Sign up below to receive free worship resources in your inbox (1-2 per month):
Focus Text: James 5:7-10
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Scriptural Commentary on James 5:7-10
Like the readings from the prophets during this season, those appointed from the New Testament epistles often invite us to reconsider the connection between Advent and the Parousia—a time of thanksgiving for the gift of Christ to us as well as an anticipation of his second coming. In contemplating this text, then, we should begin to ask how the first Advent relates to the second. How can the expectation of Christ’s return inform our observance of Advent?
James is a letter which seeks to comfort those who are facing trials and has harsh words for oppressors. “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy,” opens the letter (1:2). Moreover, the passage immediately preceding this one declares, “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you” (5:1). Thus it is fitting that this passage contains a call for patience. “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord” (5:7a). Here, James uses the word parousia. While parousia can simply refer to the arrival or presence of an individual (cf. 1 Cor. 16:17; 2 Cor. 7:6, 7; Phil. 1:26; 2:12), by the time of the New Testament writings, the word had also come to have a more technical meaning—referring to the visitation of a great figure, such as a military leader, king, or emperor. Like the arrival of a king whose presence would establish justice and order in a chaotic situation or besieged city, in the early church the word parousia became a technical term for the expected return of Christ in judgment.
James likens the patience required until the Lord’s return to a farmer waiting for the harvest: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.” This analogy is drawn from Israel’s prophetic tradition. Hosea says that the coming of God to the people is as “sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (6:3; see also Jer. 5:24; Joel 2:23; Zech. 10:1). As a gift from God, the rain is beyond human control. Thus, for Christians to be patient for the coming of the Lord is to wait expectantly, and, though it lays beyond human influence, confident that it will occur. Yet, farmers to not lay idle until the rains come, but work tirelessly until the harvest. The patience James envisions is not passive, but invests in and works towards future reward.
Again drawing on the Old Testament, James speaks of the prophets who endured suffering and, for their steadfastness, are called “blessed” (makarizein). This is the same word used in the beatitudes, another text which brings comfort to those who are suffering or longing for justice in light of God’s future reign. James also goes on to invoke Job, a proverbial figure of faithfulness and long-suffering in times of trial. These figures exemplify faithfulness even in the face of oppression.
“Do not grumble against one another,” James writes, “so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!” (5:9). One can imagine that the oppressive conditions experienced by the community to which James is writing might tempt them to turning against others or God. Thus, he counsels the community not to let their suffering lead to grumbling, violence, or strife. While James clearly seems to have in mind a grumbling or complaining against fellow Christians (cf. Heb. 13:17) or perhaps their oppressors, the use of the word “groaning” (stenazein) may recall its use elsewhere in the New Testament. Unlike in James, the other instances of this word describe an internal response caused by the desire for the eschatological longing for restoration and adoption as children of God (Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 5:2). Groaning or sighing in these texts occurs within the person and is not directed at an outsider as a complaint or grievance. Thus, read alongside other New Testament epistles, the Christian response to suffering and injustice is not impatient grumbling against ones neighbor, but an impassioned longing for God’s justice to come.
James stands with numerous other Scripture passages that express a profound hope in God even in the midst of dire circumstances. This hope, for James, is founded in the righteous judgment of God which will punish the wicked and vindicate the oppressed. A message of judgment may not immediately come to mind in contemporary celebrations of Advent. Yet, this reading from James insists that Christ’s Second Advent brings with it accountability. James does not have kind or easy words for those who oppress with their wealth, something which may be necessary for some of us to hear during a time of year which is often filled with spending on frivolous items and celebrating (over)consumption. For others there is comfort to be found in the Judge being at the door (5:9). Advent is a time when we learn to wait patiently for the Lord’s return when he will set everything right, knowing that in the meantime we are called to be faithful.
By Michael Burns, Duke Divinity School Intern
Worship Aids about Resisting Oppression
For the Poor and Neglected
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, 826)
For the Oppressed
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, 826)
Suggested Hymns about Resisting Oppression
- Be Still, My Soul
- At the Name of Jesus
Facts and Reflection about Resisting Oppression
In 2012, Americans spent more than $465 billion on holiday gifts and goodies. (Source: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/mailform?id=14998335)