Kids are not good at waiting. Well truth be told, neither are adults, but let’s stick with the kids for now. Kids are rambunctious balls of energy needing to run free and we adults are always trying to corral them.
One of you said to me after A.J. was born, “for the first two years we try to get our kids to walk and talk. After that we spend the next sixteen telling them to sit down and hush-up.”
“Wait your turn…” “Wait a minute and I will get it for you…” “Wait until we get home…” And in my house, since I pick the kids up each day, there is a redacted version of an age old classic when my kids hear, “Just wait until your mother gets home!”
All these are painful experiences for children, but none is quite as difficult as waiting for Christmas to come, because during the Christmas season, there’s even more waiting. Kids are asked to wait in lines for Santa, for cookies to cool before frosting them. They have to wait for Christmas break, and in traffic to get to Grandma’s house—to say nothing about waiting for suitable snow accumulation. This is in addition to the most difficult wait of all—waiting for Christmas.
Violet has recently taken to perusing the Target ad, and just last week said, “Daddy…can we go to Target…and buy Legos.”
My response of, “Well honey, Christmas is coming, and Santa, and your grandparents, and all your Aunts and Uncles are all probably going to bring you Legos” was met with, “But that’s so looong from now. I can’t wait.”
So, how do we help children be patient? How do we teach them patience—especially when we ourselves are never very patient? Experts say we should model patience, use timers when appropriate, and/or give kids opportunities to talk about patience.
One idea that seems to have merit is getting kids to do things that require more time, and thus more patience—things like gardening.
EarthEasy.com promotes gardening with children saying, “Working in a garden, a child can experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, while observing the cycle of life firsthand. Gardening gives children a chance to learn an important life skill.”
Bottom Line: Teaching children patience is in itself a slow process that requires patience by the adult because it is evident we are born impatient. And each of us needs to be taught to wait.
We’re talking about this because James knew about waiting and he can teach us all how to do it better.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, he told his followers he would return for them, that they would one day live with him in the glorious kingdom of God.
From all of this, Jesus’ first followers thought his return, and the ushering in of this new day, was imminent. But with every passing day that didn’t bring His glorious return, they wondered what was happening, and more so, why it wasn’t happening.
And as they wondered and questioned, the people were growing impatient.
James is a letter written to a church struggling with the wait. Repeatedly, he advises them to be patient, using a form of the word “patience” four times in this brief text. Be patient… until the coming of the Lord, he writes, reminding the people for what they are waiting, which is no minor event. The second coming, the peace it will bring, is their hope. Meaning, Jesus’ return is worth the wait.
Then, using the illustration of a farmer who patiently waits through the winter to plant crops in the spring, and then must wait for the early and late rains, James reminds the church that it might have to wait a while. Even casual gardeners know that there are seasons when it appears as though nothing is happening with their plants.
And like the family experts who encourage adults to teach patience to children by growing plants, James wants Christians to use the patience they have learned from farming as they wait for Jesus’ return.
James never sugarcoats how difficult the waiting can be, acknowledging that waiting can be painful, using the prophets as an example. He knows that waiting can tempt us to take matters into our hands in order to rush the results we want, but still he reminds the church to be patient. He encourages the church not to give up or give in, but to wait patiently for God’s timing.
You and I may not have the same expectations for the imminent return of Jesus as the early church did. We’ve had 2,000 years of experience of people saying, “The end is near!” without the end actually coming.
Over the past four decades alone, we have heard predictions by televangelists, the ancient Mayans, politicians, books and movies—all preaching and trying to prove that Jesus’ return is immanent. But all of those dates, predictions, and false prophesies have come and gone. But though we may not feel the urgency the early church felt about the return of Jesus, we do know about times when we have prayed for Jesus to show up in our lives and he seemed to be nowhere in sight.
In the hospital room… At the nursing home… When another “past due” notice arrives… When we wake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, because we are wrestling with “that problem”…When we’re alone…When we’re hungry…When we’re scared. On and on we have prayed for Jesus to come, to show up, and bring healing for our family, strength to our friends, or peace to our lives.
We have cried out from the depths of our hearts, “Please, Jesus, just get here!” But he doesn’t always get here…in the ways we want. Put into such a perspective, I think we can begin to understand how the early church felt when their hope for the coming again of the Prince of Peace didn’t happen, and they were left to wait, like us.
Through it all, James reminds us to be patient, but the Bible’s idea of patience is a bit different from the way we
think of patience today.
So then, what is the Bible’s idea of patience, and how do we do it?
The website wikiHow.com claims to be the place where one can “learn how to do anything,” and offers tips and advice on a wide variety of topics. At wikiHow.com, you can learn how to alleviate back pain, breed canaries, or write a screenplay.
I once used it to learn how to fix a leaky bathroom sink. Let’s just say the website claims you can learn how to do anything, but it doesn’t promise that you will be able to do anything!
A section of the website titled “Christmas for Kids” offers techniques to help little ones in their long wait for Christmas that is “so far away.” Some ideas include distractions to occupy your mind with something other than Christmas, because if you focus on something other than Christmas, the hours will pass more quickly.
Other suggestions, however, encourage the children to do just the opposite. Rather than trying to forget that Christmas is coming, they’re advised to enter into more fully the Christmas season. These ideas include helping Mom and Dad with Christmas preparations like wrapping gifts, decorating, baking and getting Santa’s snack ready. These activities not only pass the time, but they involve the child in the preparation. They allow kids to enter into the day to come. It is not Christmas yet, but we remember that Christmas is coming by doing Christmas acts today.
This is the type of patience James teaches the early church. He doesn’t tell them to wait passively, to distract themselves while they pass the time until Jesus’ return. Instead, he calls the church to enter into the day of the coming of the kingdom of God by living kingdom lives today. Enter into not grumbling about one another. Enter into not complaining about your brothers and sisters. Enter into being patient by loving and caring for one another.
Do these acts, live this kind of waiting, and the waiting you are doing will be easier, it will be productive, and it will lead you to find a peace that is often elusive in our waiting, and it will bring peace to others. James is saying, we can get devoured by the angst of our waiting, or we can choose a faithful path within the waiting, knowing that we are in a difficult season, but Jesus is coming.
We are in a tough season. I’m not talking about Advent or Christmas… I’m talking about life in this world. Disunity and incivility grows each day. The presidential election has revealed a collective cry for a new establishment because the old one is believed broken; while it has revealed new worries and fears in others for what is believed will come. Our county has a heroin epidemic the likes of which we have never seen. Homelessness is rising. Hunger is rising. Depression is rising. Injustice is rising. Peace-less-ness is rising. It’s not just us crying out, but masses of people are crying out, “Please Jesus, just get here!”
This will be hard to hear, but it needs said… We become blind to injustices that are right in front of us. We learn to shut ourselves off from the homeless person at the intersection holding a cardboard sign asking for help, we shut ourselves off from their cry of “Please Jesus, just get here!” And we can shut ourselves off because we are waiting for, crying out for, the peace of Christ ourselves. But James is saying Jesus would want us to enter into the wait, together; not grumbling, not judging others while we do; because in waiting together we find community and strength, and in community and strength we can find peace.
Christmas is a special season. It represents all that we want all the time—Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love; assurance that all will be good again. Advent is that time when we prepare for, and when we practice and model and teach the peaceful waiting we must do together before Christ comes again.
So may we live between Jesus ushering in the kingdom of God, and it arriving in its fullness when he returns, as those who anticipate and celebrate the glorious gift of Jesus that is surely coming to us. May we enter into this wait, ready and willing to wait with all who cry out, “Please Jesus, just get here!” And may we see in this Christmas season, that though we are called to wait patiently and prepare for the coming of Jesus again, we are here now, but we don’t have to wait passively—rather we can enter into the wait faithfully, seeking to be present, within the strength of community, with those who are waiting, just like us.
Christmas is coming. And yes, we have to wait. But let’s wait by entering into the peace filled ways of Christmas today. Amen.