James 5:7-10 Advent Three: A Meditation

The third week of Advent brings us to what might be the perfect Advent text. James 5:7-10 is a strong exhortation to get our act together because, “The Lord is coming.”  The first line in the Latin Bible even has the very word: patients igniter estate craters issue ad adventum Domini. 

Let’s continue in, English.


Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters*, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and late rains.

My father was a farmer. He loved to watch things grow. However, patience is not a word that anyone would apply to him, and I think to most farmers. Farmers always are impatient. They can’t wait to break the dirt in the spring. They can’t wait to get the seed in the ground. The can’t wait for it sprout. They can’t wait for it to blossom. They can’t wait until the crop is ripe. They can’t wait until the harvest. They can’t wait until it is sold or stored away. And finally, they rarely can wait until they eat it. This is why you see farmers and growers of all types eating their tomatoes/peaches/grapes right off the vine.

Farmers are not patient by nature. They are also never happy with the weather. James points to the early and late rains in the growing season. Farmers always complain about rain. There is either not enough or there is too much or it comes at the wrong times.

Did James know any farmers?

I wager he did, and that might very well be the point. We wait like farmers do: patiently impatient knowing there is nothing we can do except anticipate the day when the crops are gathered and our work is done. Until then, we keep at it.

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

The word here, establish, is usually a pretty good word, but may I suggest ‘strengthen’ or ‘firm up’ as a better rendering here. Just as a farmer strengthens her crop by tending it, protecting it, making certain it has good soil, so too should we strengthen our heart. This is not a passive, “let’s hope we have strong hearts” but is an encouragement to make active steps to strengthen our hearts.

Going back to my father, he used to put fertilizer in the soil to strengthen it. Virgin soil didn’t need this, but when you’ve been farming the same land over time, it needs help. Growing things saps the energy and vitality from the dirt.

Just as life drains the love out of our hearts. Hurts, pains, betrayals, lies, and disappointments weaken our hearts. But Jesus is coming, so we must take steps to strengthen our hearts. We strengthen our heart by exercising faith, practicing discipline, and feeding on the word of God.

Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters*, so that you may not be judged, behold the Judge is standing at the door.

By my count this the third time in a row James has warned us that Jesus is coming. This time it is as our Judge. What is he judging? Specifically here, how we speak about our church family and other Christ-followers. Grumbling is not a good idea.

What I like here is the sense of the judge at the door, but what he is doing is not coming in. Instead, he is standing there, eavesdropping. He is standing at the door listening to what is happening inside. Can you see in your mind the possible scenario James has built? The Lord Jesus, our judge, is standing outside the door listening to how we are talking about one another.

What does Jesus hear you saying about your brothers and sisters in Christ? He is there, standing at the door listening, and any minute he may walk in, he may come in (adventum in Latin, parousia in Greek (vv 7 & 8) and catch you red-handed spewing slander, gossip, and hatred toward your brother or sister in Christ. How embarrassing.

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters*, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The lectionary reading ends here; but James will go on to talk about Job. I wouldn’t think naturally about Job as a prophet, but that is the kind of suffering James has in mind. Job suffered in his body through ailment and disease. Job suffered through grief at the loss of his children. Job suffered economically as all his wealth was stripped away. Job suffered relationally as his wife was at odds with him. Job suffered socially from the accusations of wrongdoing by his ‘friends’. Job suffered spiritually because he never understood why God would do this to him.

To be human is to suffer. I have come to believe this is what defines us. James teaches us that Jesus is coming, and as we wait, we must wait in the context of our suffering the way the old timers did. What does this mean? It means we make Job’s confession about the coming of the Lord; a confession that ends, strangely enough, with an appeal to a weakening heart, which no doubt needs to be strengthened by faith in the midst of adversity.

Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

Job 19:23-28
*I have annotated the ESV text with ‘brothers and sisters’ where it says ‘brothers’ because the Greek word here, adelphoi, is gender inclusive and is a better reading of the textual meaning rather than the exclusive term ‘brothers’. There are three instances here in this text of that usage.

Advent 3, Year C–Philippians 4:4-7

These verses from Paul’s inspiring prison epistle come close to hitting just about every Advent theme there is.


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Let’s just count those Advent themes, shall we?

  1. Joy (Rejoice)
  2. The coming of the Lord (The Lord is at hand–literally, ‘the Lord is near’)
  3. Anxiety
  4. Prayer
  5. Thanksgiving
  6. Peace
  7. Love

Some might quibble with the inclusion of love, but Paul references ‘hearts’ in verse 7 and even uses along with ‘minds’ as two different things-cognitive and affective. This indicates he is speaking about love. The words ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ are missing, but they can be deduced through the activity of prayer, which is faith in action, so to speak. Hope is about the future, which is where the passage goes in terms of God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds.

Now, let’s make another list. Let’s make a list of the things that can make us anxious during the Advent season leading up to Christmas?

  1. Gift buying
  2. Gift receiving
  3. Family
  4. Money problems
  5. Health Issues
  6. Weather
  7. Busy Activities
  8. Loss/Grief
  9. Bing Crosby
  10. Elf on the Shelf
  11. Pressure to cook
  12. Weight gain
  13. Schedule interruption/loss of routine
  14. Christmas cards
  15. Christmas parties
  16. Travel
  17. Houseguests
  18. Crowds
  19. Christmas trees
  20. Christmas music

That is a quick list, but hardly exhaustive, amiright?

If I were preaching this passage this Sunday (I am not), the bulk of the sermon would live with that idea-what makes us anxious. I’d spend considerable oxygen on seasonal anxiety but then I would shift to anxiety in general and perhaps have our congregation daydream with me about a warm day in June and the anxieties there.

  1. Vacation plans
  2. Plane tickets
  3. Sunburns
  4. Graduation Parties
  5. College Issues (there are about a hundred that go with this)
  6. Juggling schedules at work
  7. Children getting out of school
  8. Mowing the grass/yard work (this is a high source of anxiety for me, personally)
  9. Church activities
  10. Air conditioner broken
  11. New tires for the car
  12. Dropped phone in the lake/fountain/toilet
  13. Dog’s veterinary visit
  14. Frenemies at work (textually, this is close to the source of anxiety in Philippi, c/f 4:2)

You can see anxiety is not just a seasonal issue. It is continual and always with us. Having made that point, I would then pull from the text two different aspects that Paul seems to offer as solutions.

The first one is prayer. Whatever makes us anxious is an issue of prayer. Certainly this means focusing on these things when we pray, but it probably also means letting the moments of anxiety themselves become prayer opportunities. When the crowd makes me nervous it will help if I center myself and pray in that moment. This practice makes the awarenesses that “The Lord is near” more relevant than ever. His presence, his Immanuel, can help with anxiety.

But he seems to give us more than prayer to work with. Paul says that we should let our ‘reasonableness’ be known. The ESV chooses reasonableness as the rendering, but ‘gentleness’ has a fine tradition for interpretation, and the word could even indicate ‘graciousness.’ One of my favorite little Greek New Testament tools indicates ‘considerate’ as a baseline meaning. When you have this kind of word soup for options, I find it nice to put them in a blender and hit puree. What we get at is the concept people should not be jerks and take whatever actions are relevant to ease anxiety, whether it is their own or someone else’s. In our modern context, I take that to mean enjoying the science-based evidence that medication, therapy, a psychologist, meditation, or any other treatment that might help is in play here. It is only reasonable. Some people face anxiety in different ways than others. This could be as much biochemistry as it is spiritual. That doesn’t mean you stop praying, though. It means you let your faith and reasonable activities partner together to help you enjoy the peace that guards your hearts and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

Advent 3, Year C–Zephaniah 3:14-20

There is no hope in the book of Zephaniah until the backend. Well, perhaps I should temper my sentence down a bit, as hope is sometimes a subjective thing. It would be more accurate to say there is only judgment in Zephaniah until the last section that begins in 3:9. From there it is all hope all the way to the end. Verses 9-13 are prophecies which speak to the future conversion of other peoples besides the Hebrews.

Our Old Testament reading for the third Sunday of Advent doesn’t begin until verse 14, though. We have to be careful to always take note of the historical situation, because that matters too, but in the themes of Advent we should read these words primarily as prophetic oracles about the Lord Jesus.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.

Zephaniah 3:15-15

Remember, Zephaniah has been pronouncing judgment–powerful condemnation–and he started with Judah (1:4). But now something has changed. The Lord takes it away. The reader is designed to come to the conclusion this is so because the Lord himself is in our midst, and his presence vanquishes evil.

The Lord doesn’t promise he will remove evil, he just promises that the people will no longer fear it, because the enemies have been cleared away. As a follower of the Lord Jesus, we see “Immanuel” in these lines–God with us who vanquishes the enemy, the only true enemy which is death. Jesus is with us, therefore we have no fear of death. Those dots are not hard to connect.

Let me push farther. It might be a reach. I understand that, so no scolding or judgment. The phrase “Daughter of Zion” is found throughout the Hebrew Bible and is usually understood to mean the Hebrews. What if, though, through the lens of prophecy, we could see the offspring, the daughter of Zion as the bride of Christ. The child of Israel might therefore be the church. The daughter of Zion.

Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah  3:16B-17

The idea of the Lord quieting us with love is evocative of maternal action. The baby is afraid, so the mother comes into the room and is with the frightened infant. She holds the baby as she laughs and says, “There there, all is well” holding the baby near her chest and the pumping, beating heart. The baby is still jittery, so to nestle her back to sleep she begins to sing a lullaby.

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3:20

I am smitten by these words.

  • Save the lame–Jesus heals those who cannot walk.
  • Gather the outcast–Jesus makes a people from those who were not a people.
  • Change their shame into praise–the forgiveness of sins leads into the doxology of worship.

At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together, for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes . . .

Zephaniah 3:20

Pentecost, the great ingathering day of the harvest festival, when the Holy Spirit brought the nations into one speech (Zephaniah 3:9).