Be Patient and Stand Firm

Pastor Kim Gilliland
December 11, 2016
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 11: 2-11 and James 5: 7-10
You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
James 5: 8 (NIV)

WAITING PATIENTLY FOR CHRISTMAS

Do you remember when you were a kid how hard it was to wait for Christmas to come. Santa Claus was coming and it could not be soon enough. That’s because you wanted to know what you got for Christmas. Nothing else really mattered. That was back in the days when your life revolved around the Sears Christmas Wish Catalogue. Do you remember that? Every house had one I think and usually right in the very front was the toy section. If you had a kid in your house, that was the most thumbed through, raggedy-eared part of the catalogue. My sister and I would spend hours examining – even memorizing – every page and deciding which toys we thought should go under the Christmas tree. And then we would tell Mom and Dad what they should get for us. And then we had to sit back and be patient.

A few days before Christmas, some presents would appear under the tree. They generally were nothing big and nothing fancy. Usually, they were clothes and Judy and I didn’t take a whole lot of interest in them because we knew that the best was yet to come. All we had to do was be patient.

But as Christmas Eve approached, it got harder and harder to be patient. The anticipation of Christmas Day was electric. We just couldn’t wait for it to arrive with all of its surprise and magic.

Inevitably, when the big day finally came, Judy and I were the first ones up. Either I’d wake her up or she would wake me up and we’d sneak down the stairs from our second floor bedrooms to see what had arrived under the tree. The funny thing was that when we went to bed the night before, the tree still looked pretty bare but when we got up on Christmas morning we were greeted with the most amazing sight. There were presents everywhere. The were big boxes, little boxes, boxes with bright wrapping paper, weird shaped boxes wrapped in such a was as to try to hide what was in them.

We, of course, were not allowed to actually open the boxes until Mom and Dad got up but when they finally did get up and we finally got to open the gifts, we were never disappointed. Our patience had paid off and it was well worth the effort.

WAITING PATIENTLY FOR THE MESSIAH

Advent is about waiting. James wasn’t talking specifically about Advent when he wrote his epistle but his words touch on it. In James 5:8 (NIV) he wrote: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” “Jesus is coming,” he said, “and you have to be patient and stand firm because when he comes, you will not be disappointed.” He wasn’t, of course, talking about Jesus’ first coming when he was born in Bethlehem. Rather he was talking about the second coming when Jesus will return in glory to complete what he began when he first walked the earth.

Waiting. We are called to wait. And we are called to be patient while we wait. Like children waiting for Christmas Day, that is not always easy to do but it is made easier when you expect something at the end of the wait.

What do you expect? That’s a good question for us as journey through Advent. It’s the same question that Jesus asked the crowds in the this morning’s reading from Matthew the Lynn read this morning. In this story, Matthew tells us that John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was in prison. John had a very special role in the salvation history of creation. He was the one who was expected to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. When he heard what Jesus was doing, he sent his disciples to find out if Jesus was, in fact, the long awaited Messiah of God.

Jesus’ response was interesting. In Matthew 11:4-5 (NIV) Jesus said this to John’s disciples: “Go back and report to John what you see and hear. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.” That might seem a bit cryptic to us but to John the response would have given him a crystal clear answer. Yes, Jesus was the Messiah because all of these things were what was expected of the coming Messiah and since Jesus fulfilled all of these things, then by deduction, he was the one for whom John was waiting and preparing. Jesus met John’s expectations.

Jesus then turned the conversation around and asked the people who were gathered what they expected from John. “What did you expect to see?” asked Jesus. He went on to give them three options that I think are very important to our discussion of expectations.

“What did you expect to see when you went to see John in the wilderness?” asked Jesus in Matthew 11:7 (NIV), “A reed blowing in the wind?” Let’s consider what that meant to the people of the day. It was not unusual for the reeds to be blowing in the wind in the wilderness. That’s where reeds grew and that’s where the wind blew so if the wind blew the reeds, no one should be terribly surprised. Was that what the people expected to see? If it was, they would not be disappointed because chances are they would see just that.

The problem with this expectation, however, was that it was not unusual or different or unique. If all they expected to see when they went out to see John was normal everyday things, then chances are they were missing something very important. John was not about normal everyday stuff. He was a unique individual with a unique ministry and role in life. His job was to prepare the way for the one who would change both history and creation. That is so much more important than watching ordinary stuff like a few reeds blowing in the wind.

Let’s look at Jesus’ second suggestion. It’s found in Matthew 11:8 (NIV) “… what did you expect to see? A man dressed in soft robes?” If that was the case, then they would surely be disappointed. John wore no such things. In fact, earlier on in Matthew 3:4 (NIV) it says, “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” Soft robes? Has anyone here has ever worn anything made from camel hair? Probably not but if you know what horse hair is like, you have a good idea about how uncomfortable camel hair would be. It is not soft. It is coarse and itchy and uncomfortable. John did not have the luxury of soft clothes. Besides that, his diet was rather simple: locusts and wild honey. If people expect to find a soft, cultured aristocrat in John, then they would be very disappointed indeed because they were expecting the wrong thing.

Jesus’ third suggestion in Matthew 11:9 (NIV) hit closer to the mark: “Then what did you expect to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” If the people expected to see a prophet then they were on the right track because John certainly was a prophet. Prophets were looked upon as being rather extraordinary. They were not the usual run of the mill people. They were special, appointed by God to lead Israel back to faithfulness or, in John’s case, to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Remember that John as a weird guy. He lived out in the wilderness, wore clothing made camel hair and survived on locusts and wild honey. He probably had long dark shaggy hair and smelled a bit like he could use a bath. If he came walking through Cottam down Talbot St. this afternoon, all of us nice white, educated, middle class people would probably cross the road to the other side and hope that he didn’t notice us. John was definitely the kind of fellow that you hope that your daughter will not bring home to meet Mom and Dad over the Christmas holidays.

John was more than a tad strange but that’s just another way of saying that he was extraordinary. He may not have looked like your average ordinary Joe. He certainly didn’t act or speak like one either. Jesus affirmed that he was a prophet but he was far more than a prophet. Jesus said that he was the greatest prophet to ever walk the face of the earth.

The long and the short of it is that the people who got what they expected out of John were not the ones who expected the plain old ordinary reed blowing in the wind. They were also not the ones who expected a nice neat cushy guy in a soft suit. The people who got what they expected from John were the ones who were looking for something extraordinary. Their patience had paid off.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM JESUS?

What do we expect to find when Jesus comes? Different people expect different things when they come to Jesus. There are those who expect that when they give their lives to Christ, they will find prosperity. There is, in fact, a whole Christian movement based on the notion that God will bless our faithful with material wealth and prosperity. The premise is that if we are faithful to God, God will be faithful to us and that faithfulness equates to a very comfortable living. The logic of that, of course, says that if people are poor, they must not be very faithful. On the contrary, if you live in the lap of luxury, then you must be blessed by God. Does anyone here think that is possibly true? I’ve never been to Africa but people who have been there tell me that the happiest people they know live in Africa. They don’t own TV’s. They don’t have video games. They walk to Church on Sunday morning because they don’t own cars and couldn’t afford the gasoline to run them even if they could scrape together the funds to purchase the vehicle. Do we expect financial prosperity when we come to Christ? Think again. Consumerism is ordinary everyday run of the mill stuff. It is not what Jesus offers.

There are those who expect Jesus to bring them material prosperity and then there are those who expect that once they come to Christ, life will be easy. Jesus will take away all of their troubles and bless them with wonder and joy forever more. No more pain. No more suffering. Life will be bowl of cherries. But is that a realistic expectation? Remember Martin Luther King Jr.? He was a devout Christian but was assassinated for his work on racial equality. Tell that to Archbishop Romero who was gunned down while celebrating mass because of his work with the poor. Tell that to the Christians who are persecuted for their faith by atheists and people of other religions around the world. Tell that to the Apostles, most of who were martyred for their faith. When we look at history, there is nothing to suggest that giving your life to Christ will result in endless bliss.

If we should not expect Jesus to bring us material wealth or an easy life, then what should we expect of him? For what are we waiting when Jesus comes? Just as Jesus told the people that they should expect something extraordinary from John the Baptist, so should we expect something extraordinary from the Holy Child in a manger at Bethlehem. He was not an ordinary baby. He did not grow up to live a run of the mill life. He did not die a normal death. All of it was extraordinary and when we come to him, he promises to do extraordinary things for us.

Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has the power to transform our lives from ordinary into extraordinary works of God. But to do that, we must let him into our hearts and give him permission to begin his work in us. That’s what we can do during this Christmas season. We can present our lives as gift to Jesus for him to unwrap and open up so that his Spirit can transform us from ordinary, everyday, run of the mill human beings into extraordinary creations, images of his Holy Being, Children of the Light.

That is what he can do. That is what he wants to do. We should expect nothing less. That is the Messiah for whom we patiently wait.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We come to you, God of Advent, anticipating all that you make available to us. You give us life. You give us joy. You fill us with love and compassion. Thank you for your blessings. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for coming to us in the form of a tiny baby born in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem.

Thank you for Jesus’ life. Thank you, also, for his sacrifice that made it possible for all people to be in relationship with you, abolishing the hostility and barriers that once separated us from one other and from you. Enable us to recognize those barriers where they exist and to do what we can to break them down that all people may be one.

We offer our thanks, also, for the gift of music as the choir has shared the Christmas story through song. We appreciate the many hours of work and practice that went into making our performances not only inspirational but also acts of worship to you.

We lift up in prayer those who will find this Christmas to be a difficult time. For many there will be an empty seat around the table this year. For others there may be hardships caused by a loss of job or health concerns. Others, still, will be facing the reality of broken relationships and heartache. Lift us, O God, above our sorrow and enable us to look with hope to the better day that you have promised.

We pray for the sick, at home or in hospital. Give them strength. Give them healing. Give them hope and wholeness of spirit.

Great and Holy God, we can hardly begin to comprehend the amazing depth of your love. You made yourself available to us even before we knew who you were. At times our patience is so small that we can hardly wait for the good things that you have promised in your heavenly Kingdom. Help us to wait upon you for all things and to trust that you will fulfill the promises that you have made in Jesus Christ our Saviour. We await his coming at Christmas. We await, also, his coming again in the fullness of time. As we wait, fill us with your patience as you fill your creation with love and compassion for all things. We raise these prayers to you in Jesus’ name.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

December 10, 2016 / Advent 3 / Choir

SCRIPTURE

Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; Luke 1:47-55 (Alt. Res.); James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

CALL TO WORSHIP

ONE:         Let us praise God as long as we live;

ALL:         Praise God, O my soul.

ONE:         Blessed are those whose help is in the Spirit;

ALL:         Praise God, O my soul.

ONE:         Christ’s reign will last forever;

ALL:         Praise God, O my soul.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Praise God, O my soul. Praise God for the redemption that is ours in Christ. Praise God that love glistened from a stable in Bethlehem. Praise God that in amongst the rude and ordinary things of Creation, a Saviour was born to shine light into the world. Shine that light upon us now, O God of Love. Fill us anew with your Spirit and with the new life that you have promised. Praise God, O my soul.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

The desserts shout for joy and the rocks sing your praises. But we have been guilty of falling away. The road that you set before us is straight and easy to follow. But there are times when we choose another path. We prepare our homes for Christmas but we forget to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child. We bake and cook our feasts but we put the hungry out of our minds. We ensure that there are many gifts under our trees but we neglect the needs of the poor. Convict us, forgive us and place our feet firmly upon the way of Christ.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God’s love is shown most clearly and profoundly in Jesus who was born at Bethlehem. He gave his life as a sacrifice for us that we may receive the gift of eternal life. By his wounds we are healed.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

We come to you with our offerings, O God, meager though they may be compared to the abundance with which you have blessed us. In faith, we turn to you and ask that you would bless us and our gifts.

COMMISSIONING

The love of Christ is shown in this world by the way we love one another. May God’s compassion and peace be with us as we share the Good News of salvation.

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