7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, you must be patient as you wait for the coming of the Lord. Consider the farmer who waits patiently for the coming of rain in the fall and spring, looking forward to the precious fruit of the earth. 8 You also must wait patiently, strengthening your resolve, because the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Don’t complain about each other, brothers and sisters, so that you won’t be judged. Look! The judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of patient resolve and steadfastness. (CEB)
There is something paradoxical about the Season of Advent. The world around us is decked out in Christmas greens and reds. Indeed, our sanctuary is already dressed in its Christmas best while the color of our altar paraments and clergy vestments is Royal Blue—an alternate color for the season since the primary color used for Advent is a much more somber violet-purple: the same as Lent.
The radio stations are playing every hit Christmas song from the past seventy-five years: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Mahalia Jackson, Elvis Presley, Darlene Love, The Waitresses, Mariah Carey, and Brenda Lee’s Rockin Around the Christmas Tree are lighting up the radio. But here in church we’re singing somber lyrics set typically in minor keys: mostly those hymns from page 195 to 216 in our United Methodist Hymnal, but also hymns like #626 where we sing, Let all mortal flesh keep silence.
One of my favorite Advent hymns is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, which reminds us that there’s even something paradoxical in our Advent songs. What other season of the church has us sing the word Rejoice—written with an exclamation point—in a minor key? The minor key makes it sounds like we’re not really rejoicing, or we’re rejoicing over an ingrown toenail. Rejoice! Rejoice! My in-grown toe-nail… No matter which way you spin it, the song doesn’t sound particularly joyful… yet it is! It’s full of hope! Every stanza tells the story of our hope in Jesus Christ.
There is something paradoxical about Advent, in particular, the third Sunday of Advent. The candle of the Advent Wreath is a lively rose-pink color, which intentionally sets it apart from the other three that are, again, either Violet-purple or Royal Blue. This is Gaudete Sunday: Rejoice Sunday. The rose candle stands as a reminder in all of this somberness that while we are waiting in darkness—even waiting impatiently—redemption is on the way.
The paradox of our songs reflects the paradoxes of our faith in Jesus Christ. There is strength in weakness. There is power in our self-emptying. Through the foolishness of Christ, we become wise. There is victory in defeat. When we give, we actually receive. When we die, we go forth to live. We conquer by yielding. We find rest by receiving a yoke. We reign by serving. There is resurrection in crucifixion. We are made great by becoming small. All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in a helpless baby. The King of kings was born in a cave used to stable farm animals. The Royal Son of God’s first bed was a manger because his mother had nowhere else to lay him after giving birth. Jesus Christ is at the same time fully God and fully human.
In addition to being paradoxical, Advent reminds us that waiting is a part of human life. There’s an element of waiting in every aspect of human life. When we’re children, we have to wait to grow up. When we’re in school, we wait to graduate. When we graduate, we have to wait to get a job and earn some money. When we’re in a relationship, we have to wait to get married. Then, we wait to have children. And, once you have children, you have to do a lot more waiting. I didn’t know a thing about child development when I became a father. I remember when Kara was born, one of the things I asked my wife was how long it would be until I could have a conversation with her.
We have to wait for everything. By golly, the pastor even makes us wait to sing all our favorite Christmas carols. The rest of American society is singing the good stuff, why can’t we sing carols during Advent? Believe me, I hear the complaints every year. And every year, I tell people, wait. Christmas is coming, but it’s Advent right now. Wait. But waiting isn’t popular. Waiting isn’t easy. Yet, waiting is an overarching Biblical theme.
It actually takes practice to wait well. That’s what we call patience. Sometimes we call it endurance. Patience is something we learn by having to wait. Patience rarely comes naturally. Anyone who has experience with young children knows that much. Patience is often a difficult lesson for little ones. When a child really wants something, we know how they act. I’ve seen children tense up and start to vibrate, as if they can will time to pass more quickly so they can be done waiting. So, we wisdom-wielding adults quote the adage to our children that patience is a virtue. (Especially when our patience with their impatient antics has run out). Children—and adults—can quickly tire of being patient.
For about two-thousand years, the Church has waited for the advent of Jesus Christ. James reminds us to be patient until the coming of the Lord, and he gives us an example of how farmers have to wait. They have to be patient and wait for the fall and the spring rains. I know that sounds a little backward to us, but the growing season is a little different in Israel. In that climate, fields are sown in the Fall and harvested in the Spring. Farmers have to wait patiently for their crop.
But there’s a caveat about how farmers wait. I have generations of farmers in my family. In fact, part of Eastland Mall now sits in my Great-Grandparents’ cornfield. Joseph and Matilda Hirsch lived on Slaughter Avenue, which was later renamed Division Street, and is now buried under the Lloyd Expressway near Green River Road. If you know anything about farmers, you know they don’t sit around and wait for the rain. Nor do they plant their fields and lay about in their hammocks until it’s harvest time. There’s always work to be done. When farmers wait for the crop to ripen, it’s an active kind of waiting. It’s waiting with a heavy dose of preparation.
But, by and large, our culture is so frantic that impatience might better describe the virtue we value most. Afterall, impatience is the trait we often display. When I get impatient, I grumble and complain. (Surely, I’m not the only one). Whether I’m stuck in rush-hour traffic—which, by the way, I’ve always found an ironic name since rush-hour traffic usually doesn’t go anywhere fast—or standing in the checkout line at the store when there are twenty people wanting to check out and only one cashier. Amazon now delivers on Sundays so we don’t have to wait for an entire weekend to pass by before we get our packages. In fact, the gluten-free crackers I ordered for Communion will be delivered today because I can’t figure out how to tell Amazon to NOT deliver stuff on Sundays. Our impatience as a cultural norm adds unnecessary stress to our lives, and the negative health effects of that stress actually shortens them. We’re so impatient that we’re impatient to die.
But there are saints who can teach us patience. My mother is one of those patient people, and I fully realize that she probably developed her patience shortly after my brother was born. (You though I was going to say after I was born, didn’t you? What? I was an angel. My mom’s friends dubbed me “Chris the Good.” My brother was Eric the Barbaric).
Wherever Mom learned her patience, she tried to teach us that it’s better to be patient. I’ll never forget the time I was driving with her when I got stuck behind some slow boat that I couldn’t pass. I grumbled about the driver, and I told him exactly where he could find the gas pedal. And my mom said, “Just think about it this way. God might have put this driver in front of you to slow you down. It might also be God’s way of keeping you from getting into an accident farther up the road.”
I recall that, after offering one of the most pronounced teenage eye-rolls in human history, I said, “But he’s driving SO SLOW!”
And my mother said, “It’s to teach you patience.”
That probably wasn’t my first lesson in patience, but it is one that I remember very well, especially when I get stuck behind drivers who seem unable to find their gas pedal. We need to learn how to be patient, but especially when it comes to being patient with each other. Like Teenage-Me-Stuck-Behind-A-Slow-Car, impatience leads to grumbling and complaining against each other.
One of my friends recently told me that his wife had to ask him why the kids kept calling all the other drivers “jerks.” We’re impatient with others all the time. I am absolutely certain that my own children have learned impatient attitudes from me. James wrote, “Don’t complain about each other, brothers and sisters, so that you won’t be judged. Look! The judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9 CEB). When we complain about each other, those complaints come from a judgment we’ve already made about someone. When I complain about some slow-driving idiot, I’ve effectively judged and condemned them. When Christians engage in complaining and name-calling, we actually do damage to the Christian message we claim to champion. James reminds us to stay in our lane, so to speak, because judgment is not our job.
Our job is to be patient and strengthen our hearts. Our job is to wait for the coming of the Lord with an active waiting, an active patience that works for God’s coming rule and reign. Mary’s Song speaks of divine reversal where the proud are scattered, the mighty—who had all the power in life—are evicted from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up. The hungry—who had nothing—are filled with all the best things God can provide, and the rich—who had everything—are sent away with nothing.
We wait with patient hope even in the world’s darkness and sin. We wait even as our hands and hearts work to make the world a better place: a place that might reflect something of God’s dominion. We wait with patience because patience is more than a virtue, it’s part of the fruit of the Spirit. Advent is the time when the church recognizes that God is not finished with us nor with creation. God is with us. God is active among us. That’s why we can wait with patience. It’s what allows us to rejoice—even when we sing it in a minor key. God is still with us, and what God intends for humanity and all of creation will yet be. That’s one more paradox of our faith, isn’t it? We hope for Christ’s return: for the end. Because the end is a new beginning.
Jesus will be here soon. Wait for it.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Rev. Christopher Millay