What are you waiting for? Here are some of things that I am waiting for. I am waiting for England to win the Ashes. I am waiting to find out where my next job will be. I am waiting to meet my new nephew in the New Year. (Nathaniel is really glad that it’s going to be a boy as at the moment he has a sister and three girl cousins and he thinks it’s about time that there was another boy at family gatherings, he’s really waiting for that). I am waiting for more of my friends to come to faith in Jesus. I am waiting for Liz’s lungs to be healed. I am waiting to find out what Christmas presents I am going to get. What are you waiting for?
James’ readers were waiting for something. They were waiting for Jesus to return to earth. They had heard the accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and had believed. They had chosen to be followers of Jesus, and were working out what that meant for their daily lives. Part of that was by waiting for Jesus to return. That wait was not proving to be easy. They were being persecuted by the governments of the places that they lived, they were being cheated and downtrodden by the rich, and they were feeling abandoned.
James writes to encourage these Christians in their waiting. He encourages them to be patient in two ways. They are to be patient with the situation and they are to be patient with each other. They are to be patient with the situation because they know that God is working in that situation, and that Jesus will return to bring it to an end with healing and with justice. They are to be patient with each other because they know that God is in their brothers and sisters, and that Jesus will return to judge the way in which they treat each other.
Whatever else we are waiting for, we are also waiting for Jesus’ return. He said himself that his return would be like a thief in the night, and that his followers needed to be always ready for it. That means us. In this season of Advent we have the opportunity to think about our own waiting for Jesus.
It seems to me that if I say that I am waiting for something then that means that I am expecting that thing to happen. If I am at a bus stop, waiting for a bus, then I am expecting a bus to turn up. If a bus doesn’t come for ages, and there are no other cars on the road but there is lots of snow, then I might leave the bus stop. I’ve stopped expecting it to turn up, so I stop waiting. If I’m at the post office, and there’s a huge queue, and it’s not moving, I might wait a while, but as soon as I stop expecting to get served in a reasonable time, then I leave – I stop waiting.
In James’ example of the farmer, the farmer is waiting in expectation of there being a crop. If harvest time comes and goes with no sight of grain, then the farmer will stop waiting. She knows that the crop has failed, and that the cycle needs to start again.
If we are not expecting Jesus to return, then we are not waiting for him. We might be coming to church every week, we might be doing all kinds of good and worthwhile things, but we are not obeying him. Jesus has told us to wait for him. That means that we should be expecting him, and our expectation should be seen in the way that we live. Our expectation should make a difference to the things that we do and the way that we speak.
It seems to me that James’ call to patience can help us to work out what that means for us in our own lives.
James encourages his readers to be patient about the situation that they are in. For them, it was to do with patient endurance in the face of persecution and suffering. What is the situation that we are in? What is it about that situation that requires us to be patient? As a church we face all kinds of challenges. There are not very many of us. We are not covering our running costs. We live in a society that is largely dismissive of our faith. We can see so much need in our communities, and sometimes it feels like we don’t have the resources we would like to be able to meet them.
As individuals we will each have challenges in our lives that make them difficult. People we don’t get on with, money worries, family problems, illness or grief.
In all these situations James encourages our patient endurance. We can endure because we can know that our waiting will come to a good end. We can remember that waiting is waiting because it is expecting something to happen. If it wasn’t expecting something to happen, it wouldn’t be waiting, it would be despair. The waiting that James is talking about is patient, not passive. In the story of the farmer, and in other similar stories in the Bible, the wisdom of the farmer is shown in knowing what is the farmer’s part in the growing of the crop, and what is God’s part. The farmer’s part is to prepare the soil, plant the seed, and tend the plants. God’s part is to send the sun and the rain, and to cause the growth. In the challenges and tasks we face, we need to be wise enough to know what our part is, to do that part, and to trust God to do God’s work. Our work may include prayer, fasting, giving, being available to people, speaking, doing, or listening. Whilst doing our work we are also to be patient, leaving to God the things that are God’s to do.
So, as we wait actively for Jesus to return we are patient in the situations that we find ourselves in. James also calls us to be patient with the people that we are waiting with. He tells his readers not to grumble or complain against each other.
We can see the importance of this in so many walks of life. Half the stories on the back pages of the newspapers seem to be about the importance of team spirit to the success of a sports team. Much of the analysis of the recent success of the English cricket team against Australia has focussed on the close knit nature of the team. Very often when a football team is having a poor run of results, there is lots of speculation about fallings out in the dressing room. Very occasionally you see people who are meant to be team mates coming to blows during a game. It’s never a good sign for the team.
Without getting into the rights and wrongs of the university fees debate this week, it will be interesting to see what happens to the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition over the next few weeks. Will they pull together, or will they complain and grumble against each other so much that they will tear each other apart.
We see it all the time, when a group of people are put in a stressful situation, very often they begin to become impatient with each other, to grumble about each other. This is completely counter-productive, as it saps energy that could be used to deal with the problems that are actually causing the stress. James’ original readers were in a stressful situation, and he knew what people are like, so he warns them of the dangers. That warning applies to us as well. We need to be patient with each other.
I’ve already talked about some of the challenges that we face, as a church and as individuals. We have a choice. On the one hand we could allow those challenges to turn us on each other, grumbling and complaining. If we do that, then there is a danger that we will end up damaging each other and this church.
On the other hand, we could be patient with each other, and encourage each other as we face these challenges. Those who think that change is needed have to be patient with those who are uncomfortable with change. Those who are concerned about change are not to complain about those who want to forge ahead. We all have our own ideas about how things ought to be done, and what our priorities need to be. Some of these ideas are very different. We need to be able to talk about these ideas to each other in a positive way, in a way which is open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. If this is to happen then have to be able to trust each other and it seems to me that that trust is built by us being gentle with each other, as God is gentle with us.
Of course, sometimes we get things wrong, and we need to give and receive forgiveness. As part of our Communion celebrations we often say, “Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.” This is an expression of the unity that we have in Christ and our commitment to be patient with each other, and not to grumble about each other. This is also the reason that we express God’s peace to each other at the beginning of the Communion part of our service. We are following Jesus’ instructions to be at peace with each other before coming to God’s table.
Most people are waiting for something. All of us are called to be waiting for Jesus to return. As we wait we face all kinds of difficulties and troubles. In all of these situations we are to wait, doing the things that God has called us to do faithfully, whilst being patient and trusting God to do God’s part. We are also to be patient with those who wait with us. Not grumbling or complaining, but encouraging and building each other up. We choose to live like this because we are watching and waiting, expecting Jesus to return and we want to be ready to greet him when he does.