A little over one month ago, we had some unseasonable low temperatures for Texas. It felt like winter had come early and the effects of the early winter like weather could be seen in the garden behind church. The cool weather was too much for some of the plants and they did not survive. Unpredictable weather makes gardening difficult, and the unpredictable coming of the Savior makes patiently waiting for Jesus’ coming difficult. Therefore, in our reading today from James 5, we are encouraged to be patient until the Lord’s coming.
In the book of James, God directed James to write about the life of those waiting for Jesus’ coming. The book does not mention much about the fundamentals of the Christian faith and what Jesus did to save us. Instead, he goes right into talking about the Christian life. One of the most famous verses and one that has received much criticism is James 2:17, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” This verse seems to stand in complete contrast to verses like Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” It would seem as if James and Paul, the writer of the letter to the Ephesians, were saying opposite things, which, if they are both being given what to write down by God, would seem like God is contradicting himself. Yet, these two verses are easily reconciled. In Ephesians, Paul was talking about how we are saved, while in James, the point is about how we live once we have faith. Once, we have faith, we live by it. This means that we both trust in God’s grace through Jesus that we are saved and going to heaven, and that our faith will act itself out in the way we live. Paul makes this point right after the verses we just mentioned writing in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” These good works that come from faith are often referred to as fruits of faith. Just like fruit comes from a plant that began as a seed, so we produce good, kind and loving things from the faith alive and growing in our hearts. At the end of the book of James, one of those fruits is patience.
Patience is a fruit of faith for Christians because we are waiting for Jesus. James wrote, 8 “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” Here James referenced the return of Jesus on Judgment Day when he will come to separate the believers from unbelievers. James needed to encourage the early Christians who lived at the time of Jesus to wait for that day because it would have been easy for them to give up on their faith after Jesus did not return right away. Those who may have seen Jesus with their own eyes or spoke with someone who did may have found waiting difficult, since they knew what it was like to have the blessing of Jesus and his compassion with them.
Whether it is years or millennia separating us from Jesus, the encouragement for patience remains. James wrote, 7 “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.” Anyone who wants to last as a farmer must be patient. The seeds a farmer plants often do not spring up overnight…weeds on the other hand seem to pop up that quickly though. Farmers are able to keep their patience because they know what to look for along the way. Farmers know their seeds will take time to come up, to grow, produce buds, produce fruit and finally when the fruit is ripe, the valuable crop can be harvested. In our reading from Matthew 11, we see that God gave the sign of John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness to let the people know their patience was about to pay off in the appearing of the Savior. Jesus said in Matthew 11:7-10, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Jesus said that John came to prepare the people for Jesus. Jesus would put an end to any doubts about God’s promise of the Savior.
We face the temptation to give up patiently waiting for Jesus because we don’t see him with us today. It is frustrating waiting for Jesus to come and completely remove us from all sin and suffering in this world. And, that frustration grows, causing you and I to fight amongst one another, as James cautioned, 9 “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” The point James makes is like two gardeners waiting for their plants to come up. If one gardener becomes impatient that the seeds are not sprouting, then the other gardener will get blamed for not watering or fertilizing properly. The same with our waiting for Jesus. Each of us is guilty of losing sight of the first coming of Jesus because we are impatiently waiting for the second coming. In other words, you and I get so focused on being in heaven, that we demand others act as if they were already there. This leads us to grumble against one another when let one another down, break promises, take one another for granted and many other sins, rather than forgiving one another when we fall short of the good God expects of us.
Forgiveness and patience come from the trust we have in God’s compassion for us. God sent Jesus into this world to restore the relationships that sin broke. Sin broke our relationship with God leaving us lost and doomed to death and hell. Sin also breaks our relationships with one another. The only solution to sin and the broken relationships it caused is God’s love. His compassion for you and I brought him to send Jesus to save us as we hear in Romans 5:10, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” God’s compassion for us brought him to have mercy on us by punishing Jesus for our sins, and also through Jesus’ resurrection, to give us eternal life. Our hope in Jesus keeps us patient because we know future blessings are waiting for us, as James wrote, 11 “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.” All those who keep the faith will be blessed.
James gave us an example of perseverance of faith to show us the certainty we have of God blessing us who patiently wait for him. James wrote, 11 “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” Job was one of the wealthiest people of his time, but in one day, all of his livestock and all of his children were taken from him. These were devastating losses, but Job said in Job 1:21-22, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job was not a fool. He was hurt by the loss, but he trusted God would provide for him again. Later we hear Job say in Job 19:25, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” Only by his faith was Job able to remain patient trusting that even if all things were taken from him and he left this world the way he entered it, with nothing, he would still have the blessing of seeing his Savior. And, that made patiently waiting worth it.
All year, we wait patiently for the Christmas season. The word patience is used during Christmas so often. We associate the word with gifts, special meals, reuniting with family and friends. We are willing to wait patiently for something that we believe will bring us joy and relief from the stress of schedules and deadlines at work and school. Christmas is that time of year that brings joy and relief, but that feeling will only last if it is first founded on the Lord’s coming. True relief is ours now because Jesus has made peace between you and God. A little over one month ago, we had some unseasonable low temperatures for Texas. The cool weather was too much for some of the plants in the garden behind church and they did not survive. Unpredictable weather makes gardening difficult, and the unpredictable coming of the Savior makes patiently waiting for the Lord’s coming difficult. So, we set aside this time of year to have that glimpse of the blessings waiting for us. Readings from Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” And from Luke 2:10-12, “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” Remind us that patience in God’s promises comes with blessings because Jesus has already come to save us. So, we can also be patient until the Lord’s coming confident he will take us to heaven to live with him there. Amen.