The Pregnant Pause
Text: James 5:7-10
3 Advent, A
Advent is that pregnant pause in the Christian’s road to holiday cheer. That makes it so very frustrating for many people … where is the Christmas tree? And the Carols? And the dinners and the parties and the festivities? The world is already celebrating Christmas, why can’t we?
We can! We do! But not until the time has come. Don’t deliver the baby prematurely.
Advent is much like pregnancy. Pregnant parents really and truly are parents, but their parenting consists in mainly getting ready. Remembering the family’s past, looking forward to the family’s future and making plans for the arrival. It is a reality that doesn’t always seem so real. In that way it too is a little frustrating. Why won’t the baby just come so they can all celebrate together? But before that little one (who is already there) comes in that new and exciting way, there are many questions to be asked and answered. How will this baby change their lives? Their home? Their hearts? These are not little questions. There is a reason why God gives new parents nine months to get used to the idea!
And it is why the Church gives us 4 weeks to get used to the idea of our God come in human flesh and blood. Advent is a reality that doesn’t always feel so real. In Advent we remember the Christ who came into our flesh, the Christ who comes even now in Word and Sacraments and the Christ who will come again in glory on the last day. It is a season full of preparation and planning. It is a time of “Yes” and “Not Yet.” and “Why won’t the baby hurry up and arrive so we can all celebrate together?” Why won’t Jesus hurry up and return so all this mess is put behind us once and for all? Why won’t He hurry up and defeat all the evil and suffering so we can get down to celebrating all the heavenly glories He has promised us? And such attitudes make Advent a season that is all the more necessary for everyone. It is a time to refocus our hearts and minds ... a time to relearn patience.
James, and the Christians he was writing to, knew that feeling very well. James began his fifth chapter, just before this morning’s passage, by warning all those who live greedy, self- indulgent lives at the expense of others to change their ways because the time of judgment is at hand. In our text, he then speaks to all those who are pressured and victimized by these people to be patient and stand firm in the face of it all.
He tells them that if they want an example of what this patient endurance should be like, they should look to the prophets of old. Men like Elijah, who was ridiculed and hunted down. Men like Jeremiah, who was thrown into a cistern, and starved. Men who patiently bore everything that the world threw at them. In other words, be patient and trust in the Lord like they did.
And with that sobering thought we are pulled back from all this Christmas frenzy, into the patient reflection of Advent. Hold on, slow down, not yet ... but soon! Soon He will come! Soon He will return! Soon HE will judge! And strangely enough, this thought is a heartening one for us believers. For God, you see, is far more patient with us than we ourselves could ever be! The Old Testament is one long account of how God called people to be His own and of how they failed to be faithful and how God was patient with them, forgiving them and renewing His promises to them anyway.
These promises came into sharp focus in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Even though He was truly God, He put aside His power and lived patiently under the Law. He patiently taught stubborn people who didn’t understand or just didn’t care. He patiently healed the sick, the dying, and the brokenhearted. He patiently forgave sins and endured rejection, abuse and mockery. He patiently bore the sins of all creation and died upon a piece of wood. Died willingly for those who had caused Him so much pain and heart-ache.
And because of Christ, God continues to be patient with us all even when we still fail Him today. In our text James gives the example of the farmer waiting patiently over his crops. It's a beautiful picture of God Himself. “Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain.” In Palestine, the soil can easily become very dry and desert-like. The early rains, which fall around October, loosen the soil and make it possible to till and plant. These rains then help the seeds to germinate. The late rains fall in March and April, just before the harvest. These rains help the crops to ripen and produce abundant fruit. Middle-eastern farmers have relied upon this for thousands of years.
God works to produce patience and other good works in us in much the same way. Into the dry and parched soil of our hearts he sends the early rain of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses God’s Law to break up our hardened hearts, to furrow and turn it all over, making us ready to receive new seeds of life in the Gospel. This early rain falls in the waters of Baptism. And then, before the harvest, God sends more rain, in the form of His Holy Word, and the Lord’s Supper. These give us the strength, the nourishment, the forgiveness we need to stand firm and be patient. These rains enable us to produce all of that good fruit for the kingdom of heaven. This continual raining down of God’s blessings upon us makes us able to be prophetically patient. And not just in the sense of imitating men like Jeremiah and Elijah. God, working in our lives, gives us a patience that in itself is truly prophetic. A patience that waits for gratification in the here and now, thus pointing to the future hope we all share.
The Judge, Jesus Christ, is standing at the door! Christ is coming near! says James. When Jesus comes again, it will be to draw us all to Him, that we can live with Him forever, in perfect peace and love. Who is this child whose arrival we will celebrate? How does He change our lives even now? How will He? How can we share our home with Him? What adjustments do we need to make? What does it really mean that God is with us in Jesus Christ, this babe of Bethlehem? These are not little questions. But they are vital to understanding and celebrating this Christmas Child who is coming again.
It is not Christmas. Not yet. But the One to come is already here. Are you making the most of the time you have with Him now? As He is here for us now? But He is still coming. When He arrives will you be ready? Let the expectant joy of that Saviour’s return grow and swell in your heart until His time is ready. There is so much wonder and miracle to see in the waiting and the preparing … don’t miss out on this pregnant pause in your rush to hold the baby. There will be plenty of time for that … just not yet.