A BURNING PATIENCE
Sermon 2 Advent, 2002, St. Peter’s Church, Lewes, Delaware. Mark Harris
Dear Ones: Consider this a letter to you, fellow travelers in this strange world. I’m reading this aloud, of course because we are together on internet streaming, but it’s a letter none the less. I haven’t preached to and in an in person congregation for some months.
I write knowing that many of you are doing so much to help in these times. I sense sometimes that you must be exhausted. I know that some close to me are really tired, tired from having to work in new ways, with new challenges, tired of having to wait for things to get better, tired of having to put up a good front in the face of prolonged anxiety. We are absolutely ready for something else, something that will quickly release us from pandemic and other social distress. But it seems it is not to be, not yet. For now we cannot avert our gaze, our attention to the realities of the moment.
It seems to me this is a time to practice a kind of holy patience, but by holy I don’t mean detached, far from it!
Arthur Rimbaud, a quite challenging french poet, wrote, “Still, now with the coming of night, let us muster all the strength and true tenderness we can. And at dawn, armed with a burning patience, we will enter into the splendid cities.” That phrase, “a burning patience” was picked up by Pablo Neruda as a call to persevere at times of great calamity and anxiety.
It is a “burning patience” that I believe is needed just now. It is that patience that lives in the readings today.
The prophet Isaiah cries out that the burning patience of the people will be met by the harold who cries, “Here is your God,” and he prophesied that God leads, comforts and restores the people at the last.
Peter admonishes us to a patience like God’s, and and to “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Burning patience for the Lord’s presence IS salvation.
And then there is the thundering witness of John, who baptizes: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John call us to have patience, with hearts burning for the one who is to come, who will wash us in the Holy Spirit. Be patient, he says,I am not the One, but the One is coming. He calls out “Hold On” the One is coming who will make us New.
None of these were called to be passively, listlessly, quietly patient- not Isaiah, not Peter, not John. Their burning patience is full of anticipation, full of expectation, and quite often full of noise, and sound and fury. All of theses are signs, of how burning the hope is. And yet, patience is part of that hope. Patience is the willingness to wait upon God, upon the revealing of what is to come. Armed with a burning patience we prepare for the day that makes us whole.
I can only echo in these times the same: we ought to seek the splendid city, the reign of God, the new Jerusalem, with all our hearts, and seeking that we ought to look for the light to come.
We ought have no peace with oppression, no patience for those who would bend away from justice and mercy. But because freedom from oppression and freedom from fear has not happened yet, it is tempting to lose heart, to become impatient to the point of giving up. In doing that we become instruments of our own oppression.
The fact that the pandemic continues, that our country is not clearly on its way to being a more perfect union… these are realities. But it is not the end of the matter.
A different sort patience is needed, the patience of the faithful. For us, separated as we are by the pandemic, divided as we are by so many differences, it is hard to be patient. Still, that is what I believe we need to be: patient with that special burning patience that rests in our anticipation God’s new creation in us.
One read of John’s message is just that: Be patient, but be prepared. Now is the time for repentance. Now is a time for vigilance in matters of heath and governance. All so that when the One who is coming is here you will be ready to be washed in the Holy Spirit and made fit for the splendid city of God. So we say, with that other John, the writer of the Revelation, “Come Lord Jesus!”and yet in confidence and hope we also wait for that Coming with patience.
The lighting of Advent candles is a little sign of that preparation. As the winter gets darker we light more candles, and then when it is darkest, we light the light of Christ. It may be the winter of our souls, and yet, with burning patience we light the way to new life in Christ.
So I write this to encourage you to a burning patience. And I send you this song, a gospel song was written by Rev. Cleophus Robinson Jr.in 1980. It’s titled “Hold On, Just a little while longer.”
Hold on just a little while longer (3x)
Everything will be all right
Fight on just a little while longer (3x)
Everything will be all right
Walk on just a little while longer (3x)
Everything will be all right (2 x)
May the peace of God which is no peace, but a burning patience, guide you in these days.
Hold on just a little while longer.
Do not become instruments of your own oppression.
Keep the Faith.
With love and admiration, Mark.