2022 Advent III

Jimmy JoAdvent, SermonsLeave a Comment

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as 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.

James 5: 7-11

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, which means that it’s only two more weeks until Christmas.  I am sure that many of you are getting more and more excited as we approach Christmas.  For many, it’s your favourite time of the year. 

And Christmas is loved by many for (probably) a lot of different reasons.  It might be the gifts.  It might be the decorations.  Some people (inexplicably) love Christmas songs.  For some folks, Christmas is especially that time of year where we emphasize peace on earth and goodwill to all.  So Christmas is when we are especially kind to others; a time when love and joy is the expectation and also the practice. 

But as I’m sure that everyone is aware, Christmas can also be a very difficult time for many people.  Many folks suffer from depression or anxiety at Christmas time.  This may be because of the stress and expectations that always accompany the season.  It may be because of the rampant commercialization.  Or, it may be because we simply don’t feel the peace, joy, love, and etc. that are supposed to mark the holiday. 

So, for many, it may be precisely that juxtaposition between what we’re supposed to feel and what we actually feel that makes Christmas time so difficult. 

Our passage today is the New Testament reading from the Lectionary.  James 5:7-11 says: 

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as 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.

James 5: 7-11

Once again, I want to point out that we cannot get into as much depth with this passage as we normally would when we work through a book.  Nevertheless, it’s worth briefly pointing out a couple of items about this passage. 

Firstly, the opening words, “Be patient, then,” indicate a connection with the immediately preceding verses.  And without getting into the details of those verses, we can note that 5:1-6 amount to a warning to those “rich people,” who have oppressed and taken advantage of others.  It’s an acknowledgement and a condemnation of the injustice in the world which James’ audience (among others) are subject to.  And in short, these verses say that justice will come to such people – that their wealth and power will not last, and God will pay them back for how they have treated others.

Today’s passage (5:7-11) then picks up the thread from there essentially saying, since God’s justice will come upon the oppressors, since God will deal with those who are oppressing and persecuting you, “be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.”  To put it another way, since God’s redemption is coming, hang in there in the midst of oppression, injustice, and the cruelty of others.  Hang in there, because God is coming. 

Now obviously, there is a note of encouragement here, a reminder of the believer’s hope in these verses.  And also, we should note that there is a distinct eschatological element.  James acknowledges that things aren’t great now – they are not perfected now – but they will be. 

The second thing I want to point out has to do with the nature of the book of James as a whole.  As seems to always be the case, there is a fair amount of scholarly debate about the book of James.  And the particular debate that I want to pick up on is whether or not James is actually a letter or an epistle.  And without delving any further into that, there is an argument that James is actually better classified as a wisdom book.  That is, James is the New Testament equivalent (so to speak) of a book like Proverbs. 

And wisdom (or wisdom literature) in the bible is not a list of dos or don’ts (though I’m not sure that anyone actually believes that).  To put it another way, wisdom in scripture is not equivalent to rules.  Though it’s difficult and possibly problematic to define wisdom literature overly-simply, it might be helpful to think of it as a “how to live well.”  (This is why many of the proverbs in Proverbs appear contradictory – because the “how to live well” depends on the context.  If we read Proverbs (for example) as a list of rules, it does seem at many points contradictory.  But living well is more nuanced than that). 

At any rate, if you read through the book of James, it’s difficult to discern a specific argument or flow of thought.  But it does have an awful lot of thoughts about how to live well.  Therefore, (though there’s more to it than this) it might be better classified as wisdom literature. 

Now I point that out because of its relevance for our passage today.  It opens with the words, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming…”  Because (again, taking the context of the immediately preceding verses) the Lord’s justice, the Lord’s redemption is coming.  And the rest of our passage essentially says, “therefore, while we are waiting, wait well.” 

Or, to acknowledge the emphasis in the passage, “wait well, because the Lord is coming.”  Your waiting is not in vain.  I know things are hard.  I know things seem unfair.  I know it seems like it’s taking forever.  But your patience has purpose.  Your waiting has meaning.  How you live now, says something about the promise for which you are waiting.  So hang in there, because God is coming.  Now I recognize that this is painting this passage with a particularly broad brush, but I offer that very simple summary to you especially as we continue to think about Advent. 

As we know, the observance of Advent at the same time looks back to the past and forward to the future.  Advent looks back to the birth of Jesus and looks forward to His second coming. 

And when we think about the first Advent, Jesus’ birth, we remember that His arrival on the historical scene took place in a specific context.  Before this Advent season, we had been working through the book of Samuel, following the story of king David.  However, if you’ve been attending Grace for awhile, you know that this is the latest in our survey of the Old Testament.  Now we’re not going to review the entire story so far, but in a nutshell, God is working to redeem and restore creation, and His chosen people is the nation of Israel (blessed to be a blessing). 

And as you probably know, not long after David’s part in the story, Israel finds itself broken (into the kingdoms of Judah and Israel), defeated by its enemies, and exiled into a foreign land (though the period and experience of “exile” is more complicated than that).  During this period of “exile,” prophets continued to speak to Israel.  And while they oftentimes chastised Israel for its sins and unfaithfulness (which is the reason for their exile – their current situation), they also reminded the nation that God would be faithful; that God would deliver them from their calamity.

Now incidentally, it’s worth noticing that our passage today exhorts the readers to “as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”  Now this may not be what James had in mind, but what strikes me (and this is what the writer of Hebrews mentions in Hebrews 11), is that the fulfillment of God’s words to and through the prophets were not realized in their lifetimes.  For example, the words of Isaiah regarding the Messiah are not fulfilled in the life of Isaiah or in the lifetime of those who heard Isaiah’s words.  God’s promise (His real promise) had to be worked out in God’s time.  But that makes the promise no less true.   

So, by the time we get to Jesus’ part of the story, Israel has been returned to their homeland, but not restored as a nation.  Israel has been subject to foreign powers, greater nations, abused, neglected, and oppressed.  And the people have been waiting for the Messiah, but in truth, every “messiah” so far has been a disappointment.  And the prophets have now been silent for many generations.  Much like the people of Israel in slavery in Egypt, for centuries, God simply has not spoken. 

And I imagine we all might be able to relate to that.  Waiting for something that never seems to come.  And unlike the Israelites, we wait not for the first Advent, but the second.  But like the Israelites, we very much live in a land that is not our own, in a culture that is not our inheritance.  We are God-people, living in a godless country.  The Israelites also lived with a promise, but the reality of their situation did not seem to reflect that promise.  During their Advent waiting, they also did not feel the peace, joy, and love that they might have thought people of the Kingdom should experience.  And of course, they had a choice.  Or, to put it another way, they had to figure out what to do in the waiting. 

Of course, some of the Israelites waited by fully embracing their situation.  That is, they fully embraced the culture in which they found themselves, becoming like the peoples around them.  They determined that the best way to get ahead in this situation, to make the best of their circumstances, was to use the instruments of their enemies – to use non-kingdom means to create a kingdom of their own. 

Some of the Israelites decided that what God wanted was for them to take on the role of God for themselves.  They felt that God was too slow or that God was too passive.  So they imposed godliness on others, created the façade of holiness, and in so doing convinced themselves that the keys of the kingdom were held by the elite few – that is, themselves. 

And certainly some of the Israelites simply gave up.  Tired of waiting, tired of not receiving the promise that they had heard of for generations, they decided that it was just an illusion, just a nice story, but that the reality of their situation trumped that story.  They held onto their pain, turned their disappointment into their very identity, and decided that this was all there was, that this was all they were. 

But some continued to believe.  Some held on to the faith of their forefathers, held firm to the word of God.  They knew that God had tarried for far longer than they would like, but that they would continue to live – even in this strange and foreign land – as a people of the promise.  They would seek the prosperity of the city in which they were in exile, and in so doing, point to something greater than what they could see, something greater than simply what is.  They would live as if something greater could be.  Because God had promised. 

And so James’ words, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming,” do not simply indicate that we are to wait – that we must merely pass the time.  But rather, they indicate what we are waiting for – the Lord’s coming.  The encouragement contains a promise.  “The Lord’s coming is near.”  “The Judge is standing at the door.”  And just as Jesus fulfilled the waiting of the Israelites, so He will fulfill the waiting of the Church.  Hang in there, because God is coming. 

For some, the Christmas season is a stark reminder that we are in-between.  It is a stark reminder that we don’t see the love, the peace, the joy that we are supposed to experience.  And if we remain focussed on the “not” – what this world is not, what this life is not,what we are not – we can easily become discouraged.  We might even give up.  But we don’t focus on what is not.  As people of God, we can focus on the “what will be.” 

Christmas is a time when we are reminded of the promise of God – the promise of what is to come for those who believe and call Jesus Lord.  And we can be confident of what is to come because of the promise that has already been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Because of the fulfilled promise of Christ, because of the completed work of Christ, we can live (and we seek to live), regardless of our immediate circumstances, lives full of joy. 

Our Old Testament reading today was from the book of Isaiah (we’re sticking with the Isaiah readings for Advent).  And I think the words of the prophet are appropriate as we remember to live in the promise, even in the in-between. 

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah 35: 1-10

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