161211 James 5:7-11

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 December 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: James 5:7-11
Theme: Patience Is An Advent Virtue

The parking lot was crowded, but she was still hopeful that she would be able to get in and out without getting hurt. Once inside she took a slip of paper and stood in line until her number was called. And then she waited. She looked at the back wall with all the special stamps on display. And she waited. She watched the people in front of her with packages of different shapes and sizes and wondered what was inside. And she waited. She stood on one foot and then the other, and walked around a little bit. And she waited. And then she heard that magic number, "98," which meant that it was finally her turn to approach the post office counter.

Most of us could insert ourselves into this made up story, especially this time of year, especially as we approach the busiest week of the year for sending packages in the mail. The final days leading up to Christmas are enough to test anyone's patience. It doesn't matter where you are going. It will probably take you longer to get there. And then it will take you longer than normal to do what you need to do once you arrive.

The person who came up with the phrase, "Patience is a virtue," was on to something. Patience is noble, admirable, a quality that is very desirable. But describing patience as a virtue implies that it is something not so easy to achieve.

Even though James never had to wait in line at the post office in the middle of December, even though James was never concerned about the number of shopping days left until Christmas (by the way, including today there are fourteen), he understood how elusive patience can be.

That is why he repeatedly encouraged first century Christians to wait patiently for their Lord to return. That is why he encourages twenty first century Christians to do the same. And as we watch and wait for Christmas Day, as we watch and wait for our Lord to return on the Last Day, James the brother of our Lord will help us remember that...


The text begins with a direct command, "Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming" (7a), but don't get the impression that James was on a power trip or that he was just barking out orders. He cared deeply about the people to whom he was writing. In fact, he calls them "brothers" three times in five short verses.

James urges his brothers (and sisters) in Christ to patiently wait for the Lord's coming, but why? After all they were only a few years removed from Jesus' ascension (not twenty centuries like us). They were less than a generation removed from the angel's promise that the Lord would return (Acts 1:11). So why did they need this specific reminder at this specific time?

A survey of the rest of the book gives us our answer. In the second verse of the first chapter, James sets the tone for everything that follows: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (2,3). And in the verses that come right before his command to be patient, James condemns the rich for corruption and extortion and even murder (6).

God's people were being mistreated because they were God's people. And maybe some of them were thinking to themselves: "If Jesus comes back today, we won't have to deal with this stuff anymore. If Jesus comes back now, then all of our problems will be solved."

That wasn't a bad thought. It was actually a very good thought. But there was a problem. When they woke up each morning, nothing had changed. They were still there, and so were there problems. And while they waited for the Lord to return, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, they began to get a little impatient.

To help his fellow Christians understand the importance of patience, to help us understand what it means to be patient, James uses an illustration I think we can all understand: "See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains" (7b).

Even for people who live in an era of agricultural science, even with the latest advances in genetic engineering, farming still requires one thing above everything else, patience. Plant too early and the seed won't sprout. Harvest too early and the crop won't reach its full potential. Farmers know this. Farmers know that patience is the key to success.

And what is true in agriculture is just as true in Advent. James encourages us to imitate the farmer: "You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near" (8).

Just because Jesus didn't come today doesn't mean that he won't come tomorrow. Don't give up. Don't give in to your doubts and fears. "Stand firm" (the KJV translates this phrase more literally, "stablish your hearts") because the Lord's coming is near.

But what happens when that doesn't happen? What happens when people become impatient? What happens when patience runs out and emotions run high? Sometimes people snap. Sometimes they snap at other people. And more often than not they take out their frustrations on the people they care about the most.

Did James see that happening? Instead of turning to God were God's people turning against each other? Perhaps. Perhaps that is why James follows his words of encouragement with strong words of warning: "Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door" (9)!

I think most of us would agree that grumbling is not a good thing. It isn't positive. It isn't constructive. It rarely, if ever, solves anything. But sometimes I wonder if we try to make special allowances for it. We rename it "venting," and that makes it okay. We compare it to big sins like murder or adultery or stealing, and then it doesn't seem quite so serious.

But grumbling is serious. It is a sin that condemns every person who commits it. It is a sin that everyone has committed. It is a sin that puts every one of us under the judgment of a holy God. And just in case we forgot, James reminds us that God the righteous Judge is standing at the door.

Before there were blue Advent paraments like these, the traditional color of the season was purple (the same as Lent). Like Lent Advent is a time for repentance. And because we are sinners we need to repent. We need to repent of our sins, including when we are impatient with God, when we are not so patient with our spouse or our sibling or the check-out clerk or the person who took our parking spot. We need to repent of those countless times when we grumble and mumble and complain.

The good news is that God is more patient than we are. The good news is that God wants all people to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). That's not just my opinion. I have hundreds of years of Old Testament history to back me up. And James points us to the same Old Testament, specifically to the Old Testament prophets, as examples of patient endurance.

"Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord" (10). It would be impossible for us to examine in any detail all of the Old Testament prophets, so let's pick just one. Let's take a closer look at the prophet who wrote the First Lesson for today. Let's learn from Isaiah's example of patience in the face of suffering.

No prophet proclaimed the good news of God more clearly or more frequently than Isaiah. He prophesied: "The LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (7:14). He promised: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (11:1).

And seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Isaiah gave God's people an amazingly detailed description of the promised Savior's soul-saving work: "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (53:5-6).

That is pure gospel. That is good news. But not all of Isaiah's news was good news. God also commanded him to warn God's people about the coming judgment, to condemn their wickedness and call them to repentance. He told one of the good kings of Judah, King Hezekiah: "The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD" (39:6).

You can understand that this didn't make Isaiah the most popular guy in Jerusalem. Some people ignored him. Other people opposed him. And according to tradition (which cannot be proven), he died a martyr's death when his body was sawed in two. Isaiah never saw his messianic prophecies come true. Isaiah saw most of his warnings go unheeded. Isaiah saw most of his homeland destroyed. And as a result, we might be tempted to look at Isaiah's life and label him a failure.

But James didn't see things that way. Instead of labeling Isaiah a failure James held him up with the other prophets as an example. And Isaiah continues to be an example of patience in the face of suffering. Did he see the fruits of his labors? Not really. Did his message turn people back to God? Not many. But in spite of the opposition, in spite of his perceived lack of success, Isaiah never gave up.

Using the most conservative estimates, Isaiah prophesied for over fifty years. Do you want to know how he did it? Do you want to know the secret of his longevity? Isaiah knew something James knew. Isaiah knew what James wants the rest of us to know: "The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (11). And our Lord's compassion and mercy manifested itself in his perfect patience.

When his mother and father found in the temple after searching for him for three days, Jesus patiently explained that he had to be in his Father's house (Luke 2:49). When his disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest Jesus patiently reminded them that greatness in God's kingdom comes through service (Mark 10:35-45).

When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he patiently waited for his enemies to arrest him. When Pontius Pilate probed him with questions, he patiently explained that his kingdom was not of this world. When his enemies insulted him, when his followers deserted him, when his own Father abandoned him, Jesus hung patiently on the cross because he knew that it was the only way.

Jesus endured the worst injury and injustice in the history of the world to forgive our sins, to save us from our sins. Not because he owed us. Because he loves us. Because that is who he is. Because our Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Advent is a season of anticipation. Our Advent calendars tell us that Christmas is two short weeks away, but we don't know when our Lord will return. We don't know if he will come back in two days or two weeks or in another two thousand years. That is why we need to be patient. Be patient like the farmer. Be patient like the prophets. Be patient because the Lord's coming is near. Be patient because you have God's promise that it will definitely be worth the wait. Amen.

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