The fifth chapter of James seems to be an unlikely place to find the themes of Advent, but they are there. The clearest theme outside of exhorting patience in suffering is why one should endure patiently. The answer: The Lord is coming (verse 7). Reading this pericope as a Christian adaptation of earlier Jewish concepts of the Messianic era helps us to understand the mind of James. He is a Jewish convert to the reality of His brother, Jesus of Nazareth, who was and is the Messiah of God. His former way of hoping for the appearing of Messiah had no fulfillment, no reality in time and space... until Jesus. As a result, talk about the coming of the Lord Jesus possesses a confidence hitherto unknown.
James takes the Jewish expectation and thoroughly baptizes it in the light of the fact of the Incarnation. Messiah has come. The Lord God fulfilled His promises to Israel and, indeed, the gentile world, by sending forth His only begotten Son, born of a woman (the Virgin Mary), born under the Law. Standing on the Mount of Olives, he saw the Christ’s Ascension. He saw the Shekinah glory, the luminous cloud of Christ’s abiding presence (not absence!). Now, however, with these facts immovably and unalterably ensconced in real human history, James can confidently speak about ἡ παρουσία τοῦ Κυρίου, the coming of the Lord, specifically, the Lord Jesus. Therefore, preach this sure Word of God. Preach the confidence all should have in the promises of our Lord and make direct connections to His gifts of Baptism, Forgiveness, and Communion where your auditors are confronted with the divine promises which do not fail and are fortified in their verity by the truth of the Incarnation. The Apostle James sets Christ as the object of our trust and confidence. Preach the call to faith in the promise-keeping Christ who has come, who comes, and who shall come again. This is most certainly true.
The connection between the great messianic event known as Advent and His future parousia is proclaimed and celebrated during the Eucharist in many parishes by retaining the memorial acclamation, “Christ has died/Christ is risen/Christ will come again.” At this time of the year, Advent, we look both back with confidence of Christ having come (the gift of Christmas) and forward to the assured hope Christ will come again. This belief is professed through the memorial acclamation, but also each time we confess any of the three ecumenical creeds (the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed).
James’ recipients were longing for the parousia; the so-called “second coming” of Christ. It should be noted how the term “second coming” is a misnomer since Christ, according to His own word (Matthew 18:20; John 14:18; Hebrews 12:5; and especially 2 John 7) continually comes in the Lord’s Supper. Because “second coming” communicates an unbiblical Christology and eschatology, preachers do well to speak of the parousia.
Since we do not know the day or the hour of His re-appearing, now is the time for faith.
Since we do not know the day or the hour of His re-appearing (Matthew 24:36), now is the time for faith. The hour for trust and wholesale allegiance to Christ is here. Why? Because He is coming as certainly as He has already come, indeed, as certainly as He continually comes in the Word and Sacrament of the Altar (2 John 7). In the meantime, be patient, not idle. There is no need to be anxious in between the times of rain (verse 8). Wait with positive confidence (2 Peter 3:3-9). More than that, as children of the One who is the Resurrection and the eternal Life (John 11:25), as children who have themselves been both justified and regenerated, live as if Christ has already reappeared, as if the parousia has happened. In short, in the meantime, live as if the resurrection and return is the current reality for the Church. Hence verse 9: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” Live in the light of Christian love. The King is at hand. He is judge of the living and the dead. As stressful as life may be, your conduct must be as one of those who are of His Kingdom and in the Spirit of Christ.
Need an example, asks James? Consider verses 10 and 11:
“As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
Make sure the sermon is not derailed by the mention of Job. He is an example, yes, but Job is not the focus of the text. Do not preach Job but, rather, Jesus. James sets this up nicely too when he says, “You have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” Amidst suffering, stress, disappointment, trying patience, and hardship we must not allow ourselves to be persuaded by others or circumstances to impugn the blessed Trinity. The Lord is neither uncaring, nor aloof. “He has a father’s heart, even when He allows darkness to come. God cannot be unkind to His children,” writes R. Kent Hughes. The words of Isaiah 49:15-16 come to mind.
James, reflecting on “the purpose of God” (in other words, to make His compassion and mercy known and experienced), takes it to a new height. Since God’s compassion and mercy have been fully and maximally revealed and accomplished in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Son, he coins a new word: “πολύσπλαγχνος.” It can be translated into English as, “full of tender compassion.” The Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit care for us in our misery, our persecutions, our hardships, our misfortunes, and our journey through this veil of tears. Be assured, because of Christ, as He maximizes God’s tender compassion and mercy, we will in fact be blessed. This blessedness occurs only in Christ. What safety and security there is as we abide in Jesus, with the confidence that He is coming!
μακροθυμεῖν — literally, to be long-suffering to those who do an injury.
Πολύσπλαγχνος — literally, “full of tender compassion” or “exceedingly compassionate.”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in James 5:7-11.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach James 5:7-11.
R. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), 240.