(A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 for the First Sunday of Advent 2014)
We live in the Church and in our Christian lives with a tension between idealism and realism.
After all, we are followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. During the Advent season we look forward to celebrating the birth of the Christ Child who was God incarnate, God in the flesh. In Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and when we open our hearts and lives up to him he comes into our lives and we are drawn into the very eternal life of God. God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, God the Father all come to be with us and in us and we come to be in them.
What amazing lives we should and could all be living! What an amazing body the Church should be!
Ideally, that is.
Here’s what we often tell ourselves, though: “We’re only human. We cannot really live in this world as the body of Christ; we have to settle for much less than that if we are going to get by. But it’s ok because when Jesus comes back and takes us all home then we’ll be everything we are supposed to be.”
Oh, by the way, that’s something else that we anticipate during Advent—the Second Coming of Christ. We’re waiting for it. But sometimes it seems that we’re waiting for it as if it will somehow by magic turn us into something completely different than what we have been becoming during our lives here rather than as the culmination of a process that began the moment Christ came into our lives.
Wouldn’t it be better to wait for it in a way that will enable us to be as ready as we can be for it? Wouldn’t it be better to be always growing toward what we will be when Christ returns?
This would be a good point at which to look at what Paul said to the Christians at Corinth here at the beginning of his letter to them. He began by saying that they were “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “called to be saints” (v. 2). He went on to say that he thanked God because they had received the grace of God in Christ Jesus (v. 4), that they had “been enriched in (Christ), in speech and knowledge of every kind” (v. 5) so that they were “not lacking in any spiritual gift” as they awaited the coming of the Lord (v. 7). He also said that God would strengthen the Corinthians “to the end” so they might “be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).
Paul told the Corinthian Christians that they were holy people to whom God had given the great gift of grace and the great gift of the Holy Spirit that made them able to grow in being God’s people in the world in which they lived.
Wow! Just wow!
By the way, I would say the same kind of things about you.
But when we read the rest of the letter, we find that the church at Corinth was very fractured and troubled. Their great gifts had become a source of division among them; they were thinking too much of themselves and too little of others. They had become factionalized according to which leader they preferred or didn’t prefer.
In the living of their real lives as real people in the real Church in the real world they were running into problems. Even those realities that were among their greatest strengths had become their greatest weaknesses.
It’s like the Bradford Pear trees that are all over the place around here. Aren’t they beautiful this time of year? Their leaves are turning that glorious shade of red and they are absolutely and stunningly gorgeous. Well, they are gorgeous so long as the leaves stay up in the trees where stuff can’t get at them. But once they fall to the ground, it doesn’t take long before they are a big mess. And you have to clean them up! And they keep falling!
If we could stay up in the lofty heights maybe it would be easier to keep looking good and even being good. But the reality is that we live down here on the ground where things can get rough and dirty and where we might even get ground underfoot.
Let’s never lose sight of the ideal: we are the saints of God; we are the holy people of God who are being filled with God’s grace and with God’s Spirit and with God’s life so that we can and should every day be living more and more in God’s grace and love. The effects of God’s grace and love can and should be becoming more and more evident in our lives. We should be experiencing the constant strengthening of God “to the end” so that we will be “be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).
That is our ideal and we can and should always be moving toward it.
Living real lives as real people in the real world makes it a challenge. We can, will, and do mess up along the way. We will not always be or do our best; sometimes, even when we are trying to be and do our best we will come up far short.
But that’s ok because that’s the way it is.
Remember this: it is God who makes it possible for us to grow a little more every day toward being able to live up to the ideal of who Christ enables us to be. Remember this too: it is God who makes it possible for us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try again whenever we fall.
So here on this First Sunday of Advent, what are we waiting for?
We are waiting for our annual celebration of the birth of Jesus.
We are waiting for Christ to come again.
We are waiting for Christ to come to us right here and now.
We are waiting to be transformed into all that we can be.
But let’s not wait to seek God’s help in becoming more who God would have us be. There are things for which we have to wait. Being transformed by God’s grace so that we are constantly growing into who we should be—people who are marked by great faith, by great grace, by great love, and by great hope—is not one of them …