Advent 3 – James 5:7-11
John the Baptist preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. The winnowing fork was in His hand and the wheat and the chaff were about to be separated; the wheat, or the believers, into eternal life; and the chaff, or the unbelievers into eternal fire.
John preached with urgency. The kingdom of God was at hand right now. The winnowing fork was about to separate the wheat and the chaff right now. The fires were being heated up for the unbelievers, and the gates to eternal life were about to be opened to the believers.
And yet, what happens?
The kingdom of God is here, in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ; and yet, where is the division of wheat and chaff? Where is the judgment being cast down upon those who do not believe? Where is the reward for those who have heard the message of John and turned away from the wickedness of the world?
The only reward that our Gospel text makes evident, is that John is in prison. Which is definitely the reward that we have to look forward to for being faithful in the midst of an unfaithful generation, but is hardly what anyone had in mind when it was announced that the kingdom of God was at hand.
Yes, our Gospel text reveals something very telling about the situation then, and the situation today: it reveals that patience is lacking.
Of course, the lack of patience today is a little different then the lack of patience in our Gospel text.
There is no patience at all among those who want politicians to fix their problems. No sooner is one person elected, then we are already clamoring for the next election. Why? Because life is no better today than it was yesterday; let alone the lack of change in the last 5 minutes. Surely the next election will solve everything much faster than this past one has.
There is no patience in our daily lives either. If we have not learned a new school lesson in less than an hour, we declare it to be too difficult. If we have not lost 10 pounds after walking around the block once, we declare it to be a lost cause. If we are not daily being promoted or rewarded for our efforts at work, we instantly look for a new job. If someone does not immediately apologize for a misdeed toward us, we are only too quick to withhold forgiveness from them for an eternity.
We tell ourselves this lack of patience is only around the holidays. That time moves ever so slowly as we count down the days and the hours and the minutes to the big celebration. And yet, a lack of patience is not a seasonal thing, it is a year round thing. We only admit it during the holidays because it is the cool thing to do.
But what of the kingdom of God? Are you patient in waiting for Christ to come to judge the living and the dead? Or are you like the disciples in our text, approaching Jesus and asking if He is going to rend the heavens and raise the dead, or if He is just another prophet, and there is another one still to come?
Are you patiently waiting, or have you given up?
Remember that our lack of patience does not just encompass the doctor’s office and the checkout line. We demand immediate answers from God as well; we demand that our prayers for health and wealth and weather be answered before we say Amen. We demand that our problems be taken care of first, and to our liking. Much like diet and exercise, if after going to church a few times does not make life better, than we walk away and move on to the next possible solution.
And so you look at Jesus and ask yourself if He is truly the one; because your questions, your problems, your situation is not any better, therefore whatever He is doing must not be working. Or it must not be true. If Jesus has not blessed you, if He has not sprung you from this prison house of sin; if He has not announced to you that you are perfect; then this must not be the answer.
Patience is not granted to anyone. Not to politicians, not to teachers, not to doctors, not to store clerks, not to pastors, not even to Jesus.
And yet, despite all our astounding lack of patience in all things, there is one who is in fact far more patient than we either desire or deserve; and it is God Himself.
God has in fact always shown patience toward His people. In the days before the Flood, God patiently waited for Noah and his sons to build an ark and gather up the animals and supplies needed. God patiently dealt with Abraham who struggled more often than not with the words and the ways of God. God patiently sent prophets to His people to speak His word to them and to call them to repent. God patiently waited the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy, then the 33 years of Jesus earthly life, before completing the plan of salvation. And now God has waited more than 2000 years, and counting, before rending the heavens to judge the living and the dead.
And most of all, God has waited patiently for you. He has waited for you to hear His word and to keep it. He has waited for you to come here and confess your sins and receive the absolution. He has waited for you to turn away from the sin and temptation of the world and to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. He has even waited patiently for you to repent of your sin of impatience, so that He might forgive that sin as well.
And God has waited for you, just as He has waited for countless others, to know that the kingdom of God is indeed present in the here and now in the person of His son, Jesus Christ.
Some 2000 years ago, it was present in the flesh and blood person of Jesus, who brought good news to those sitting in darkness; who proclaimed life and salvation to all who believed, and who offered comfort to the blind, the deaf, and the lame.
Today, the kingdom of God is present for you and for all in the Word and the sacraments. The kingdom of God comes to you and is in your presence and in your midst each time the Word is proclaimed, each time you remember your baptism, and each time you eat and drink the true body and blood of Jesus.
The kingdom of God is here, present for you, who patiently await His coming even as the Lord continues to show patience Himself. For the Lord is patient for the unbeliever today, just as He was patient with you. The Lord patiently waits for the Holy Spirit to call, gather and enlighten the whole Church on earth.
And so as the Lord patiently waits for you and for all people; so too does He call upon you to be patient. Be patient with your brothers and sisters in Christ, that they too might know the steadfast love of the Lord. Be patient in all things worldly, whether in school, or work, or the stores; knowing that sin corrupts all people and all things. Be patient with those around you, forgiving them as quickly as God in Christ Jesus forgives you.
And be patient with the Lord of heaven and earth; knowing that He does not count time as you count time. Be patient knowing that Christ will return on a day and at an hour that you do not know. Be patient, knowing that the kingdom of God is already in your midst, and that it offers to you the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.