grow, and for the plant to mature and produce a crop. Certainly fertilizer and irrigation can help the process, but being impatient for a seed to grow does absolutely no good. The seed isn't going to germinate any faster because the farmer is impatient. Impatience doesn't make the rain to fall or the sun to shine. The only thing that impatience will yield for the farmer is ulcers and misery.
And likewise for the rest of us, impatience generally doesn't do anybody any good. In fact, a demonstration of impatience can have the reverse effect. Speaking for myself, when somebody is pushing me, I tend to get flustered. I will balk, or make mistakes, or otherwise go slower. I think this can happen to any of us.
And we also have the tendency to react negatively when dealing with an impatient individual. So, when we ourselves are impatient or start to get irritated, then the only person that we're really harming is ourselves, and perhaps those around us. Impatience generally breeds misery.
But again, our Epistle lesson for today is very clear. "Be patient, and stand firm." These are good words to live by and perhaps remember at those times when we are tempted to lose our cool and fly off the handle.
And why should we do this? "Because the Lord is near," writes James. "The Lord is coming soon! The Judge is standing at the door!" So why should this make a difference in how patient we are?
I believe that as Christians, we are to always be looking ahead to the future. We live our lives with the hope of heaven always before us. So when life's little problems seem to grow ever larger and increase, then we wish for that hope of heaven to come to us all the sooner. But we are to be patient for that time.
We see many people who, when faced with difficulties of this life, and they can see no way out, will choose to commit suicide. In fact, Mark Madoff, the eldest son of Bernie Madoff did that very thing yesterday. As you recall, Bernie Madoff bilked people out of billions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme, and is now in his second year of a 150 year prison sentence. Even though he and his brother were the ones to blow the whistle on their father, the continuing investigation and negative publicity of the family was not good. Add to that the problems in his immediate family, the scandalous family name, and his difficulty finding employment was all just too much for him. He hanged himself in his New York SoHo apartment with a dog leash.
Suicide is the ultimate form of impatience with this life. People don't wish to allow the Lord to work things out with them, and so they invite death for themselves. And we all know how wrong that is. This is the kind of impatience that can lead to eternal perdition.
But impatience is something that's always with us, isn't it? It seems that no matter how hard we try to control ourselves, we become impatient, and probably every day! Teachers lose patience with children that don't want to learn. And it seems that you can't even jump in the car and go somewhere without another driver somewhere along the line trying our patience. Oh yes, we must have patience in all areas of our life!
So we need to take this idea and apply it to ourselves. Sure, we can have heaps of patience. But how many times have we, through our own sinful actions, made others lose their patience? How many times has it been our fault for somebody else losing their cool? We may be fully ready to try to control our own temper, but are we willing to look at our behavior in such a way that we don't cause others to lose their composure? Are we the person causing someone else to sin by our neglect or willful misconduct?
This idea of patience is a two-way street! The Apostle Paul illustrates this fact in Ephesians chapter 6 when he writes, "Children, obey your parents." This is clearly a command that, among other things, children are not to willfully try the patience of their parents. Fair enough.
But then, Paul immediately throws a responsibility right back on the parents when he writes, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children." Parents are not to try the patience of their children either. Instead, children are to brought up, as Paul continues in Ephesians 6, "in the training and instruction of the Lord."
It would do us well to take our instructions in patience using the Lord himself as an example. In Psalm chapter 103 verses 8-13, we find out just how patient God is. We read: "8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him."
I guess that if we want to find out what patience really is, then all we need to do is to look at the Lord, who has heaps of it. When we look at ourselves, and look at the Lord, don't you think that the Lord should be the one getting upset with us? How in the world should this holy and perfect God tolerate some of the things we do? Look at our sinful selves! Why should God tolerate and be so patient with the likes of you and me?
But God is indeed patient, way beyond what we deserve. The Psalmist says that God doesn't deal with us according to our sins. It's that way for all true believers in Jesus Christ. We see God dealing with Jesus according to our sins. God, in his righteous and just way, uses Jesus as our scapegoat. And since he does this, then God promises not to deal with us according to our sins. He promises to be patient with us and give us that salvation in Jesus' name that we don't deserve.
It's in Jesus name then, with that idea of forgiveness and new life, that we take a new look at everything. We see a patient and loving and forgiving God who is dealing with us. And when we deal with others, it's with this thought in mind. We then are motivated to deal with other people in the same way that God deals with us; patiently and lovingly. The patience of God is the patience for which we pray.
Our Epistle lesson from James this morning is a good reminder that we are to do just that. We are to deal with others the same way God deals with us. James writes, "Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged." And it's always so easy, isn't it? When we lose our patience with someone else, then we tend to grumble against them. We are tempted, even though we may say that we forgive them, to kind of go into a slow burn, ready to blow our cork at any moment.
But as Christians, we are not to do that. God doesn't do that with us. God doesn't sit there and go into a slow burn when we do wrong; rather he keeps on being patient, forgiving us, and loving us. He keeps patiently leading us time after time to the cross every time we have sinned, and keeps reassuring us that we are forgiven for all our wrongs.
But what about when things really go wrong? James hastens to remind us about the example of the prophets. Here were people who had every right to be impatient with other people. They were persecuted, jailed, beaten, tortured, and mocked because of the words they were speaking. They had every right to be discouraged and impatient with people. But they kept on doing what they had to do. They kept on in a spirit of patience. Even when the going got rough, they kept true to the Word of God.
So, how is our patience holding out? Sometimes it is going to be easier than other times to display patience. People often lose their patience, as Moses did with the Israelites, as Jonah did with the Ninevites, as the disciples did with the Canaanite woman, and as Martha did with Mary. Like it was with these great figures of Scripture, so we also know that as sinful human beings, our patience is going to wear thin. But knowing that we can lose our patience is no excuse for actually losing it.
As the days of Christmas get closer and closer, I believe that we all need this little reminder of patience. Christmas can be overshadowed with tempers and impatience. But as we look at the celebration, let's see beyond the earthly things that would cause us to be angry. Let's look and see that we have a very patient and loving God behind the whole scene. Let's look to God, who has been so patient with us, that he lovingly placed his only son in a stable in Bethlehem, so that we would not be condemned by our impatience and sin, but saved through that baby Jesus Christ by God's patient and loving grace, through that faith he continually gives us and nurtures within us.
As we seek to live our lives patterned after God's patience, let's always remember to be patient with others, not grumble about others, and not be the cause of others losing patience.
May God grant us a happy, peaceful, and patient Christmas season for Jesus' sake.