The third week of Advent is a time when patience wears thin. When will it rain? When will this child be born? When will Christ come again? James addresses his words to a people whose teeth are set on edge as are their lives. His community lives in a drought of truth; their riverbeds of justice are bone dry; they suffer a fierce thirst. Patience is in short supply when you thirst. But for what did they thirst and what does their thirst share with our common experience?
Contrary voices about minimum wage fill the morning news, forming a soundtrack to this text and other verses that lie just outside this day’s passage. “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4).
James urges patience to those who cry out for justice. He promises his beloved community that the Holy One not only knows their suffering but will act on that knowledge. The Holy One will come.
James doesn’t counsel his community to be silent; his letter conveys the scorching heat of a prophet’s public protest preserved in the verse that introduces this Advent instruction: “Strengthen your hearts!”
What keeps a heart strong? Hope, certainly. Christ will come again. That is the gospel promise, then as now, but the promise isn’t easy. How does the first coming of Christ that we celebrate this season make a difference to that beloved community and to ours? This is the tough edge of Advent. James invites us to the hard work of waiting and praying for the life-giving rain.
“Come, Lord Jesus!” Bring the living water that will quench our thirst for justice and mercy. Amen.
These readings convey that God’s coming, or the coming of the Messiah, will be profoundly transforma- tive. The promises of messianic possibility work against our exhaustion, our despair, and our sense of being subject to fate. The psalm provides a comprehensive summary of the miracles wrought by God in the past to make new life possible. Jesus’ life and ministry embodied these large expectations of Israel. The prophetic oracle, psalm, and Gospel reading all move toward the practicality of the epistle reading, which demands that we allow this claim of new human possibility to permeate all of life. Our life is directed to the reality of God, the very God whom we dis- cern in our present and to whom we entrust our future.
• Read Isaiah 35:1-10. Where in your life do you feel that you have gone astray? After you realize you are lost, how do you return to the way that is God?
• Read Luke 1:47-55. When have you spoken fearlessly about a situation in your life?
• Read James 5:7-10. For what do you thirst?
• Read Matthew 11:2-11. What characteristics draw you to a
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