Advent is, above all else, a season of hope – a virtue that is all too rare in our world. To live as a person of hope is to behave in such a manner as to draw suspicion that we are behaving somewhat erratically as far as worldly norms go. This new type of behavior – what some may even call erratic behavior (the behavior that led people to conclude that the Apostles were “under the influence” on Pentecost) – is characterized by 9 attitudes. I call them 9 Advent Attitudes. Today, we look at Advent Attitude #4. (Drawn from my upcoming book, Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Jesus.)
Advent Attitude #4: Patience
Thank goodness movies usually last only 2 hours because that’s about as long as we can wait for the good guy(s) to get revenge on the bad guy(s)! No doubt, the people of Israel longed for a messiah to come so that he would bring about swift justice. God’s justice, however, does not appear in the form of revenge, but rather in the form of reconciliation. Advent reminds us to be patient and to leave vengeance to God. Thus, our 4th Advent attitude: PATIENCE.
When a lender and a borrower enter into an agreement to delay the foreclosure process, that agreement is called a forbearance. It basically means that the lender agrees to “hold back” – to be patient with the borrower until he or she can catch up on payments. When the Word became Flesh, he brought forgiveness and reconciliation and called on the recipients of his mercy to do the same for others. As followers of Jesus, we are called to practice this kind of patience and forbearance in our relationships.
This is not easy to do in a world that encourages us to give people their comeuppance – the kind of response that Barabbas represents: swift and unmerciful; shock and awe; give ‘em what they’ve got coming to ‘em and then some. To do otherwise is seen in the eyes of the world as weakness. To be truthful, it is not in our nature to do otherwise. The ability to love others in spite of their glaring weaknesses is a strength that comes to us from God: it certainly doesn’t come from ourselves. Love is easy when it is being shown to those who love us. Forbearance enables us to show love to those who have wronged us.
This may come as a surprise to many, but this is how God is consistently portrayed in the Old Testament – not as a vengeful God (although God’s “vengeance” does visit those whose actions are unjust) but as a God who is “slow to anger” – a description of God (appearing over a dozen times) that the People of Israel used even though they themselves had done much to provoke God’s anger on numerous occasions.
As people made in God’s image, we are called to respond similarly. This does not mean that we become doormats or walk around with a “martyr-complex,” telling everyone how we have been wronged but stoically have not lifted a finger to respond. Rather, it is stepping out of the way to allow God’s love and his justice to filter through. Without patience, we become Barabbas: self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner, meting out justice as we see fit. Patience gives us the perspective that enables us to truly love the sinner but hate the sin. It enables us to overcome feeling sorry for ourselves and to avoid resentment and the desire for revenge. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exhorted those fighting for civil rights to meet physical force with what he called “soul force.” In other words, wrongs were patiently endured but not covered up. Rather, they were exposed for what they were but not responded to in kind. Forgiving someone 70 times 7 times is not a recipe for the weak. It takes strength to endure such wrong but to also trust that the wrongs – now fully exposed – will be dealt with by God’s justice in God’s time.
- Pray for those who have wronged you and ask God for the grace and strength you need to be patient with them.
- Think of someone who has been patient with you. Thank God for this person’s patience and ask for the grace you need to imitate this person in your own interactions.
- Shift your thinking from focusing on vengeance to focusing on reconciliation and take small, practical steps toward bringing about reconciliation in your relationships.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. (James 1:19)
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