Category Archives: Year A

Patience

There are some things you can’t buy – and patience is one. James in his letter commends it to Christians (James 5:7-10), but you might wonder why we read that now. While Advent is about getting ready, it reminds us of what we have not yet got – and thus the need for patience. It fits very well with the hopeful words of Isaiah 35, the good times had not yet arrived. Life for that community, as well as the one James addresses, may have been hard, so patience is needed.

Patience is a gift (it is included in the fruit of Spirit: Galatians 5:22), the opposite of anger or short-temperedness. But, apart from saying we need it and its nice if you’ve got it, what can we do about it? James talks about farmers, and perhaps we should take the hint to look forward. His reason is that Jesus return will sort everything (and everybody) out. We talk about the Kingdom, begun among us but not yet complete.

Put it another way: it is tempting to want the last word, but less so when we realise God will have it – on everything. Or perhaps we need to go back to parables like the Wheat and the Weeds / Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), to realise the danger of wanting everything sorted out too soon, before the time is right. So we commend patience, reinforced with the reminder that it is not for us to get everything in order, but for God to do so at the right time.

But how does that fit with the urgency of John the Baptist? Are we urging patience while his call is to decisive action? Certainly John had an urgency as he told people to engage with God – but James is talking to Christians who have done that, and need to persist. We can see in John the Baptist (and especially in prison) some of the pain behind his question – “Are you the one?”. He, like many prophets before him, would die before his words were proved. But he was right – history, and the perspective of heaven, would justify what he had said.

So it is important for the Christian community to whom James writes that they should be patient. He does not mean their faith is any less vital, or that taking opportunities to share it is anything but urgent and important, but behind that is the awareness that God will sort things out when he comes, and that can be left to him. It is important for us, too. Our situation and difficulties are not the same – though grumbling seems to survive across the centuries. We are also trying to be part of our wider community, but with a different lifestyle, and set of values. Our Christian way may not be used, accepted or understood by the majority, and we need patience to follow it steadily and successfully.

Now?

The shops are full, the advertisements loud and demanding: Have it! Have it all! Now. The glitz has an appeal, but on reflection, it is profoundly depressing. Is this all there is? Nothing beyond what you can buy and break? For Christians, the run up to Christmas needs a different view. Not “Christmas already”, but another anticipation.

Paul explains in Romans 15:4-13. HOPE. Not a vague and wistful imagining, but a looking forward to what is promised. It is the by steadfastness, and the encouragement of the scriptures, that we find that essential ingredient of purposeful life, so often missing in our culture. This hope comes from God, who intends us ” to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus” – which in itself is a blessing.

Hope, unlike so many consumer trophies, is something we can share, and share gladly. The story you know from Carol Services details creation, and human rebellion. But a loving God works patiently sending patriarchs, and prophets, looking to Christ, and then to his second coming. God has worked through the ages – he was the one explaining, preparing, looking forward in hope.

That may not be new, but remember it doesn’t stop! Scripture tells of the early Christians, looking forward in hope. They had not yet received all that had been promised. Which leaves us standing out; “Have it all, now?” No. THEN, yes. We are, still, people who look forward; who know that the promises are better than this, while enjoying what is good now, we wait expectantly for what will come.

Expectancy is important. In faith, in life, and in prayer. But especially in worship. If you expect very little – that is probably what you will get. If you are open to be reminded of God’s promises, to hear his plans and directions, to face your real needs – your hope of something good is likely to be well met.

What time is it?

You will realise there are a number of ways of answering: chronological time – is more or less exact (though you could refer to human history, geological or cosmological time scales). But you could talk about economic time. We live in a post-industrial society, where the heavy industry that brought wealth to some has moved away. We live in a time of some economic pressure, after the banking crisis (and arguably a crisis of confidence in other professions). For several years, real incomes have remained static or fallen. The prospects for the unskilled or unfit are bleak, and for others, challenging.

What time is it? Again, we could speak of time of life. For some of us the challenges of finding a career, a spouse, a place in society, are past. That’s not to say we do not still have decisions and changes to face and adapt to. Our role in family and friendship group will change, perhaps with the arrival of another generation, perhaps with being unable to do some of the things which used to define our role any more. Perhaps we are more likely now to face the challenges of illness, of bereavement, of restricted mobility and activity. – but how will we face up to them? Have we built up the resources?

What time is it? Any of these answers might be correct – chronological, economic, time of life, but I would like to direct you to today’s readings (reading Romans 13:11-14). They tell us firmly that it is time to wake up, to take stock and live with careful intention. Jesus says (in gospel passages like Matthew 24:36-44), “Since you don’t know when opportunities will end, when the Lord returns, or death strikes suddenly, or even when illness restricts your capabilities, then wake up, and life carefully NOW” Avoid distraction, forget excuses.

For some of those who heard him, the end came disastrously in the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem. But the instruction is not only for those in Palestine, or that first generation. Paul writes to Christians in Rome :

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light;

Romans 13:11-12

What time is it? Whatever your economic situation or stage of life, it is time to wake up. Your life carries responsibility, to live as an obedient follower and disciple of Jesus. Put down distractions, excuses, alternative views, and be ready to give an account. If the thought of that is troubling, then repent and accept forgiveness – and put things right while there is time. The warning of Advent is not about making you frightened, but is an act of love to save you from great loss.

What time is it? Time to wake up and live for Christ.