When I’m told “be patient,” I squirm. For someone I love notices I’ve been squirming, wondering what will happen, and trying to make something happen. Perhaps we associate patience with being nice or good, yet it usually hurts.
“Be patient,” James writes. Along with the original hearers, I squirm. Be patient like the farmer who waits with a precious crop for the early and late rains to nourish mature growth. The farmer waits not simply for the rains to come but for the crop to survive in the meantime. Insects, weeds, and sun may harm or kill, and the farmer cannot control these.
To be patient is to tolerate or endure discomfort or suffering. The farmer does not know and cannot control what may eat, choke, or scorch the crops. Patience is hard, sometimes excruciating. I have also experienced that “be patient” helps prompt my renewed attention. Perhaps you have too. It is like the psalmist saying: “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”[i] Wait patiently by slowing down from squirm to stillness, from noisy chatter to silence. As anxiety lessens, we can see and hear more, including graced surprises. God comes in unexpected ways that may at first confuse us.
Jesus is walking southward with his disciples to Jerusalem, a journey he would have made many times… but probably not on this particular route.[i] On this occasion they are walking from Nazareth – which is up north in the Galilee region – through the region of Samaria to get to Jerusalem. It’s 90 miles straight, following the hypotenuse of the triangle. However most Jews, walking from Galilee to Jerusalem, would set off east on a right angle, crossing over the Jordan River, then following the river southwards until cutting back westward over the river to go up to Jerusalem. This turned the 90-mile direct trek-on-foot into 120 miles; however it avoided Samaria.
Samaria was in the center of Palestine, 40 miles from north to south, and 35 miles from east to west. The Jews hated the Samaritans; the Samaritans hated the Jews. The Samaritans were colonists established by the Assyrians in the territory of Israel. The Samaritans claimed that they, too, were among God’s chosen people. But the Samaritans did not go up to Jerusalem to worship; they went up to Mount Gerizim in Samaria. There was “bad blood,” sometimes vitriol racism, between these two groups. Samaritans stayed amongst themselves. Jews taking a shortcut through Samaria were easy targets for hatred, sometimes for vindictive robbery.
Advent is a time of expectant waiting. We wait for the coming of the Savior, the birth of Jesus. We expect that when the Savior comes – and He will come – He will lead us in the way we should go. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “Thus says the Lord, Your Redeemer: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.” (i) Yes, we who follow Jesus can expect Him to lead us; but first, Advent reminds us, we have to wait. We have to wait for the Savior. We have to wait before He can lead us in the way we should go.
The name for this season in the Church year, “Advent,” derives from the Latin, adventus, which means arrival: the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ, whom we as Christians know as Jesus. Meanwhile, as we anticipate this arrival, we wait. If we were to open the Gospel accounts according to Matthew and Luke, we discover a great many people waiting for the Messiah, the Christ. Mary is waiting. Joseph is waiting. Zechariah and Elizabeth are waiting. Symeon and Anna are waiting. Most everyone, it seems, is waiting. They’re waiting for an arrival. There are also shepherds who are waiting. There are some sages from the east – wisemen – who are waiting. The threatened government of Herod the Tetrarch is waiting, rather anxiously. The only persons who are not waiting are in Bethlehem, the keepers of an inn. And there’s no room in the inn. They’re all full up. It is nigh unto impossible to wait if you are full up, because waiting takes space; to be able to wait requires an emptiness. And that’s a problem. I think it’s problematic for many of us who live in North America.