One of my favorite pieces of music for this season is a work by Camille Saint-Saens called the Oratorio de Noel. I was lucky enough to perform it a couple of times; it doesn’t get nearly as much performance as Handel’s Messiah or Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, probably because it is in truth most suited to the kind of worship experience you have at a candlelit midnight service. It is a piece of music that beautifully captures the sense of peace that we would all like to feel at that moment when we meet the Christ for the very first time, over and over again.
In this work, I get to sing a short little aria, no. 3 “Expectans (Patiently)”, with a text combining Psalm 130:5 and 69:16 “I waited with longing for the Lord, and he turned to me.” Ever since I read our passage from James this morning, I just can’t get that music out of my head:
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.
James speaks to us across the ages about a different kind of waiting, because by the time in which he wrote the world had fallen apart around the believers and they were waiting for that second coming of the Christ, the more “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” kind of coming.
And yet the plea for patience is the same as during that first Advent season, the time between the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to the young and frightened Mary and the actual birth of the baby that would change everything. The plea is the same, but the plea is more urgent in tone.
Today, our plea for patience is even more urgent and so seldom not heard at all…patience is not built into our culture. Things move fast, people judge one another right and left (and think they are perfectly justified in doing so), we rush, we multitask.
Each and every day, I find myself yearning for that beautiful sense of quiet and peace that comes when I sing those words: “Patiently have I waited for the Lord (the singable translation), not just in this complicated season. And I find myself asking, what distinguishes that moment from all others?
And the answer? The answer is that in that moment, when everything comes together, I experience peace and knowing….I think that is called faith, maybe?
So be patient, yes; wait, yes; but above all know…
I know that I will not get this exactly right, but I am going to give it a try because these are words that stick with me in the darkest of times and words that contribute to my remembering that I know. As we celebrate the table of Jesus in my community, after our confession of sins (which is usually private and in silence), our pastor says the most beautiful words I have ever heard: “And now, know that you are loved and forgiven.” And every time she speaks them, I also hear, “and welcomed, and known.”
There is comfort in knowing, there is a gift in knowing others, and the greatest gift of all is in knowing the Jesus for whom we wait. Patiently. While still knowing.