Patience is a virtue. He has the patience of Job. We hear a lot about patience. In the Bible the word is used twenty-six times and plenty more times if you include patient and patiently and other relatives.
But patience is a virtue tops them all, really. We are told by our parents to be patient, we are told by our teachers to be patient. We are told by our pastors to be patient.
In this time of Advent the talk of patience becomes so pervasive that we might be tempted to think that Jesus birth is the kind of thing we need to be patient about, as if we weren’t pretty sure that it was being celebrated this year on the 25th as it has been for a couple of centuries or so. I mean I’m patient when I’m waiting for the pizza guy to arrive, but that arrival is a matter of speculation and uncertainty, Jesus Birth is not.
To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, says Luke and even though this is the year of Matthew, I think it still works. Most if not all of you have picked out the service you are planning on attending. We are moving the main service to the seven o’clock hour following the general trend in attendance but we are still gathering at eleven for those of us who like to usher in the birth of Christ in peace and quietude with friends and a rousing rendition of “Silent Night.”
For the rest of you, we’ll still sing Silent Night at the seven o’clock service too; can’t hear that song enough.
But we know when it is coming.
We don’t need patience and when the book of James is put into the lectionary counseling patience on a day like today, I begin to wonder what it is that we are teaching people.
I wonder if we are not encouraging people to sit back, and rest easy, and call the whole thing patience. I wonder if we are not pointing to vigorously at the coming of the Lord and His coming again at a later date that we are teaching people that patience means that they should wait and let the Lord take care of it, whatever it is.
“It will all come out in the wash, is another charming cliché about things working themselves out in the end, counseling the hearer to not worry so much about it today, after all, it will all come out in the wash. In a hundred years we’ll be dead and it won’t matter is another example.
We are told to read Isaiah this morning and to understand that God’s Will will come about inevitably as the rain will fall. But look around, has the rain fallen lately? But still, the dry land will become a fertile pain and the lame shall leap like deer and the hatchback will be a cool car again and all will be taken care of in the sweet by and by and the one to do it will be the Lord.
This is told to us as a sign of hope as a sign that whatever happens here, God will backstop the universe and ensure that what needs to happen will happen and what God wills to come about will indeed come about.
It seems to me that what we have been hearing for the past few centuries is that God will take care of it all, and that we don’t have to worry, what we need, we have come to believe, is patience.
I don’t know how many of you have gathered in the past eight years, in all that we have said to each other or done together, but patience is not a virtue of which I have a limitless supply.
You see, patience is fine and dandy, it is a sign of maturity that you do not need satisfaction the instant an idea comes to your head, it is a sign of a good upbringing that you can survive an entire forty minutes between when you ordered the pizza and when it arrives, it is the bare minimum for a civilized society that you wait the entire forty seconds for the pop-tart to jump out of the toaster.
But in the church, in the house of God, it seems to me that we have elevated patience to a very high shelf in our trophy case and dropped initiative to the very bottom shelf, if we have left it in the case at all.
We wait for the coming of Christ, we wait for Christ to be born, we wait for this and we wait for that and we celebrate Job for his patience even though he is not and I repeat NOT a patient guy in the scriptures.
But we sit back and wait for something wondrous to happen, we hear the sermons and compliment the pastor and go our way in peace and then come back the next week, the faithful people of God.
What we seem to have glossed over is that the promises of God, the day of the Lord, the Peaceable Kingdom foretold in Isaiah with the lion and the lamb and the asp and the little child, all of that, while it will come to us, it Is the will of God that it come to us eventually; the telling of it is meant to get us up off of the couches, out of our seats in church and go out and try and find that peace, find that blessedness, find that will of God out there today and not to wait for it.
We are painted a picture meant to entice us, a foretaste of the feast to come is not meant to satisfy us but indeed to leave us wanting more; wanting more blessing, more peace, more hope, more justice more of everything that the Lord has promised to give us in the end, in the sweet by and by, and to want it now.
If all you get out of the Holy Supper is a warm feeling of salvation and satisfaction that you are loved by the Lord then I do not think that you are getting out of it all that Jesus put into it, maybe we ought to approach the rail like children, (it says so a number of places in the bible so why not give it a whirl?) but like children whose parent has promised them a cake later on, but for now, they get to taste the batter, dipping in a finger, a foretaste of the feast to come.
Is that enough? Is that enough for the average child? Heck no! At least in my house it was never enough; we licked the bowl and the beaters and the spoon and whatever else we could find, greedily looking for something to extend our experience of the cake.
So it is with the blessings of God, the calling of God. It is meant to draw you into the rest of the story, the story where John begins preaching in the wilderness, wearing skins and eating locusts and wild honey and baptizes people with water for repentance of sins all the while telling the tale of the one who would come after him, the one who would baptize with the holy spirit and with fire.
He heard the word, he saw the signs, he knew that the Lord was coming, had felt it in his mother’s womb and so, salvation already in his pocket, (for his name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, the prince of peace and He will establish and uphold righteousness now and forevermore – sound familiar?) he did not sit back and wait for the promised day to come, secure in the knowledge of his own salvation.
He stood up, girded up his loins, and went about the business at hand; spreading the word, so that all who had not gotten the message in utero might also be saved and come to know the Lord.
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist, says Jesus this morning and I can tell you it was probably not for his hygiene.
It was because he was the herald, he tasted the sweetness of salvation and wanted more, and he realized, in ways many of us have forgotten it would seem, that joys shared are joys multiplied.
When more people come together under the umbrella of God’s love and provision, the spirit flows more freely, the blessings fall more thickly, the hope is more palpable, the foretaste that much sweeter. We all say we want more people in church but we say that for the sake of the church instead of honestly seeking more of God’s blessings both for ourselves and for those we are reaching out to.
It is okay to not be patient when wanting more than a single foretaste, a single instant of grace. Go out and get some more! You will find it in the hearts of other people, in people you have met and known all of your life but with whom you have never shared your secrets, and whose secrets you have never heard. How can you know what Christ can bring to them if you do not know what they dream of and are too shy to say out loud?
Our psalm this morning sings the praises of our God who gives good things to all people, food and safety and justice. How marvelous is the Lord and how great are the works of the Lord! All of that is fine and dandy but how do you suppose the Lord accomplishes all of these things? If we confess that the words of the Bible are true and that God indeed has provided all that anyone needs in this life or in any other life, then how come I do not see Yahweh Express trucks out on the streets, delivering the Lord’s blessings to Gods people?
Well, actually, you do. You see the Meals on Wheels trucks going about the business of making sure that elderly and homebound people do not starve, either for food or for contact with other humans. You see the Redwood Empire Food Bank trucks and the Salvation Army and whatever other groups who have gotten together, who have sought to share and to multiply the blessings of the Lord, who have reached out to people that they did not know with no other mission than to know and to serve them and in that, the hand of the Lord can be seen.
But you know what? It is still a person at the wheel of the trucks. It is still a person who counts the money or arranges the clothes on racks for sale. It is still a person who gets up early in the morning to make sure that the homeless can get a blanket if they need one, or a hot meal, maybe their only one today.
It is a person who dares to hear the word of salvation and to declare boldly that it is not enough. It is not enough that I am saved and rescued for sin and death. It is not enough that I have been freed from the fear of damnation, the fear of never measuring up, the fear of God’s wrath. It is not enough for me to simply be patient and wait for the Lord to come and give the world all the good things that the lord has already given to me.
It is not enough.
It is not enough for the disciple to merely hear and believe. Somewhere in the promise there is also the call. The yearning for more, for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and absolutely no patience for waiting around for it to happen.
A lot of things hold us back. It is easier to sit back and wait than it is to step up and speak. It is easier to claim patience as your badge than it is to stride boldly into the future and participate in its creation. It is more comfortable to surround yourself with like-minded people and cuddle up in a world of self-satisfying entertainments and distractions than it is to brave being uncomfortable, to brave actually following your values and beliefs and seeking to remake the world according to them.
“Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” says Jesus this morning. Taking no offense means in this case not allowing other voices to draw you away, to make you think little of God’s calling for you and to seek instead your own counsel.
Take no offense, but instead heed the call of the wonderful counselor, Mighty God, everlasting father, the Prince of Peace.