“Worth the Wait”
(James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11)
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
As a child, I can recall sitting on one of those old red plastic seated chairs by the kitchen stove as Mom stirred the pudding we would be having for desert that evening. I was probably no more than five or six at the time, and so my ability to gage time had not yet been developed. It seemed to me back then that it took an eternity for the pudding to thicken as it came to a full boil. Mom would tell me to be patient, good things take time. You can now see that my struggle with patience has essentially been a life-long matter. An eager anticipation was teasing at my sensibilities. Mom, however, was calmly teaching me to understand that most things we want in life do not come quickly and easily, but they are worth it if we can persevere through the wait and keep our faith. “You know pudding takes time to cook,” she would gently and assuringly remind me. Yes, as I impatiently watched and waited at the stove, there was yet the hope of pudding to come. And it would be worth the wait!
In our lesson from the Book of James for this morning, the author speaks to Christians in his time who were suffering from a sense of impatience in waiting for the time of our Lord’s return. Many of Jesus’ followers had expected Christ to return very soon after he ascended into heaven. As time lingered, some people became impatient and distracted. They turned from God and began to fall back into worldly lifestyles and the world’s value system. The verses that come before our lesson for today share with us that acts of selfishness, greed, corruption and quarreling were occurring among God’s people. The lesson from James for today called people back into the remembrance of who and whose they were, and how that remembering should become apparent through changes in their outward behavior. “Submit yourselves therefore to God,” James wrote to believers of his time. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” In place of their quarreling and petty grumbling against each other, James wrote, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the day of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient.”
The Apostle Paul had a similar experience with the believers in some churches to whom he ministered. For example, in Ephesians Chapter 4, attributed to Paul, the author writes “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” As the time of the Lord’s coming tarried, even some of the new converts and churches Paul had founded, like the church at Corinth, slipped back into their old worldly ways. Being patient and keeping faith while awaiting the Lord’s coming were the key points of Paul’s pastoral shepherding message to them. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” From the Letter to the Hebrew Church we have this familiar message, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1) Paul’s opus letter penned to the Roman Church he so eagerly desired to visit shared these encouraging words, “For hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Rom. 8:24-25) Hope that can be seen is not hope, for who hopes for what they already have, Paul admonished believers in his time. More than two thousand years later, these words still ring true.
On this third Sunday of Advent in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty two, as we continue as a people of faith to struggle with diseases like COVID-19, RSV, and the flu-the triple threat that has sent many people to the hospital; as we grumble and argue with one another over today’s issues of equality of opportunity and peace with justice for all of God’s people, and as, perhaps, we grow weary in our own time of awaiting the coming of our Lord, we celebrate anew another holy Advent season. It is another chance for us to remember. We remember that on our own we fall short of the glory of God’s good will for us and for our lives. We remember that God had a plan to overcome our human sin and weakness in the flesh. We remember that God sent us Emmanuel, “God with us,” in the person of Jesus to fulfill that plan. We remember that Jesus is the reason for this season. We remember his humble birth, his compassionate healing ministry, and his suffering death in atonement for our sins. We remember that all of this proves God’s deep, abiding, and unconditional love for us; a love sealed by God’s gifts of mercy and grace. We remember how Jesus calls us to show our love for him by loving others as he so loved us. And so we remember him this Advent season by reading anew the words of the prophets, for they proclaimed the message proclaiming the day of God’s fulfillment of the plan of salvation was near; it was coming for a people who were prepared and waiting for it. It was coming as a baby named Jesus. And Jesus truly is so worth the wait. So, today we remember Jesus, preparing our hearts anew for his coming by reading these words of comfort and hope from the Prophet Isaiah found in Chapter 9:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness-on them light has shined. For a child is born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Jesus came for us and for our eternal salvation, to fulfill God’s good and perfect plan to atone for our sin. The prophets of old proclaimed his coming to set before him a people prepared for him. We who stand on the other side of his cross rejoice in his coming, and in the gift of salvation he secured for all who believe. His coming proved once and for all that the love of God is more powerful than anything else in all creation, for it conquers even sin and death. Jesus is coming again in glory; so we must embrace the admonitions of the Holy Scriptures and wait patiently, with faith and forbearance in all things, in a spirit of reconciliation and love as we are waiting. We must also share this good news with our families, our children, our friends and frenemies, and all in darkness who need his life-giving light. Yes, Jesus is coming again for all believers whose salvation is a cause for patience, and for joyful obedience to his will and his word. He is coming again in glory, church-and he is so much more to us than worth the wait! May God’s people, on this third Sunday of Advent, respond Amen.