The Must Have Holiday Gift
Every year it seems there is a must have gift. The first I remember was cabbage patch dolls. Then there was Tickle Me Elmo. Play Station 2 was big another year. This year according to St. James it's patience.
We need patience till the Lord comes, and that's a tall order. In the last recorded Words of Jesus He says, "Behold I am coming soon!" That was about 1900 years ago. Does that fit your definition of soon? How many Advent services have you heard that Jesus could be here any day? How many times have you heard Jesus is closer than He ever was before?
Well Advent is back and Jesus is not, and we are expected to wait patiently. We aren't to be anxious or troubled at His delay; neither are we let down our guard and think His return is a long time in coming. We are to expect Him at any moment and not be discouraged even if He doesn't come for centuries more.
But the Lord is by no means the only one trying our patience, so do people around us. The store clerk who can't seem to ring up the sale properly. The mechanic who says, "We fixed everything but" The child we have to tell something to a 150 times. The spouse who keeps forgetting. The teenager who can't remember. The boss who complains and complains. The relative who picks and picks. With all these God expects us to be patient. But we aren't, are we? We may have a t-shirt that says, "Be patient; God is not finished with me yet," but we expect Him have finished with everyone else we know. There is just no excuse for the incompetence we see in others. Why should we tolerate poor performance in people we know can do better?
Let's face it. There's not a patient cell in our bodies. Any patience we do show to God or others is on our good, usually our very good, days. But when the car won't start or the kids have the flu or our head hurts, watch out! Then the word patient is not in our vocabulary. Outraged, upset, and fed-up are. Patience doesn't well up from within us naturally. It must come from outside. It must be given to us. It's the must have gift this Christmas.
God certainly is patient. Look how He has been patient with you. James says, "The Judge is standing at the door." Imagine that. Judge Jesus is no more than a door's thickness away from you. He hears what goes on in your family room, your classroom, your bedroom, your office. The Lord is right outside the door when you're venting your self-justified rage against your child or spouse. He's right outside the door when you tell that clerk what he can do with his excuses. Along with everyone else standing nearby, Jesus hears what you say to him. And even if you say nothing aloud, the Lord hears your heart, and in impatience it isn't saying thump, thump, thump.
The Lord hears you sinning from the other side of the door, and look how patient He is with you! He doesn't rip the door off the hinges and grab you by the throat. How many times this week alone could the Lord have stormed into your life and made you pay for your sins? But He didn't, did He? The Lord is patient with you. Although He has told you a thousand and one times, don't worry; don't misuse My name; do come to church; don't lust, do be loving; don't be greedy, He bears patiently with your failing. Jesus puts up with our incompetence, mistakes, forgetting, complaining, whining, and our impatience.
The Lord is patient with you and with everyone around you. 2 Peter 3:9, says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." James says that He is patient for the sake of the harvest just like a farmer. Farmers in Palestine have rain in fall and spring. The spring rain softens the ground for planting. The fall rain ripens the plants for harvest. If the farmer is impatient and plants before the spring rain, the seeds might not germinate. If he is impatient and harvests before the fall rain, the fruit is not mature.
So the reason the Lord hasn't returned for us yet is for the sake of the rest of the harvest. The reason the Church has waited for centuries is the Lord wants to bring in the full harvest. Once the Lord returns no more can be saved. What if one of the last to ripen into faith is your child, grandchild, spouse, parent, or friend? Wouldn't you gladly be patient with the Lord if you knew His delay was for the sake of a loved one? That may or may not be the case, but in any case, the Lord loves every sheaf yet to be harvested much more than we do our loved ones.
The patience of the Lord doesn't flow from weakness or wishy-washiness. He isn't condoning sin when He doesn't smash down the door and damn it. He is showing that He is full of compassion and mercy for sinners like us. When James says the Lord is full of compassion, he doesn't use the ordinary word for compassion. He uses a word that intensifies the basic idea of compassion. It can be translated, "tenderhearted," or "filled with pity." The Lord is not trying to torment us by not returning as soon as we would like. He isn't playing with us. Getting our hopes in December only to smash them in January. That would be contrary to His overflowing with compassion and pity for us.
It would also be contrary to the mercy James says Jesus is also overflowing with. Again James doesn't use the usual word for mercy. He uses a word which describes a tender affection that is even stronger than mercy. It's derived from the Greek word for pity and the exclamation "oh!" (Vine, 404). Think of the times we are moved to pity at the plight of someone or even some animal. The involuntary "oh" that escapes our heart sometimes is always in God's heart for us in Jesus' name.
This heart full of compassion, full of pity is what moved God the Father to say to His only begotten Son, "Go into the sinful world and take the place of sinners. Go pick up their obligation to keep My laws and go pick up their sins. Although you will keep My laws perfectly, I want You to go bear their punishment. I would rather punish You instead of them. I'd rather You not them pay for their sins." That's the depth of the compassion and pity the Lord has for us, for all people. If you had such compassion and mercy for someone, how could you not be incredibly patient with them?
The God who is so patient with us and others, can give us patience. Patience is not an ability you practice till you master it. Patience is not a function of the intellect. You can't reason yourself into being patient. Oh you can try, but wait till your 3 year old or your 12 year old or your spouse of 20 years does something totally unreasonable.
Patience, the must have gift this year, God gives to us the same way He gave it to the prophets. What but a gift from God could keep the prophets patiently waiting for the first coming of Jesus for thousands of years? Year after year, decade after decade, century after century no virgin conceived, no birth in Bethlehem, no Savior. They waited for the first coming they way you and I wait for His second. They too saw a world decaying. They too saw needless suffering and painful tragedies in their own lives and in others. But for thousands of years they believed and patiently waited for God to fulfill His promises.
Patience with God is never disappointed. Who has ever waited on God and complained about the results? Job didn't complain when the Lord restored to him double for all that he lost. The prophets didn't complain when they died for the faith they proclaimed. In fact, they're still singing the Lord's praises in heaven to this very day. What the Lord finally brings about is always more than worth waiting for and is always more than anybody hoped for.
Patience to wait on God is a must have gift this year; thankfully it's a gift God gives. He gives us it by telling us of His great compassion and mercy for us. Such great compassion and mercy can only mean that His delays can only be for our good. How much easier to wait patiently when we know we're waiting for something good? And patience isn't a solo gift. Isaiah says with it God gives renewed strength to soar with eagles, to run and not be weary, to walk and not be faint.
But wait a minute? Where's my gift of being patient with others? Isn't that what is most needed in a season that can be so frustrating? Where does this sort of patience come from? If you have patience with God, you will have patience with others. When we don't have patience with others, it means that we are losing patience with God. The only remedy for that is to see His great, extraordinary, over the top patience with you.
When you find yourself losing patience with other people, rather than trying to manufacture a patient feeling in yourself, go back to your Baptism where the Lord patiently rebirths you each day; go back to your Absolution where your Lord never tires of sending your sins away from you; go back to your Communion where Jesus patiently gives you His Body for Bread and His Blood for wine to nourish patience in you. From God in Christ's great patience with you, your patience with others will flow.
Luther said, "[M]y whole life is nothing else but mere patience" (This is Luther, 256) and "It hurts to have patience and wait for the end" (LW, 7, 202). Our sinful flesh doesn't want to be patient, can't be patient, and fights against patience always. Yet how many places does our Lord encourage it? "Be still and know that I am God." "Wait on the Lord be of good courage and wait on the Lord." "Be content with such things as you have." Only the God of patience, as Romans 15 calls Him, can give patience, and He does so in every sin of ours He forgives, in every wrong of ours He forgets, and in every failing of ours He fails to see. So don't leave here without this gift. There's plenty to go around: the font, the chalice, the Word overflow with patience. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Advent (20131215); James 5: 7-11