Best Advent Ever: Patience

This message was shared at Christ UMC in Lafayette, IN on December 15, 2013

Read James 5:7-9

10 MORE DAYS!!! (Said with great enthusiasm)
Ten more days. (Said with great complacency)
Ten…more…days. (Said with a sense of dread)

Some of us are so excited for Christmas that we can hardly contain ourselves. Ten more days before the insanity of presents, friends, family, traveling, and the inevitable mass chaos…we can’t wait!

Some of us are rather complacent when it comes to the holiday…we could take or leave it.

Of course, some of us are overcome with a sense of dread. Ten more days before the insanity of presents, friends, family, traveling, and the inevitable mass chaos…we want to cry out, “Sweet Lord Jesus, take me now.”

For some, 10 days feels all too soon. For others, 10 days feels like an eternity.

In the midst of it all, we pause to worship the one we are supposedly honoring in the midst of the insanity of presents, friends, family, traveling, and the inevitable mass chaos this holiday brings.

So, we gather together this morning, in the midst of the insanity and chaos and we hear a passage of Scripture from the book of James that tells us to wait…patiently.

Let’s be honest- how many of us, in the midst of this season, could use a little patience?
– Patience with our family
– Patience with our friends
– Patience with our co-workers
– Patience with the knuckle-heads driving like lunatics in shopping center parking lots
– Patience with department store employees
– Patience with the people ringing bells outside the stores that make you feel guilty for not carrying cash and making a donation…to the point where you want to say, “Oh, I give through my church.”

Now, James is really talking about patiently waiting for Jesus to return and announce the full reign of God. The manner in which we wait patiently for Jesus to come and usher in the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, is directly related to our ability to be patient with one another.

The season of Advent brings about a holy tension between patient waiting and eager anticipation…between sitting back in our chairs and resting our feet or leaning forward on the very edge of our seats…between passivity or activity…between preparing or procrastinating.

So, let’s look at the kind of patience James is spurring us towards.

To learn about patience, James encourages us to consider the farmer…
Before a farmer plants seeds, they do the hard work of analyzing and preparing the soil, determining what kind of seed will best produce in the field. Then, the farmer plants seeds. After the seed has been planted, they just kick back and wait until the harvest, right? NO! They are working hard each day to ensure, as best they can, a bountiful harvest. They have to be prepared…what if we experience a drought…what if it floods…and so on. Then, they harvest the crops. Of course, that’s when the farmer kicks back and takes a break until it’s time to plant again, right? NO. They begin the process of analyzing, planning, preparing for the next season. The farmer doesn’t just plant and walk away until the harvest. The farmer addresses needs as they arise. The farmer waters when necessary…takes care of weeds when necessary…the farmer works while waiting for the harvest.

During the season of Advent, we are reminded to patiently wait for the fullness of God’s Kingdom to be revealed.

Therefore, we are expectant as we wait. We are hopeful as we wait. Like the farmer, we should be actively working to prepare…working to bring a glimpse of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

In the midst of our struggles…in the midst of our pain…in the midst of any tension we may face, we are called to wait…to be patient. Let’s be honest, it can be terribly difficult to wait. When we are at the end of our ropes, it’s hard to wait. When on Friday, we learn of yet more violence in schools, we grow impatient and want to cry out, “Lord, please come soon.”

Ten more days.

In the next ten days, many of us will be packing up our cars to travel to visit family and friends. I don’t know about you, but traveling during the holidays makes me feel like my car is the size of this toy. We load the car up with way too much junk…fully realizing that we will be bringing back even more junk…and hit the road.

What’s the question that we all dread, but know we will hear? “Are we there yet?”

For my kids, it’s a bit of holy expectation when we travel to Ohio…

“Are we there yet?”
“No, we’re only in Frankfort. Just watch your movie or go to sleep.”
“What comes after Frankfort?”
“Are we in Tipton?”
“No, I just told you we’re in Frankfort.”
A little time goes by and the questioning starts again. “Now where are we?”
“We’re in Tipton.”
“Is Greenville next?”
“When will we be there?”
“Probably in about three hours.”
“What’s after Tipton?”
“Elwood. Alexandria. Muncie. Albany. Ridgeville. Union City. Then we’ll be in Greenville.”

This goes on and on for the majority of the journey. In the past four years, we have worn a pretty good path between Lafayette and Greenville, Ohio. You would think the kids would get it. But, they are so excited they want to be there NOW. They don’t fully understand patience in waiting. Therefore, it’s only appropriate that they test my patience on a long journey.

So, we finally make it to Greenville, drive through town, and as we pass the Maid-Rite I can proclaim, “Girls, we’re almost there.” With that statement, the anticipation builds…and the questioning becomes even more rapid…
We turn on Arcanum-Bears Mill Road. “Are we there yet?”
“No. It’s 3 more minutes.”
We turn on Spidel Road. “Are we there yet?”
“No. It’s 2 more minutes.”
We turn on Routzong Road and as soon as the girls see the Red Barn they joyfully proclaim…”We’re here!”

The wait – is – over!

Ten more days – and yet – our waiting is not over. We aren’t simply waiting for Christmas. We are waiting for the fullness of God’s reign. We’re almost there.

Now, here’s where James lays down the trump card. In the midst of our patient waiting, he has the audacity to tell us not to grumble with each other. Are you kidding me?

Let me be straight-forward and remind us all that there is a difference between grumbling and holding one another accountable. Grumbling is just complaining for no reason. Grumbling is complaining with no intention of helping improve the situation. However, we are called to hold one another accountable. So, if I’m not getting the job done and you call me out, that’s not grumbling. However, if I’m getting the job done, but you think I should tuck my shirt in more often…well, you’re nitpicking about things that really aren’t kingdom issues, that really don’t matter and well, that’s grumbling. Of course, that’s why I wear sweaters!

I’ve found that the best way to avoid grumbling is to serve. Serve by giving generously of our time, talents and treasures. Serve those you are most tempted to grumble about. Serve those who try your patience the most! Find ways to encourage and build up those you have a desire to tear down. When we’re tempted to belittle the person who accidentally rang up the wrong price on that item you just have to have…realize that they probably aren’t paid enough to have a merry Christmas, realize that they are loved by God, and find it in your heart to be kind, to be patient, to not be a jerk. Being a rude, impatient jerk won’t help remedy the situation! Earlier in the book of James, he calls us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” If we could get that right…it will be a lot easier to avoid grumbling, it will be a lot easier to be patient.

There are two questions I ask myself throughout the day that help determine whether or not I am being patient, whether or not I am grumbling, and whether or not I am giving generously as I patiently wait. Those two questions: Am I being faithful to God? Are my words, thoughts and actions bringing God glory? Ask yourself these questions throughout the day…at work, at school, at home, wherever I find myself. Ask yourself these questions and see if your ability to be patient increases.

As we patiently wait to fully experience the Kingdom – we are hopeful that there is more to the story than what we experience here and now. And, if that is our hope, we should live out our hope. We shouldn’t be sitting back on our backsides…we should be finding ways to reach out in love and service…to give generously of our time, talents, treasures to address the basic needs of those in our community and world.

This church has a great track record of helping and we should celebrate! Through our Seasons of Giving campaign, we have sent 60 college care packages; served 26 families through Dimes for Turkeys; served 20 families through Jubilee; we have people helping with Family Promise, and we have the potential to provide nearly 50,000 meals or more for our community and Mission Guatemala through Kids Against Hunger. This is great. This is amazing. But, we can’t stop now.

While we patiently wait, we should be looking for ways to generously give and serve daily – demonstrating our love for God and one another. Consider signing up for the Kids Against Hunger packing event on MLK, Jr day; help out a neighbor (shovel, bake cookies/dinner, listen)

Here’s a simple thing everyone can do…PRAY- for our church, schools, neighborhoods, for the least, last, and lost in our community…every day for the next 10 days. Pray that you and I, that this church will be able to bring about a greater good for the Kingdom of God that we might make disciples of Jesus Christ that this world will be forever transformed. Without prayer, it will be difficult for our efforts to be fruitful. If you will commit to this, to praying for our church, schools, neighborhoods, and community…if you will, say “Amen.”

Giving, serving, and praying will help us grumble less and be a bit more patient. If you don’t believe me, try it!

It’s not about what you “can” do…I don’t care about what you can do. It’s about what you WILL do. So, what will you do? Are you going to give? Are you going to serve? Are you going to pray? When you do, you’ll find your ability to be patient increase.


Happy Holidays! Merry Xmas! Pointless Boycotts! Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra!

So, in typical conservative evangelical Christian fashion, the American Family Association has called for a boycott of Radio Shack. Why? Because Radio Shack wishes customers a “happy holiday” instead of a “merry Christmas”. I know, it’s ridiculously offensive. I’m sure Jesus sheds a tear every single time a Radio Shack employee wishes someone a “happy holiday” or saves money as a result of the “holiday savings event”.

Could it be that Radio Shack and many other businesses who have gone the way of observing “holidays” rather than “Christmas” realize that we live in a pluralistic society? Could it be that these businesses prefer not to disenfranchise customers who don’t happen to be Christians? Could it be that these businesses understand that not all customers celebrate Christmas?

Do we understand that saying “merry Christmas” does not make a person or a business anymore of a “Christian” than those saying “happy holidays”?

Do we not realize that the person who we desire to wish us a “merry Christmas” might be a Muslim, Hindu, Jew, atheist or something other than Christian?

Are we Christians really this narrow-minded? Are we Christians really this petty? Unfortunately, I’m afraid the answer might be “yes”.

Maybe instead of wishing customers a “happy holiday”, businesses should wish customers a “merry Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Festivus, whatever!” But, many of my Christian brothers and sisters would not be satisfied. That kind of political correctness would be equally offensive…because we’ve bought into the myth of a Christian nation and believe that, “Dammit, this is America! We love us some Jesus. So wish me a merry freakin’ Christmas.”

So, a “Christian” organization is calling for a boycott over words. That makes sense. It’s totally appropriate to over-react to the use of pleasant words meant to spread a bit of joy into your daily routine. The way we over-react to the “war on Christmas” gives the impression that some of my Christian brothers and sisters believe this to be persecution!

I’ll be honest, I’m more offended by the businesses that say “merry Christmas” but fail to pay their employees enough to actually have a merry Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Festivus, or whatever. Many “merry Christmas” companies fail to realize that there is a major difference between minimum wage and a living wage. And, don’t even get me started on the lack of healthcare and benefits many “merry Christmas” companies fail to offer the employees they supposedly care so much about…

I guess I’d rather call for a boycott on companies based on their actions. Let’s boycott companies that demonstrate a lack of concern for their employees rather than for whether or not they wish me a “merry Christmas.” And, guess what, there are many churches and “Christian” businesses that would make the boycott list. I’m all for boycott’s, let’s just boycott for the right reasons. Boycott businesses that exploit employees and customers. Boycott businesses that discriminate. Boycott businesses that try to run out organizations and other businesses that help those in need. But, boycotting over holiday greetings? That’s just ridiculously childish.

What does the “merry Christmas” greeting accomplish anyway? My guess is that it somehow makes Christians feel better about exploiting the birth of Jesus as a way to practice extravagant greed and materialistic consumption. So, when the cashier (who, let us remember, doesn’t make enough money to have a “merry Christmas”) wishes me a “merry Christmas” when I’m spending hundreds of dollars on a bunch of crap, I feel that I’m doing my part to honor the birth of Christ and stimulate the economy. It’s a win/win!

So, here is my unofficial greeting to you: Happy Holidays! Merry Xmas! Festivus for the Rest of Us! Chag Sameach! Joyous Kwanzaa! Peaceful Nothing! Whatever! Happy Birthday, Jesus…I hope you like crap!