1 Cor. 1:3-9 / Advent Vespers 1 / 3 December 2015

1Cor. 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1Cor. 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Given all the problems, the divisions, the backbiting, the abuses of liberty that were going on in Corinth, you might suspect that these opening verses were spoken with apostolic tongue in cheek. Perhaps they were. Paul is no stranger to ironic speech. But there is no reason to doubt his sincerity or the Holy Spirit’s. In spite of their difficulties, the Corinthians were much more “spiritual” than even they realized, from the least of them to the greatest, from the “carnal” not so good ones to the high flying “spiritual” ones.

Paul is thankful for them. In spite of the fact that this letter comes on the occasion of a visit by members of Chloe’s household who bring some bad tidings about divisions and other difficulties, Paul is thankful for them. He is thankful not that they are a good congregation, a perfect congregation, or a model congregation, but he is thankful for the grace of God given them in Christ Jesus. The grace of God, His undeserved kindness in Christ, is the beginning and source of thanksgiving. If all he had was the Corinthians and their problems in front of him, Paul would be anything but thankful. Disillusioned? Perhaps. Cynical? Possibly. Disappointed? Certainly. They were his mission congregation; he and Silas got the ball rolling in Corinth, and now some high flying spirituals together with some renegade apostles were threatening to make a mess of things. And yet, in spite of it all, Paul is thankful.

That’s how faith in the grace of God in Christ is. It transcends our light and momentary suffering and our difficulties, those things we think are insurmountable and need to be dealt with “right away.” God will deal with things in His own good time, and He is never in a hurry. A day is like a thousand years, a thousand years nothing more than a day.

Rather than focus on the problem, St. Paul focuses on the gift: God’s grace. In spite of the way they have been speaking to each other, and about Paul behind his back, they have been enriched by God in Christ in all speech and knowledge. Note that this is in Him, in Christ, not in themselves. In themselves they are poor, miserable, carnal sinners. But in Christ they are something new and different, enriched in speech and knowledge, not lacking any spiritual gift as they wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds them that they are an “advent” people. Christians are “advent” people. We’re preoccupied with advent. Advent is about expecting an arrival. You look for it, you watch for it, you wait for it. At our staff devotion today, I read this piece from a sermon of Martin Franzmann. It captures that advent expectation nicely.

Our souls wait for the Lord, more than watchman wait for the morning. They know that morning will come; they are sure that it will come, and yet they wait for it, and they hail its first graying as a new and wondrous thing. So we wait for the Lord and know that He is Lord and will forgive. (Franzmann, 21)

John Kleinig, the Australian Lutheran theologian and pastor, describes the Christian life as “sentry duty,” watching over conquered territory, holding down the fort, waiting patiently for the end of the war to come. The fight is over, the battle won. Christ has triumphed over Sin, Death, Satan, and hell by His own death on the cross and His rising from the dead on the third day. In Him, the end has come, and the beginning. The new creation has dawned. The world sits in brooding darkness often tinged with despair. The economy, the environment, the drought, Islamic terrorists, ISIL, unrest in our streets, violence, immorality, hatred, neglect of the poor. Each year as the sun sinks on the horizon and the nights lengthen, the world seems to get just a little darker. Hope fades. Optimism shrinks. As children, we lived with a hope for a bright future. Our children do not seem to share that hope. The darkness deepens, Lord with us abide.

We have been put on sentry duty by the King of kings. He’s conquered, overcome the world, and He wants us to hold down the fort until He appears in glory. That’s why He has a church and His secret agents scattered all over the world: to keep watch through the dark hours, looking for that first hint of light on the horizon. We know it will come, yet we wait for it. We know the King will come when morning dawns, and so we keep alert in the hours of the night.

We are children of the Light not the darkness. We are children of the Day not of the night. As the world sleeps, we watch. As the world is distracted by this or that crisis or disaster, we wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.

The Corinthians were not lacking any spiritual gift in their waiting. Some thought they were. Compared to the super Christians, those high flying “spirituals,” they seemed to be nothing. Just baptized believers going through life, doing what needed to be done, putting food on the table, taking care of their kids, taking care of stuff. Hardly the “spiritual life.” But Paul says to all of them without exception, you lack no spiritual gift. In fact, you share the same baptismal birth, the same Body and Blood, the same word of forgiveness, the same Spirit who distributes His gifts however He sees fit so that no one is lacking anything.

The coming Day of the Lord is not a day for which you can prepare yourself. It’s not like final exams week, or a job interview, or a big presentation or even the coming holidays. There is no way to prepare for the Lord’s coming other than to have Him prepare you. When John the Baptizer cried out “Prepare the way of the Lord” in preparation for Jesus’ arrival, he pointed them to the water for baptism. God prepares a people. God prepares you. He baptizes you into Jesus’ death and resurrection, births you from above by water and Spirit, swaddles you with the swaddling cloths of Jesus’ righteousness, and breathes His life-giving Spirit into you. You are prepared.

He will sustain you, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before the coming judgment throne you are declared “not guilty,” blameless, innocent. Not because you are, but because Christ is and you are in Him. In Him, the law has nothing to say to you. In Him, no charge against you sticks. In Him, you are blameless and guiltless.

That’s the confidence of faith on sentry duty, watching in the night for the coming day, waiting with hope for the King who comes when morning dawns.

The ground of certainty is not our faithfulness or anything we do. God is faithful. That’s what matters. He keeps His promises. He is true to His justifying Word. And He who called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ will keep you until the Day of His coming.

Wait for the Lord. Be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord.

In the name of Jesus,