Patience really is a virtue
Patience is a virtue. Some attribute this insight to the Chinese. Some credit Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman of “Carthage must be destroyed” fame, with a similar statement.
Cato agrees with the Holy Spirit. Patience is a virtue, or, to use the Biblical term, a fruit of faith. Paul includes it in that list of qualities and characteristics that define and identify the Christian: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
James also agrees. Or, better, through him, the Holy Spirit repeats that message. Repeatedly in James 5:7-11, the epistle lesson from last Sunday which serves as our meditation tonight, the Spirit calls Christians to be patient, to wait, to stand firm, to persevere. James writes: “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Here’s yet another Advent reality check: Patience truly is a virtue, not an option. As we wait for Christ to come, as we turn our eyes to the true, real, revealed, and entire Christ, we live patiently.
With which most of us admittedly struggle. How patient are you on hold? In line at the store? With incompetence? With someone who isn’t your favorite person? With your favorite people? Answer: Usually not very.
And usually that’s just kind of blown off: It is what it is. This is who I am. I’m just an impatient person. That may be what it is and who you are, but that’s not consistent with your faith. “Faith without deeds is dead,” James wrote. “We see that a man is justified by what He does.” And then the Spirit says tonight, “Be patient.” Shoot, it’s a command and everything.
Today James puts patience in Advent perspective. It’s eschatological – that is, end times – patience that flows into our entire lives. He says, “Be patient then until the Lord’s coming.” Hold on, bear up, stand fast, because no matter how bad things are, no matter how much you get taken advantage of or hurt, when Christ comes, whether you’re living or long dead, Christ will vindicate your faith. Christ will call forth the dead and the faithful will be taken up with Him into heaven. What more do you need? That outweighs all sources of impatience.
James then connects it to two major problems in the Christian’s life. He says be patient as you put up with troubles from the outside. Especially, he says, remember that this has happened before, it has been this bad. Whether it’s rich oppressors, like those James describes in the previous verses, who use their wealth to take advantage of the less fortunate; or persecutors, like the ones who put the prophets and apostles to death; whether it’s the devil who took away Job’s family, children, house, possessions, and health; or whether it’s whatever it is that pushes your buttons towards impatience and irritation, towards unfaithfulness to Christ, no matter what it is, none of that invalidates Christ and His promises. Jesus simply says, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Or, in Luther’s words, “All this He did that I should be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.” Eventually. Hence, patience.
And at first, this creates great camaraderie among Christians. Sharing troubles creates a siege mentality that allows us to buck up under pressure. We unite, as America did after 9-11. But quickly, that spirit dies. So James warns, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.”
It has also been said that every revolution eats its own children. One generation of revolutionary leaders get executed by the next. Witness the incredible fracturing into parties, sects, divisions, and denominations of the Christian Church after the Reformation. Or see it in the cults. There are at least twelve different Mormon groups all claiming to be the true successor to Joseph Smith. They only have in common a deep hatred for each other.
So quickly, we turn on our brothers. We hold grudges against each other. We treat strangers better than brothers and sisters in Christ. We treat co-workers better than spouses. We treat neighbor’s kids better than ours. We get impatient with them. We grumble against them. Sadly, familiarity does breed contempt. This very thing Christ comes to judge.
And condemn. When He sees it, He will say, “This should not be.” And if it is, it comes not from faith in Christ. It’s not a reflection of the Advent joy that is ours in Christ. And so we must do what Jesus pointed John’s disciples to do – read the Word, look at Christ, and by faith, by the Spirit working in us, figure things out. Isaiah said, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you…. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return.” The LORD is coming. He’s preparing a road to heaven. But only the redeemed will walk there. Only the ransomed will return. Not the impatient. Not the grudge-holders. Not those who take the judging power of the LORD into their own hands.
Thus we repent. The Spirit of God turns us wholly back to God, as we realize that there’s no time for this garbage. Because His coming is near! The Judge stands at the door! We have no time for petty squabbles. We have no time for holding grudges, having grudges, creating grudges. And there’s no reason for them: our Advent joy removes this! So much of our impatience, so much of our grumbling against each other is because we haven’t let our reality be checked by Christ. What does James say about Him today?
“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” Just as the farmer waits for the seasonal rains, we wait patiently for the Lord to provide. The autumn rains loosen up the ground for planting. The spring rains sustain the growing crops for the dry season. Thus provides our God. He provides water at the beginning, middle, and end of our life. He brought us to life in water – the water of our mother’s womb. Then He brought us to real life in the waters of Baptism, clothing us with Christ our Savior and His patient forgiveness of our sins. Then He provides water daily up until the very moment we die. And wherever we are the waters of our Baptism follow us, so that the Holy Spirit might patiently drown our sins once more and raise us up renewed in Christ, resurrected with Him who died and rose for us.
Then James says, “We consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” Job’s story is well known, both the beginning and the end. God allowed Satan to take everything from Job but His life. Yet at the end we read, “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” Because the LORD is full of compassion and mercy; Christ is that compassion and mercy in the flesh.
Christ is the Redeemer Job knew was alive, whom Job knew He would see with His own eyes. Christ is the God who came and gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, voice to the mute, movement to the paralyzed, life to the dead. Who Himself rose from the dead, our Redeemer, with our sins paid for, our death died, our life in His hands. Who has given us every reason to be patient. He has been patient with us from the beginning of time, seeing our sins in His foreknowledge, dying for those sins in our time, preparing a house for us in heaven in eternity.
And it’s almost here. “Yes, I am coming soon,” He says. You’ve waited this long. You can wait just a little longer, because, as He did with Job, when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead, He will bless the latter part of believer’s lives more than the first. You can take that to the bank. Amen.