Video of the service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
James says, “Be patient.” Sounds easy enough. We know what it means, to wait quietly, with tranquility, peacefully. The older translations were more literal: long-suffering. Suffer long under whatever the situation, whatever the circumstances. Don’t get heated up, agitated, worked up by the circumstances or the suffering or the grief. Suffer long. Lamentations says, in the midst of great suffering in the exile to Babylon, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of Yahweh.” It is good to wait quietly.
But while it’s easy to say be patient; it’s not so easy to actually have patience. Just ask any child during this time of the year. How much longer? They count down the days. When will it be Christmas? Or ask a child who has to travel a long time. Are we there yet? How much longer? But James describes for us the cause of Christian patience. He wants to remove it from the circumstances. He doesn’t want what is happening now, what is being suffered, the circumstances, to determine whether we are patient or not. He totally removes it from here and now and wants something outside of us to determine our patience: the coming of the Lord. And not the coming of the Lord to go away, but the coming of the Lord to be present, to be Immanuel, God with us. To restore all things and to be with us, face to face. The coming of the Lord is near, he says, so be patient. The farmer, he says, is patient because he is waiting for what is coming, for the precious fruit, for the harvest. This obviously doesn’t mean that all farmers are patient. I’ve known some farmers. Maybe you have, as well. Or maybe you are or have been. And simply knowing that Christmas is coming doesn’t make children patient. Simply knowing, or assuming, that they will eventually get to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods, doesn’t automatically make them patient.
So James adds something else, besides what is coming. He not only removes the cause of patience from the here and now circumstances, but he removes all control from us. The farmer doesn’t actually control the outcome. He doesn’t control the early and the late rains. He has to wait. Likewise, Job—in James’ other example—Job doesn’t have any control at all. All the control is in the hands of God. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
If you’re in control, then you might not be patient with yourself or with others. You might work yourself up, because you’ve got to do it; you’ve got to accomplish it; you’ve got to make it happen. But if all the control is in the hands of the Lord, then He will do what He has chosen to do, what He has said He will do. Job certainly knows he’s not in control; and, even more, when God does finally speak, Job definitely knows he is not God. Therefore, he’s not in control.
But Job doesn’t know what the outcome will be. He doesn’t know what God’s purpose is. He doesn’t know that what he lost will be given back. And while the farmer (and the children) know what the outcome is, that doesn’t necessarily make them more patient.
There is one more thing that is added, by which the Holy Spirit produces patience in Christians. It is not simply that we know the Lord is coming; it is not simply that God is in control or that He has a plan. It is also that God has not left that plan indefinite. He hasn’t only said that He has a plan. We have seen the outcome. We have seen the goal. We have seen the completion of all things to which all things are tending. We have seen it in Jesus Christ. What is God’s goal, God’s purpose, the end to which God is working all things? It is the goal to which He brought His Son: death and resurrection. All things find their conclusion in Jesus. So at the coming of Jesus, when we see Him as He is—in His resurrected and glorified Body—then we will be like Him. That is the goal, the end, the purpose: that we, having risen, will never die. Even as Christ has risen from the dead; and, having risen from the dead, will never die again.
Here is Christian patience: that the outcome is certain. That Jesus, the single grain of life, was buried in the ground, in order that He might produce the harvest of life for many. Just as a single grain of wheat is buried in the ground and produces a harvest of many grains. The outcome is certain, and the control has been taken out of our hands. All things are in the hands of the Lord, and He has done all things well. He works all things together for good in Christ. And that good is achieved and realized in the resurrection of Jesus. There is no doubt about the harvest, no doubt about who is doing the work, and no doubt about what we are waiting for, the redemption of our bodies within the redemption of all creation. In this certain hope is Christian patience.
Only the true Christian Church can be patient. If people doubt what will happen, or if they think they are in control, or if they do not know to what God is bringing us in Christ, there can only be impatience, hurried and anxious. But the Church has been patient for thousands of years. She has seen thousands of Advents, praying patiently, Come, Lord Jesus. She has seen all nations; kingdoms rise and fall; false teaching come and go. She knows her future, because Christ is her future. And Christ is life, so not even death can make the Church impatient. All things are certain in Him, so all things are certain for the Church. And now you and I can be patient with God, patient in ourselves, and patient with each other. All things are in the nail-pierced hands of the risen Jesus.
Knowing that, we are patient. It is good to be patient, to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. By the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we know that God is compassionate and merciful. It is good to wait quietly, because the Lord has spoken. He is faithful, and He will do it.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/10/16