1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Advent 1, 2011
“As You Wait”
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
We Americans don't like waiting. Waiting on the phone, waiting in line at the store, waiting in the doctor's office where they even have a room for waiting. But the church is always waiting. And Advent reminds us of this clearly.
The waiting has begun. Advent is a season of preparation, of expectation and even somewhat of penitence. But it is also a season of waiting. Waiting for Christmas, of course. Waiting to celebrate. But we also remember that Christians are waiting, still, for our Lord's second coming. We wait then, as they waited back then, in the first century, when St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
They waited for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Revealing, perhaps, because in a way he is still with us, though, hidden. He is hidden in the word, in the water, and under the bread and wine. He is with us always, even though he has ascended to heaven. And so his second coming isn't as much of an entrance as a revealing, of him who was there all along. Christ as he truly is – all eyes will see him.
They waited. They waited for the bridegroom, thinking he'd return soon. And as they waited, especially in those early years of the church, you'd expect they were on their best behavior. Eagerly awaiting and expecting that day – and knowing that it would be soon – and knowing that it could be any day. You'd think they'd live holy lives and love one another and flee from sin, and act like Christians, etc, etc. But that's not really how it went.
By Paul's greeting here you'd think he was writing to a bunch of super-Christians. He thanks God for them. He says they've been enriched in speech and knowledge. That Christ's testimony was confirmed among them. That they lack no gift, and that they share in the fellowship of Christ. Sounds great. But something's rotten in Corinth.
They wrote to Paul about some of these problems: Questions about marriage, food sacrificed to idols, and spiritual gifts. Other problems Paul had heard about: Divisions in the church, boasting, immorality. Doctrinal problems - people the resurrection of the dead. And to top it off, they were taking each other to court. If you read all of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, they sound like a deeply troubled congregation. Not a church that you'd want to join. Not a place you'd expect when you hear Paul's greeting. Not a bunch of people waiting patiently, with their eyes fixed on Christ, and their hands busy serving one another.
And so, with us, even as we wait. One might look at Grace Lutheran Church, and see our congregation for who we appear to be. A gathering of people – various ages and backgrounds, but one thing in common. We aren't super-Christians either. We break the rules, we forget what's really important. We live like God doesn't care what we do, like Sunday is the only day he matters, but only for an hour or so. In fact, I bet for many of us it would be hard to tell, just by looking at our everyday life, that we are a “royal priesthood” and a “holy people”. We probably don't give the impression that we're eagerly awaiting Christ's revealing, and the conclusion of history. And we're certainly no super-Christians.
That may be who we appear to be, but that isn't who are. That's not how St. Paul would see us. And that's not what the Lord says about us. We're not too different from the church in Corinth, in its troubles, or in its gifts.
They weren't lacking any gift. And neither are we. But here Paul doesn't mean speaking in tongues or healing or miracles. Those were actually the lesser gifts. The greater gifts, given to all Christians, are found in Word and Sacrament, as the Spirit works faith and sustains faith. They had the gifts that mattered, as do we.
They were enriched in speech and knowledge. We too, have the treasure of God's word, and many opportunities to study it. The better we know that word, the better we know Christ. The more we hear his promises, the greater comfort and peace we have. And the more our speech is conformed to his will, as his words are on our lips, enriching them.
They knew the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and that's our greatest treasure, too. They were sustained by God, they were held guiltless by God, as are we. No sins are held against the sinner who trusts in Christ. No guilt can bear upon those whose savior has born all guilt. When his day comes, we will stand with them, stand before our Lord together, and stand on his merits alone.
They were called into the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ, a fellowship of saints into which we also have been called. We participate in that same fellowship, that same communion, here at table, here in his gifts of himself. Here we gather with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, that is, all the saints who have gone before us. Even those troubled, yet gifted Corinthian Christians.
For the testimony about Christ is confirmed among us, again and again, as we hear his Gospel. That Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, and that on the third day he rose again from the dead. And all this, for us.
And so they waited, and so we wait. They looked forward to the fulfillment of all the promises, and so do we. They hoped in a God who is faithful, our very same Lord. And so they waited with hope, they waited in peace, they waited eagerly for the revealing of Christ who has done so much for us, and will do so much more. A blessed Advent, as we wait together.
In Jesus Christ, Amen.