Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. Over Thanksgiving, my family took a road trip to visit Lisa’s relatives in Kansas City. My son Benjamin was excited at the prospect to see Grandma and Papa, as he calls my in-laws. Time spent with grandparents is the highlight of his brief time on earth so far. However, for a little boy who doesn’t know how to tell time or measure distance on a map, Kansas City might as well be forever away from Denver. I cannot tell you how many times he inquired from the backseat, “Are we almost to Papa’s house?” It’s not so different from the question with which I used to pester my parents when I was a child: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
“No, Benjamin! We’re not there yet. Almost. But it takes a long time. Just be patient.”
“Just be patient” might also be a good summary of our epistle lesson today:
“Be patient, therefore, brothers [and sisters], until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas. 5:7-8, ESV).
St. James mentions patience four times in as many verses. Clearly, he is harping on a theme. We have a saying, “Patience is a virtue.” But we are unvirtuous sinners—and impatient people!
Today we consider the need to be patient as we await the Second Coming of Jesus. In the 1st century A.D., the early Church anticipated that Jesus was going to return at any moment. Almost immediately after his Ascension, they expected an imminent return, in part because of their misunderstanding of certain cryptic (and confusing) statements Jesus made before he departed from the earth. For example, Jesus told his disciples on one occasion, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Regarding the fate of John, Jesus told Peter, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”, which led to a rumor that St. John would never die because Christ would come back first (John 21:22-23).
Indeed, as the last of the remaining apostles, John wrote the apocalyptic vision we know as the Book of Revelation sometime around 100 A.D. By that time, the first generation of believers were all dead, but Christ had still not returned. And despite his fourfold assurance, “I am coming soon” (Rev. 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20), we have been waiting nearly 2,000 years for the return of the King. Clearly, Jesus has a different understanding of “soon” than we do.
In the 1st century, the early Church became very anxious about Jesus’ Second Coming. As I just said, they expected an immediate return of Christ. But as the decades drew on and persecution intensified, they became discouraged. Some believers began to worry and wonder if they had misunderstood. Perhaps Jesus wasn’t really coming back after all! Others, such as the Thessalonians, imagined that maybe Jesus had already come and gone—and they had been left behind!
Throughout the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and other apostles, go to great lengths to urge patience (as oxymoronic as that may sound!) and to reassure their fellow Christians that yes, Jesus promised to return, and yes, God always keeps his promises. That is why, in our epistle lesson, James repeatedly tells his readers to be patient. “For the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas. 5:8). And while it is true that “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36), nevertheless Christ will come again. That is why, in the Creed, we confess, “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead” (LSB, Nicene Creed).
But sometimes I wonder how many of us actually, truly believe in a literal Second Coming of the Son of Man. How many of us really believe that Jesus is going to come again someday? And I don’t just mean in the silly, sentimental, spiritual sense that Christ comes in our love for one another, or that he is somehow present wherever two or three gather together in his name. I mean, how many of us believe that he’s going to come back to this planet someday in the future and actually walk about with his feet on the ground?
For some, the belief in the Second Coming is more fairytale than fact, more fiction than faith. Perhaps it is a hopeful story we tell ourselves to make each other feel better when the world is up and we are down. But perhaps that is all it is—just a story.
Not so! Nothing could be further from the truth! For if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and take him at his Word, then we cannot let go of his promise to come again. That is what the Church’s season of Advent is all about. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that Advent is just the Church’s way to get ready for Christmas. No wonder, then, that we prefer to sing Christmas carols instead of the Advent hymns that speak of Judgment Day and the end of the world. We are like dancers at a party, pretending that the music is never going to end, and our glasses are never going to run dry. But, in fact, there is a day when the world will end and Christ will come again to judge the earth and usher in a new creation.
Advent is a season of waiting—not just waiting for Christmas, but waiting for the Last Day of Christ’s return. As Christians here on earth, we are people without a country, exiles from Eden, waiting for the return of our King, who set things right and make all things new. But Advent is more than just the 4 weeks before Christmas. Advent is a mark of the entire Christian life under the cross. As the Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes, “The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”
Of course, waiting does not come easily for those of us born into an impatient age. We have grown up (or grown accustomed) to fast food, express lanes, high speed Internet, and video on the demand. We are willing to pay atrocious amounts of money simply to have the things we want when we want them. For example, along with millions of other Amazon subscribers, I am willing to pay $90 per year just so that when I order a book or a movie online, I can have it less than 2 days later—without ever having to set foot out of my house or drive a “big box” store. There are people who will pay hundreds of dollars in order to get passes that let them skip the line at Disney World in order to get right on the rides. We have become so used to instant gratification, that we check our smartphones for messages and updates anywhere from 70-100 times per day. We have become so impatient as a culture than many expectant mothers do not even wait for their due dates anymore and schedule their deliveries a few days in advance so they can get the baby out as soon as possible.
We don’t like to wait. We are an impatient people. We grumble and gripe and lose our tempers with other people, especially if they are of that obnoxious sort who likes to be present in the moment and smell the roses instead of hurrying and scurrying from one thing to another. We are impatient with ourselves, impatient with other people, and even impatient with God.
Well would we do to heed the admonition of St. James to be patient with the Lord and patient with each other because “the coming of the Lord is at hand.” The Advent of our God is upon us! The coming of the King is just around the corner! No, we don’t know exactly when, but according to Jesus, it is soon!
The Good News for us is that God is patient toward us. Even though we have great difficulty in waiting, “the Lord is compassionate and merciful,” according to verse 11. That is a brief quotation of a longer verse that also assures us God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ex. 34:6). Or, as the Apostle Peter puts it in his second letter, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
God doesn’t operate on our timetable. Timothy Keller writes about this in his book, Hidden Christmas:
“You cannot judge God by your calendar. God may appear to be slow, but he never forgets his promises…. God’s grace virtually never operates on our time frame, on a schedule we consider reasonable. He does not follow our agendas or schedules.”
If there is any apparent delay in Christ’s return, it is only because He is patient toward us, giving us time to repent of our sins and get our act together before he comes. Remember: “the Judge is standing at the door” (Jas. 5:9). He is waiting for us to receive his Word and believe his promises. “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
We have only one life to live. And rather than rushing through it, be patient with yourself, patient with one another, and patient with the Lord. No matter how long it takes, he won’t let you down. He will come again someday, just as he said. No one knows when the King will come, but he is coming! Are we there yet? No, not yet. But soon! And so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (2 Pet. 3:12; Rev. 22:20). Amen