Advent demands we learn patience


According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old traveler, weary from age and travel, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted the traveler, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man's feet and gave him food and drink. When the old man immediately began to eat without saying any prayer or blessing, Abraham asked him, "Don't you worship God?"

The old traveler replied, "I worship only fire and reverence no other god."

When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air.

When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, "I forced him out because he did not worship you."

God answered, "I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?"[1]

This morning’s epistle reading from James encourages Christians to be patient.[2] Like many persons today, early Christians often found being patient difficult. Most believed Jesus would soon return to establish the fulness of God's rule on earth. Instead, early Christians often faced ridicule, persecution or death.

Images of patient farmers may easily feel foreign in our technology filled world. Before I joined the Navy, a few of my parishioners were farmers. Summers, I would occasionally meet with one over a cup of coffee or a glass of something in the evening and listened to his concerns. Perhaps the season was unusually dry. Perhaps prices had fallen. Perhaps pests or disease threatened. Generally, the farmer could do little to alter his situation. He planted and then waited, and then waited some more, before learning learn how his crop would fare and if the year would be profitable.

Patience is a virtue. Someone has defined patience as an admirable quality in the driver behind you and impossible to understand in the one ahead of you.[3] Patience connotes not merely the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.[4] The antidotes to impatience are hope and trust.

The epistle reading speaks to Holy Nativity in three ways. First, Holy Nativity has been without a rector for forty-four months, a rather long time. This has offered you the opportunity to learn patience.

Phillips Brooks was a great preacher, a nineteenth century Episcopal bishop in the Diocese of Massachusetts and author of the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Known for his poise and quiet manner, Brooks nevertheless had infrequent moments of frustration and irritability. One day a friend saw him feverishly pacing the floor like a caged lion. He asked, "What's wrong, Bishop?"

"The trouble is that I'm in a hurry, but God isn't!"

Holy Nativity’s patience has paid significant dividends. In the Rev. Libby Berman, coincidentally like Bishop Brooks from the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Search Committee and Vestry have found a priest with the leadership skills and pastoral gifts to shepherd this parish into its next chapter, a chapter that bodes well for Holy Nativity developing new ministries and fresh vibrancy serving eastern Oahu.

Second, the epistle instructs us not to hold a grudge against one another. Four years ago, this parish experienced painful conflict. Souls may still hurt or harbor grudges or hard feelings. Healing has begun; now is the time to finish healing.

An Islamic parable describes a comical figure, who, having lost a key in his living room, goes out into the street to look for it because there's more light there.[5] Too often we look for healing from the wrong source. Healing must come from within. Holding onto a hurt or grudge prevents a person from receiving God's forgiveness and love. We acknowledge that reality each time we say the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Third and finally, the epistle references the coming of the Lord. Christians have waited twenty-one centuries for the Lord to come. Theologians debate what the “coming of the Lord” means, arguing for interpretations that run the gamut from past to present to future. In any case, the Lord’s coming is not apparent to most Christians; many are so tired of waiting that faith dissipates or becomes tepid.

This morning’s gospel reading records that John, his patience exhausted and his belief tested when he was imprisoned by Herod, sent a messenger to Jesus: Are you the one? Jesus replied, The blind see, the lame walk, the ostracized are reintegrated into the community, the deaf hear and the poor receive good news.” Jesus is telling John to learn to read the signs of what God is doing; when John can see God at work, then John will be encouraged and strengthened.[6] Jesus’ response quoted the very words of the prophet Isaiah whose message, heard in today’s first reading provided the basis for John's life and ministry.[7]

The lonely find a friend, the empty experience love, the despairing receive hope, and the spiritually dead discover new life. This is happening here, today. “Be patient, therefore, beloved.... Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” AMEN.

Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2019
Church of the Holy Nativity, Honolulu, HI



[1] Thomas Lindberg, downloaded December 10, 2019 from http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/patience.htm.
[2] James 5:7-10.
[3] Charles A. Staggs and Warren H. Knox, "A Collection of Sense and Nonsense," The Rotarian, July 1994, p. 56.
[4] Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind.
[5] Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), Book Index 10.
[6] Matthew 11:2-6.
[7]Isaiah 35:1-10.

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