“The Difference Christmas Makes: The Fruit of Christmas”
Exodus 34:1-10; 2 Pt. 3:8-18
“I can’t wait!” “I want it now!” “Why does it take so long?” “Hurry up!” Sound familiar? What makes you impatient? The wait in line at the store because you have only 2 items while the person ahead of you decides they don’t want some of what they picked up and is sorting through everything? Sitting at a red light, and then through the green because someone ahead of you is busy testing/talking and doesn’t move? Following a slow person through town? Something in your spouse or children that you want to see change, but it doesn’t? More than likely there are many scenarios which prompt your impatience. Yet patience is included as a fruit of the Spirit; so it’s important we seek to cultivate it.
To get a better handle on the importance and nature of patience, we look, first, at THE CHARACTER OF GOD. If you were asked to describe God in two words, what words would you choose? There are many to select from – holy, righteous, just, all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, forgiving, loving – to mention a few. But notice how God describes Himself in our Exodus passage. After Moses had received the 10 commandments he came down the mountain only to find the Israelites dancing before their newly crafted golden calf. In his anger he smashed the commandment tablets. God invited him back up the mountain. What a moment! What would God say? How would God express His anger? (34:6): “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” God’s two-word SELF-DESCRIPTION IS PATIENT AND LOVING. “…slow to anger, abounding in love…”
And that’s the consistent character of God throughout history. There were 2000 years form Abraham to John the Baptist; 400 years from the time of Malachi at the end of the Old Testament to the birth of Jesus in the New Testament. During all those years, time and again Gods people rebelled and turned against Him. But God never gave up on them – he was faithfully, lovingly patient. The apostle Paul, in fact, wrote (Rom. 9:22 NLT) “In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction.”
But why is God so patient? Wouldn’t it have been better to choose another nation, another group of people, who could have been better and less rebellious? No – because God is faithfully, lovingly patient. GOD IS NOT IN A HURRY. God can afford to take His time. Time for God is very different than it is for us. (2 Pt. 3:8-9) “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God’s purposes are grander than ours and therefore His timing is different than ours. And He is not in a hurry.
In fact, there are TWO DIFFERENT GREEK WORDS FOR TIME. One stands for SECONDS, MINUTES, AND HOURS that are associated with our clocks and watches. The other is a word that has the SENSE OF MEANING, such as Dickens used when he wrote “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” The Bible teaches that God operates in the realm of time as meaning – He looks from the eternal perspective. So when we think God is slow, or not answering our prayers or acting on our behalf, it’s not that God is slow or disinterested; it’s that He’s on a different time; He’s dealing with eternity. As Leonard Sweet put it, “Our 24-7 days, no matter how much we try to pack into them, do not coincide with God’s timekeeping. Divine Time does not keep in step with Daylight Savings Time or Standard Time.” (i)
God is not in a hurry because He operates on a different time table and has a greater purpose: He wants to allow enough time on our earthly time clocks for PEOPLE TO RETURN TO HIM. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Isn’t it great that God is patient with people – with you and me? Isn’t it wonderful that when we come to the end of the day, God is not impatient with us because of our sins and shortcomings of that day but instead reaches out to us with forgiveness and grace, because He is “…slow to anger, abounding in love…”
And we see the same character IN HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST. Time and again His disciples were slow of heart to believe; time and again they failed to understand what he was teaching or doing; time and again they questioned His purpose and direction. Think about His last Supper with them, in that upper room. He looked straight at Judas – whom He knew would soon betray Him – and offered Him the bread and the cup. And then there’s the scene in Gethsemane. Jesus took His disciples there to pray. But while Jesus was praying so intensely that He sweat drops of blood, they fell asleep. Jesus, like His Father, was “…slow to anger, abounding in love…” He told them He understood that while their spirits were willing, their flesh was tired. No anger, just love. Then Judas arrived with the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus and Jesus looked at him and called him ‘friend.’ Not traitor, not sinner, but friend. “…slow to anger, abounding in love…” A day later Jesus was hanging on a cross, dying a slow, cruel death; closest to Him were those who opposed Him and put Him there. Even as they taunted and mocked Him, He prayed “Father, forgive them.” “…slow to anger, abounding in love…”
This character of God must influence THE CONDUCT OF OUR LIVES. How and where can we develop the fruit of patience in our lives? I think there are three areas where we can work on growing this fruit. First, we can develop PATIENCE WITH OURSELVES. (2Pt. 3:11-12) “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to (wait for) the day of God and speed its coming.” Recognize that this change we talked about last week, this transformation from one degree of glory to another, is a slow gradual process – so keep working at it. Keep developing our relationship with Jesus Christ; keep working on a disciplined life-style where we make time for Jesus. Don’t get upset when we slip or slide off the path, or when we don’t improve’ as quickly as we think we should. GOD IS NOT FINISHED WITH US YET.
When James wrote about patience in his letter to the early church, he pointed to farmers who sow the seed; they can’t make it bear quickly – they have to wait for the rain, the sun, and the proper length of time for the seed to grow to full fruition and ripeness. So KEEP SOWING THE SEED, KEEP PULLING UP THE WEEDS, KEEP FERTILIZING THE SOIL of our lives so when God sends the rain and sun there will be something to grow. Give God time to work. Someone once put it like this> “Remember that the cogs of our lives are geared to the cogs of God’s workings. The gear teeth of God’s plans are stronger than our own. When we speed up while God keeps his own pace we strip our gears. We wear out. We crack up nervously, mentally and physically.” Be patient with yourself.
We also need to work on developing PATIENCE WITH OTHERS. The New Testament is filled with admonitions and instructions calling for patience with others. In his first letter to the Thessalonian church Paul said, “I know there are people among us who are weak, others who are wondering, others who don’t see eye to eye with us in the faith – and some are not very nice. But have patience with them all.” In his Ephesian and Colossian letters he exhorts believers to BEAR PATIENTLY WITH ONE ANOTHER.
As I look back upon my life, I realize how the people who were most significant to me were people who were patient with me. They gave me room and space to grow, thereby giving God time to work. The organist in my home church was such a person. She would, somewhat regularly, ask me to be the ‘ministry of music’ for our evening worship service. No matter how poorly or well I did, she’d always ask me back. I remember one Christmas season I decided to sing ‘We Three Kings.’ I knew it well, but still I had the words written down in front of me – and I still mixed them up. I had the wrong kings offering the wrong gifts! Yet, after the service, there she was – with a compliment and the assurance I’d be asked again. That’s forbearance. With whom do you need to be patient? Whom do you need to forbear in love?
Jesus further refines this concept of forbearance in His parable in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant; He makes it emphatic. One servant was forgiven by his master for a large amount of money owed that he could never have paid. But then he refused to forgive his servant for a very small amount. Jesus told this story in response to Peter’s question about how often we are to forgive someone. Jesus was saying, be patient; just KEEP ON FORGIVING. I wonder this morning – whom do you need to forgive? To whom do you need to go and extend forgiveness? Develop patience with others.
A third area for development is in PATIENCE WITH GOD. There will be difficult times we wonder if God has abandoned us – be patient as he is working. Listen to Paul’s wisdom (Ro. 5:3-5 TLB): “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” We need to be patient with God AS HE WORKS IN US AND OTHERS. The Message translation puts these verses this way: “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” I appreciate how J. I Packer stated this concept of patience with God as He works in us: “Patience does not just grin and bear things, stoic-like, but accepts them cheerfully as therapeutic workouts planned by a heavenly trainer who is resolved to get you up to full fitness.” (ii) What therapeutic workout is God putting you through right now? How are you responding?
Of all the fruit you will give and receive this Christmas season the most important could well be the fruit of patience. Advent is our time and God’s time for developing fruit. In A Christmas Carol, what happens to Ebenezer Scrooge is time itself. Time personified invades his bedroom to hint the meaning of time and teach him to live in the patience of God. “The Ghost of Christmas Present” reveals to Ebenezer the truth of the present moment from which too long he has shielded his eyes. “The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” shows Ebenezer his own future of death: unmourned for, forgotten, abandoned to his own refusal to turn and change his ways. When the ghosts finally depart, Ebenezer has but one question; “What time is it?” He rushes to the window and calls down to the street to a boy, “What’s today?” The boy can scarcely believe his ears that someone should ask such a question, but for Ebenezer Scrooge nothing else matters but to know what time it is: “What today?” he repeats. Hearing that it is Christmas Day, Ebenezer rejoices: it is not too late. The last apparition of Christmas Eve left Ebenezer Scrooge clutching his ghostly robe, which, as Scrooge awoke, became the curtains and bedpost of his own bed. Dickens writes: “Yes, the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the time before him was his own, to make amends in!”
ADVENT IS THE TIME TO MAKE AMENDS. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Use your time – use God’s time – to change what you can about your life, and to develop the fruit of patience with what you cannot change. And you will change. For ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” has sent His Son so save you, mold you, shape you into His image. All He needs is your availability. It’s the difference Christmas makes.
(i) Leonard Sweet Sermons, Leonard Sweet, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., 2014, 0-0000-1415
(ii) Source unknown