Advent 3A - James 5:7-10

James 5:7-10 (NIV)

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!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

          Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what shapes your life? What are the things which influence your attitudes and values?

Your parents gave you your genes, what you look like and perhaps some personality traits too.

Your environment? It influences the way you dress – to keep warm or cool. What you eat – what’s affordable and available, who you mix with hang out with – those in your family, neighbourhood workplace?

Your education had a role in shaping you too: the quality and morality of your teachers, the behaviour of your classmates – affected the quality of your learning time, your own interest in the subjects you studied – if you were interested you paid more attention in class and learned more.

Something most of you have been doing over the last years is shaping your spiritual life in a deliberate way through coming to the Divine Services of the Church each Sunday here at St Matthew.

Today is an acknowledgement of that as you publicly confess your faith in Jesus together with the words of the Nicene Creed. But along the journey of your life you’ve also had your spiritual life shaped by others.

Your parents and grandparents, hopefully also your God-parents and the congregations you’ve had membership in. The Sunday School teachers who taught you in your youth had some input too to help make you who you are today and whom God wants you to be for eternity.

Your spiritual life has been shaped by the Words contained in this book – The Bible. Most importantly you’re being shaped by God’s Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to you, and to all of you who believe – from the moment you were Baptised God has been at work in your heart and life.

God’s given you faith – the gift which enables you to believe, to pray, to serve God and those around you in a God pleasing way.

Of course the most significant reason you’re here today is that Jesus has claimed you for His Kingdom, to be His people.

The spiritual journey you began in Baptism is not over, today is another oportunity for affirmation that God confirms in you what He has done and what He desires for the rest of your earthly life into eternal life.

One day, Jesus will return to take us all to heaven for that blissful life we all aspire to. In the Epistle of St James we read, Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. Some of us have been waiting a long time for His coming – and we have to be honest and say we haven’t always been patient about it.

At times we’ve given up waiting and gone and done our own thing, apart from Jesus. Speaking for myself, the times I spent “doing my own thing” apart for Jesus were lonely difficult times. But Jesus has always been faithful to me – and to you too, I’m sure.

We live in a world which wants everything, like yesterday. We have instant meals, coffee, entertainment, I can even watch a movie anywhere now I have a smart phone – I can instantly find out much of what I need to know. But there are many things which still require patience – like the second coming of Jesus into the world.

Some weeks ago, Xara planted some cauliflower seeds here. If we’d have looked the morning after expecting them to have germinated and sprouted we’d have been disappointed? The seeds took time to germinate and more time to mature into the plants God designed them to be and to bear the fruit their genes dictate. We need to be patient.

As we sow the seed of faith, it too takes time to germinate, to mature and bear fruit – years in fact. God has watered you with His Word, washed you in Baptism and continues to remind you of your Baptism and what it means for your life. God wants everyone to have this faith – which means everyone needs to hear the Word freguently.

It’s a bit like the seasonal rains which give life to the plants as they grow and mature to eventually provide fruit at the right time – they need to be regular.

Your parents and grandparents were patient as you grew and matured. As you received regular instruction in the Christian faith – there has been some fruit already, you’re polite and helpful, but the devil is still trying to kill you with temptations, some of which you have yet to experience.

To counter these temptations, Jesus wants to help you and so Has given you His Word, in the Bible, to encourage, support and resist anything that will take you away from Him.

When St James wrote his letter he wrote to Christians – people like you who know something of what it is to be Christian but also know what it’s like to live in the world.

The NIV Bible translates James as saying, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. You’ve come so far in faith. Don’t give up on Jesus – remain strong in Him. Some of your friends may tempt you to forget your relationship with Jesus and the world will offer all kinds of distractions.

Your own sinful heart will lead you to be spiritually lazy to the point where you may slip away from Jesus and stop walking with Him.

I know how easy this is to happen because it happened to me when I left home and the tried to make my own way in the world at the age of 17. I thank God He called me back – it would have been far better if I hadn’t drifted away from Jesus in the first place.

That’s why St James says stand firm, or as another translation puts it, Establish your hearts, that is “be strengthened” in your faith, grow in Jesus and what He has promised and given you.

Listen to His Word, read your Bible, discuss it with fellow Christians, share it with your non-Christian friends – be strong in Jesus and don’t rely on your own understanding.

Otherwise you could find yourself in a spiritual wasteland, alone and in trouble with no one to help. So, I encourage you and pray you will always walk with Jesus.

          Don’t be distracted by petty disputes within the church family as many have been, rise above them and seek out how Jesus would have you speak and act.

If you think the church is boring, and it can be sometimes, notice I said, the church not Jesus – because Jesus is never boring. (far from it – Jesus is always exciting, challenging and encouraging).

        Whenever we as church become boring it’s because we have let go of Jesus, neglected His Word and are too busy fighting each other about things that really don’t matter – like what colour to paint the kitchen or “it’s not my turn to do the dishes.”

St James reminds us, Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Jesus return is imminent – are you ready?

The devil is also known as the accuser and he loves to have us squabbling and accusing each other so that we are distracted from the mission Jesus has called each of us to participate in and support – that mission is proclaiming the coming of the Saviour, Jesus, and the forgiveness of sins He offers.

Jesus is knocking at our door now. We’ve been distracted with “woe is me” because, “I’m too short,” or “no one will like me because I have wrinkles on my face”. Or, as a congregation, “We’re too small, there’s not enough of us.” God’s chosen people have always been a remnant – a small group in the scheme of the world.

We’ve been distracted in the church too because it isn’t growing and we haven’t been looking to Jesus for the answer. It’s like not looking to Jesus to shape and fulfill our lives. Apart from Jesus, nothing has lasting value – life is futile – so why bother being a part of it.

As we read in Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What gives meaning to life is God and His desire for us to respond to His love for us. He wants us to have a living relationship with Jesus. For this to happen we need to be open to Him speaking regularly to us and encouraging us through His Word.

This is why James writes: 10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

          When was the last time you actually studied the writings of the Prophets. Okay, I know many of you have daily devotions, reading your Bible’s and some of you participate in home group and care and share group where you study the Scriptures together. This is good!

But when was the last time our whole congregation was involved in seriously listening, with more than a cursory reading, to the teachings of God’s prophets and examining their lives for examples for us to follow?

          God’s Word is powerful and helps us in daily living. My parents studied the book of Proverbs some years ago and they said, “We wish we had studied Proverbs when we were raising our children because there’s so much wisdom in there.”

          God gives you the wisdom and provides you with all you need to know. Are we up to the task of opening it up and actively participating in the life He has planned for us? It’s not just about the moment! It’s about eternity.

          Jesus came down to you, serves you, died on the cross and rose from the dead so that you too can rise above the mundane, the boring and the death which follows a life without Jesus.

          Jesus imminent return in glory shapes your Christian life and you can have confidence in His return to give you the true perspective on how you are to live and relate to one another as you suffer together and also share the joy which comes only from our Lord.

          In our shortsighted, self-focussed lives we may dwell on our own problems and try to deal with them ourselves. We think, “the quicker we get out of a mess the better.” But this is not God’s perspective which looks beyond the mess to eternal life with Him.

Knowing Jesus is with us as He promised we can bear our sufferings with patience because He will sustain us through them and give us confidence to endure whatever is before us in faith until He comes again.

Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Yet grant us patience as we wait on You. Amen.