47 Days, 26 Hours, 290 minutes: What are they? Stats of waiting, the average person in the UK will in their life time spend about 47 days remaining in queues, 26 hours a year in traffic. Unfortunately, if they have to go into ED to see a doctor, it will be 290 minutes until someone can assess the injuries they are carrying. The great fallacy of our instant age is that we still find ourselves at the mercy of the queue, having to wait our turn to do something or be seen by someone. We are always waiting.
Waiting can be a profoundly frustrating thing, yet, for the Disciple of Jesus, we are those whose very identity and reality are ingrained in the fact of our waiting. We are a people who incarnate the same idea of waiting: those who know that we live between the now and the not yet, they who are a people defined by being between two places: the now and the not yet, those who can declare Confidently that King Jesus has come, and he will come again! A disciple of Jesus should better than anyone understand the frustration of waiting and its beauty.
We are a people who live with and within the tension of waiting because we know we have all that we need from Christ, and yet, there is more to receive. We are a people who live “waiting”, and there is no better season than captures this facet of our identity than Advent, which reminds us about the what and why of our waiting. Flemming Rutledge writes:
“The entire thrust of this season at the end of the church year is designed to bring us face-to-face with reality about sin and death, reality about the human race, reality about God. Something ultimate has entered our world, something or Someone that calls us to attention, calls us out of our daily preoccupations and our routine points of view. That is what this season with its special biblical readings, is designed to reveal”
We see the complexity and challenge of our waiting in today’s lectionary passage from James five in three ways:
- The “Why” of our Waiting
- The “Way of our Waiting
- The “Witness of our Waiting
Passage: James 5: 7-10 (NIVUK)
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
1. The Why of Our Waiting (7a)
In our busy and fast-paced world, we will, at some point, find ourselves waiting because of circumstances/events beyond our control. We might be people on the move who waits for no one, but at some point, we will have to wait! It could be for someone to come or something to happen – yet, when we wait, there is nothing we can do but what.
The strange thing is what we are waiting for affects how we wait. Consider the excitement of first-time expectant parents awaiting the day their child is finally born and, for the first time, they will hold their flesh and blood. How exciting and Joyful their waiting will be compared to someone awaiting their date in court to stand before a judge and face the consequences for an action or decision. What we are waiting for affects how we wait.
As James writes to the Church dispersed across the nations, he has called them to continue in the faith they have received from those who have gone before them and to live by the Cross and the good news of Jesus.
Time and time again, he has reminded them that they live for Jesus and they live because of Jesus. Or you could say he has reminded them about the “why“ of their living – they live for Jesus. In our passage from verse five, that same truth rings true. Thy way of our living is the why of our waiting; hence in three verses three times James has reminded the church of the coming Advent of their King:
- “Until the Lord Coming…”
- “The Lord coming is near….”
- “The Judge is standing at the door….”
As Christians, we wait, and here we are reminded about the “Why” of our waiting because we know that as Jesus came in his first advent, so will he come again. Hence, we remain not timidly or fearfully of those things that might oppose us, but with the confident and bold expectation that as he went in the Manger, he will go in now Glory one day.
We are all waiting for something, and as disciples, James reminds us that we remain/endure through whatever life may bring because we know that one day Christ will come and finish what his first Advent began. James shows us that the “why” of our waiting is the beautiful truth that Christ will come again; now, he also shows us that the “way” of our waiting is not as we might expect.
2. The Way Of Our Waiting (7b-9)
I wonder what perception you have of waiting; when someone tells you to wait for something, how it makes you feel? I think our culture has created a perception whereby if we have to wait for something or someone beyond us, then in that dependence, we have become weak or passive. Waiting is almost viewed as a weakness. We live in a world where those who can get what they want: “get what they want” – the mighty wait for no one or nothing; by their positions or possessions, they take what they want and have access to who they want. Our world presents ‘waiting’ as a weakness and dependence.
Hence, when we are challenged with the reality of our waiting, we view it through the same prism – that somehow, our waiting for the final Advent of our Lord amid the darkness of these days is somehow passive, idol and pointless. We are like sheep remaining in the field, waiting for the farmer to come and open the gate and bring us back to the barn; the only purpose in our waiting might be to aimlessly look towards the direction we think Christ might come from and hope it’s soon.
We might think the reality of our waiting is passive: but James shows us something far more profound! We are a people whose identity is formed in waiting; thus, we are a people whose waiting is not passive nor idol but active and tangible. As citizens of another world awaiting the consummation of the coming Kingdom with the Advent of the King, our waiting should bring forth that Kingdom in our everyday normality. Our waiting should naturally display what we are waiting for – as we wait for the King, we live like the King.
James uses the image of the farmer whose life is defined by waiting on things beyond his control as he waits for crops to sprout from the land and the autumn and spring rains to sustain them. There is nothing the farmer can do but wait for the harvest and the rains from above, yet, when we think of a farmer waiting, it is hardly an image of idleness.
Not many farmers plant seeds and then sit and wait (maybe praying) for the rains to come and the crops to grow: “I will come back in a few months and see what’s happening.” No farmer does; after they have done the initial planting work, they will continue to work while they wait to care for and maintain the crop they have planted. To ensure their waiting is worthwhile, they will work to manage and maintain the crops so they will not be wasted when the rains come. Wise farmer is active in their waiting to ensure the harvest they wait for will be most fruitful.
James uses the imagery of the fruitful farmer to challenge any notion of idleness for individual believers. The children of God actively wait for the second Advent of our Lord because of the first. The call to patience from James (7) is based on the certainty of the event, that call that echoes again at the start of verse eight. In our active waiting, we are patient, strengthen our hearts, stand firm, and love those we wait with (do not grumble) because we know the Lord is coming. Our waiting is active, and our living must look like the one we are waiting for – consider the Prophets of old (says James).
3. The Witness of Our Waiting (10)
James knows the reality of those he is writing to, the difficulty to face, that the promise of Christ’s final coming is somewhere worth waiting for, yet, something challenging to stay for. Yet, James points back to the profound and yet simple reality that waiting has always been a part of our faith and our faithfulness as he calls the Church to consider the way of the prophet: The way of waiting.
People of faith who God called to speak and live out the way of God in contexts and worlds that had lost sight of God and even dismissed Him. Yet, what did the prophets do? They trusted God as they waited for God to do what he said he would, and they got one with the work of ministering while they waited; they who “spoke in the name of the Lord.” They knew God, and they trusted God, so they got on with that which God called them to in the sure hope that which God had begun, he would see through. Thus, the example of Job, who endured so much, yet whose patience, trust and faith in God were rewarded in ways the world could not have imagined.
The prophets waited because they knew God; today, we are those with a better revelation of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Thus the fruit, joy, and activity of our waiting should be even more powerful because we are those who wait in response to what God has done for us and with a certain expectation that what was achieved on the Cross will soon be consummated when Christ comes in Glory. The prophets fulfilled what God called them to because they knew the heart of God. We know more fully through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit that the Lord is “full of compassion and mercy.” Thus, we consider it pure joy when we face difficulty and know that by going through those dark valleys, God goes with us and is at work in us to produce perseverance and strength and to bring to maturity and completion. We are those who delight in our waiting and know that our waiting – like the prophets of old – witnesses to the one we are waiting for.
The question is, what are you waiting for?
Conclusion: What are we Waiting For?
Advent is a season of preparation; the world might see it as preparing for Christmas in the superficial and consumeristic sense. Yet, for we who are disciples by faith, it is something far more significant. This season of waiting and preparation, in fact, all of our active waiting by faith for the Lord coming again. Flemming Rutledge says of this season of Advent:
”it’s the season for contemplating the judgment of God. Advent is the season that, when properly understood, does not flinch from the darkness that stalks us all in this world. Advent begins in the dark and moves toward the light—but the season should not move too quickly or too glibly, lest we fail to acknowledge the depth of the darkness. As our Lord Jesus tells us, unless we see the light of God clearly, what we call light is actually darkness: “how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). Advent bids us take a fearless inventory of the darkness: the darkness without and the darkness within.”
All who live to wait for something, this season of Advent, we are challenged to consider the person of Jesus like John the Baptist did when he heard of all that he had been doing (Matthew 11:2). In our contemplation of this season with Advent, we join in asking the question of Jesus:
“Are you the one who is to come?”
We are they who live with the knowledge and evidence of the Cross, knowing that He the one the world had been and is waiting for. Thus, we must ask ourselves, is He the one we are waiting – and living – for? Or are we still trusting in other things? And, if we are those who delight in him by faith, let us be renewed in the way, way, and witness of our waiting as we live like the farmer, knowing that the harvest will soon come. Ours is not a passive waiting but an active one because he lives Today in us and through us and Soon will go again. Our is the call to be faithful and patient until he comes again. Amen.
An Advent Prayer from Fleming Rutledge
“May Almighty God, by whose Providence our Savior Christ came among us in great humility, sanctify you with the light of his blessing and set you free from all sin. Amen. May he whose second coming in power and great glory we await make you steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love. Amen. May you who rejoice in the first advent of our Redeemer, at his second advent be rewarded with eternal life. Amen. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you for ever. Amen.”