Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.
1 Timothy 1:15- 16 (MSG)
In some ways, 2020 has given us all a serious exercise in patience. Whether you feel like you’ve maintained your composure throughout every lockdown announcement, or if the very mention of further restrictions makes you erupt with frustration and a need to get out of the house, our patience has been tested. We’re trying to be patient in the long lines at supermarkets. Patient with those in authority over us who attempt to make sense of the science and declare the rules. Patient with the internet that freezes up on us every time we go to speak in group discussion. Patient with our housemates who we never intended to be living with quite this intensely, all term. Patient with God even, who seems a bit slow on answering prayers for the healing of the world and the health of our communities.
Advent is traditionally a season of hope, of expectant waiting, and longing for the good news that is to come. Advent is a season of patience, bubbling away with the active faith of believing God is on his way and is coming to save, heal, deliver, restore. But advent isn’t a season of total calm serenity. Patience is hard, costly, stretching, painful. Jesus coming into the world to save us at our least lovable and most destructive is hard, costly, stretching, painful.
I love how Paul, one of the most prominent and respected leaders of the early Christian church movement, points to ‘endless patience’ as being a God-quality, not a Paul-quality. Paul names himself as a straight-up nightmare, he’s the worst ‘sinner’ he knows, he’s been so far from God, turned away from the life he was made to live, and downright destructive about it. If you’re feeling in a total mess heading into Christmas and far from God, you are not the first or last to be in this place. And there is hope.
Enter advent. The longed-for hope of God coming all the way to us in our gritty reality to save even the worst of us is possible. Not even just possible, but promised and delivered in Jesus. Jesus who even scoops up Paul’s impatient mess of a life and in his mercy, in his endless patience, actually raises Paul up as a shining example of how far Jesus is prepared to go to reach us and stick with us forever, in a restored relationship. So as we walk this advent road, of waiting, hoping, praying, persevering, even in the simple task of getting up, dressed, and awake to the world each day, remember: none of us can make it without the ‘sheer mercy’ of Jesus coming to us. He saves, we embrace this truth. He is endlessly patient even when we aren’t. And he has come, is coming, and will come all the way to us, however worthy or otherwise we might feel.
Sit quietly with your eyes closed and breathe deeply and slowly five times. Open up your arms and hands as if you are about to hug the air or receive a big gift. Keep breathing. Imagine accepting the gift of Jesus, who comes all the way to you and meets you, saves you, and gives you life right where you are. Breathe in the gift of God’s mercy and his endless patience with you. What a relief.