Pastor Wilbert Miller’s sermon
Bach Vespers, December 11, 2016 (3rd Sunday of Advent)
James 5: 7-10
“’Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”
I hope you still remember being nestled all snug in your bed. But I’ll bet you have other memories as well. While Clement Clarke Moore does not say so, I am almost certain he left this part out of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” to please his editors:
“The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads…
and revelations of ants pirouetted in their pajamas.”
Remember how hard it was to sleep the night before Christmas? You so wanted the beautiful pony or that exquisite Rawlings Mickey Mantle baseball glove. Every thirty-seven minutes, you restlessly got out of bed and scampered down the hallway to your parent’s bedroom. “Has Santa come yet?” you eagerly asked. They told you, “Quick, go back to bed or Santa will hear you and not come down the chimney.” The wait was agonizing; ants pirouetted in your “pjs.”
We just heard these words from the New Testament’s epistle of James, “Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”
Our impatience no longer has to do with Dasher and Dancer’s hoofbeats. Our anxieties have become more grown up and much more complicated.
A few weeks ago I told you about my favorite books. One book is “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness” by William Styron. Styron, who also wrote “Sophie’s Choice,” tells of his agonizing bouts with depression. You can tell from the title, “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness,” that Styron is not a romantic when it comes to his struggles. And yet, I will never forget his invitation to patience: “It is of great importance that those who are suffering a siege, perhaps for the first time, be told—be convinced, rather—that the illness will run its course and they will pull through.”
The greatest gift in such tribulation, so writes Styron, is to have loved ones close-by assisting you in the journey of patience: “Most people in the grip of depression at its ghastliest are, for whatever reason, in a state of unrealistic hopelessness, torn by exaggerated ills and fatal threats that bear no resemblance to actuality.” And then this: “It may require on the part of friends, lovers, family, admirers, an almost religious devotion to persuade the sufferer of life’s worth…”
Sounds similar to James, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”
These days, as we prepare again to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, are meant for us to persuade one another of life’s worth. Together, we are patient; together, we say, “Wait and Christ will enter your life.”
People of great grace teach us to wait, to look beyond our dark caverns to the one who comes bearing gifts of healing and hope.
Mary the mother of Jesus was such a person. Even when she could not make heads or tails out of the angel’s message that she would soon be the mother of God’s child and, in fact, was greatly troubled by the thought of it all, nevertheless, she waited patiently and pondered these things in her heart. At every Vespers here we sing Mary’s song of patient waiting, the Magnificat, as we cense the altar and you. As the incense wafts toward you this evening, may the sweet-smelling smoke remind you that Christ will come into your life.
You have seen such patience, I’m sure, in the elderly whose bodies grow frailer and whose minds become more fragile. Nevertheless, they exhibit great grace, teaching us to bear all things and hope all things. Time has taught them to wait, patiently. They are like the lilies of the field and the sparrows of the sky who do not worry about tomorrow.
Patience allows us to wait for something greater. We forsake the shoddy, the temporary, and the mediocre and believe that the Savior of the nations will come in God’s good time. This savior will put an end to all that is ugly and deeply troubling and bring goodness and beauty to us and those we love and to our suffering world, forever and ever. And so, my dear friends, be patient until the coming of the Lord.