I for one am excited about Christmas, and often have a hard time waiting. For me, Christmas is something that I start to think about at the beginning of the summer. But, as a professional, Christmas is not as much about the excitement of the holiday as it is the anticipation and worry about how things will come together. However, when I was a child, I could not wait for Christmas. The excitement would course through my veins and (don’t tell my mother) I would scour the house trying to find my Christmas presents; I just could not wait to see what they were. One year I actually found them, and they were just what I wanted! However, when Christmas came, something felt wrong. I was happy to get my gifts, but the guilt of what I did just brought me down; instead of the excitement about what I got, the guilt of what I did took over.
Advent is this great time of preparation. But it is not really about the preparation for Christmas day as much as it is preparing for the apocalyptic second coming of Christ. Now it is important to remember that from the first known religious texts we can find, people have been predicting the end times; they were specifically preparing for them and living into that reality. From that time people, claiming to be prophets, claim to have deciphered codes in the bible or other scripts that signify that the day of the rapture is nigh! This held true even for the early Christians who were expecting Christ to come again within their lifetime, even though Christ never really alludes to when he would be coming back.
Our passage this week is preparing us for a time of waiting. Though there is still an understanding of the end times, James takes a different tact in that the focus that we are to take with regards to the end time is patience, but the more important teaching is that we show love, compassion and openness to one another.
James recognizes something within the early church. Living for personal salvation often causes us to focus our attention away from who God is calling us to be and onto ourselves. In other words, when we become impatient, our lives are about something other than God and we drift away.
Think about it in terms of my Christmas story. My impatience led to me finding the gifts, which brought a temporary excitement, but the guilt kept me from the full enjoyment of what I had been given. I realized that in finding the gifts and knowing what they were, I had made the gifts solely about me; thus, I took away the joy from my parents surprise and their part in the giving. Even though I acted the part, I remember my mother asking if I really had gotten what I wanted, even though it was the exact right thing.
As time passed further away from Christ, people in the early church began to question the legitimacy of the message of Christ because he had not come back. In fact, their faith was based on the idea that they would be raptured up, not that they would serve God. When the rapture did not come, they were lost and now in need of seeking a new way.
Granted, this is why the letter of James is dated to the later first century, but James was establishing that exclusively living for the end times was not core to the Christian experience; rather, right living and Christian community was core. This way, whether the end times came today, or many years later, we would be equally prepared because we were living how Christ called us to live.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen