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James 5:7-10

The book of James is a book all about wisdom. James is chalked full of the deeply practical wisdom that moves the community of the faithful along the path of Jesus through exhortation, inspiration, and warning. To read James as a community of faith in the season of Advent has the opportunity to inspire life practices that demonstrate the active waiting that comes as we watch and wait for the coming of the Lord.

Undoubtedly, this text from James is the Epistle lesson for this third Sunday in Advent because of its repeated emphasis on the Parousia of the Lord. This coming, this advent, of Jesus as the one who will judge and redeem and rescue inspires and encourages fidelity to the life of wisdom for James and the community to whom he writes. In light of Jesus coming, James’ many admonitions throughout his letter—for example, to “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (2:22) and “to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep [themselves] unstained by the world” (2:27)—take on a particular urgency. There is no time to delay in pursuing this life of wisdom, regardless of the circumstances in which the community finds itself, be that in comfort or in suffering.

While the lectionary text begins at 5:7, the connections to the passage prior are useful for preaching this passage in the season of Advent, especially in the context of the United States. While sermons that simply belittle a community for the “too much money they’ve already spent” during Christmas are hardly useful for inspiring faithfulness, the strong warning James gives to “you rich people” (5:1) is particularly haunting in a season marked by glutenous spending and consumption. James’ calling to the community of faith to be patient in suffering as they await the coming of the Lord must be heard in light of his warning against economic injustice for those who labor for the rich. This is especially true in our time and context marked so deeply by unfair labor practices and unjust wage discrepancies in all aspects of our economy, and particularly between the highest and lowest paid employees for companies across industries. James’ exhortation for those who are steadfast in the Lord to “strengthen your hearts” must be heard in connection to the warning he gives to those who have “fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (5:5).

One key connection point between the warning against the ways of the rich and the encouragement to those who are longsuffering through tribulation is how trust factors into the practices of each group. For the rich, their trust has been misguidedly placed in the gold and silver they have stored up and allowed to rust while the laborers in the fields and the harvesters have cried out in need. For those James calls to patiently wait on the Lord, their trust must be placed in the God who sends the early and late rains to provide the precious crop from the earth. For James, the ability to endure in wisdom and faithfulness through suffering is rooted in a trust that in the end, and even very soon, God’s justice will be done. In fact, the Judge stands at the doors.

Pastors keen to preach from James’ epistle may want to consider who is actually suffering and enduring patiently in