Read the passage here.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. As you all know, Advent is that season before Christmas. It begins today, four Sundays before Christmas. Advent has both an element of remembrance and an element of forward-looking.
In remembrance, we reflect on the waiting of the Israelites for the promised Messiah. We know that the Israelites, understood themselves as the chosen people of God, by a promise given to Abraham to bless him and his descendants so that they could be a blessing to the world. This people, the children of Abraham, were delivered out of hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. And in the promised land, they knew blessing and abundance under the kingship of David, a man after God’s own heart, but were soon after led astray by generations of fallen, selfish, sinful kings. They found themselves cast out of the promised land, into exile by foreign conquerors. And though they were finally allowed back into the land, they were still under foreign rule. Generations of Israelites, the chosen people of God, were kept under the thumb of Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans.
But God had made another promise. That He would send someone to deliver them and to return them to the promise. They awaited this Messiah, this king; they awaited the day when they would be restored.
This is the first sense of Advent – one that we remember because it’s part of our story as the people of God. The other element of Advent is that we wait still. But we wait on the other side of history.
Because 2000 years ago, the one that the Israelites had been waiting for had finally come in the person of Jesus Christ – God’s beloved Son, in whom God was well pleased. Jesus lived a life in obedience to God, even obedience to death the cross. But Jesus didn’t remain in the grave – three days after His death, he rose again.
By His death and resurrection, we too can have real life, true life. And Jesus ascended, and sent His Holy Spirit so that we could partake in that new life until He comes again. But until He comes again, we live in the in-between – participants in the new life, but still part of a fallen world.
So we continue to wait. We wait until the fullness of God’s work in Jesus Christ is revealed. We wait until Jesus comes again.
Our passage in first Corinthians is part of the introduction by Paul. And it’s impossible to get into the letter of first Corinthians in any kind of detail. But it was a church with a lot of problems. Some of those problems arose out of their particular context. Corinth was a large port city – a cosmopolitan city where people from all sorts of backgrounds, languages, cultures, and religions would gather. The church itself likely reflected this diversity. It would have had members from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. And they would have been exposed to, if not participated in, the variety of cultures, practices, and beliefs of their culture. And as we know, this diversity led to conflict. So part of the reason Paul was writing – broadly speaking – was to focus them on what was truly important: Jesus Christ.
So the passage we read today is part of the Thanksgiving. And he is thankful for the Corinthians, to be sure. But in this part of the letter, his thanksgiving is to God. He is thankful to God for what He has done for the Corinthians. He is thankful to God for his grace and mercy. He is thankful for bringing the church together and empowering them and blessing them. But he is also thankful for what God is going to do. This is what Paul is referring to in verse 8:
8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 1:8
The implication Paul makes, in this and the previous verse (7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.) is that the Corinthians are in the in-between time. That they have received grace, have been brought into the family of God, but they still await the final fulfillment of God’s promise. They are still awaiting the ultimate completion of Christ’s work.
And what we see in the rest of the letter to the Corinthians is that in this in-between time – though they have already “been saved,” and while they await the final fulfillment – the Corinthians are kind of a mess. There are all kinds of problems that the Corinthians are having – this is the entire reason why Paul writes. Nevertheless, Paul is thankful. Nevertheless, Paul believes that they are part of God’s holy people, by God’s grace.
It’s easy to understand the Corinthians. In many ways, the world we live in is not too different. We are also living in a culture that’s informed by many different cultures, many different philosophies, many different values. And part of the difficulty of being the church today is navigating all of these different things – trying to understand what it means to be God’s people in the midst of all of it.
And part of that difficulty is that we, like the Corinthians, are also still waiting. The first letter to the Corinthians was likely written around the middle of the century. In other words, Jesus’ life and death would have still been fairly recent. We don’t really know to what extent the Corinthians believed or expected this, but there was a general expectation in the early church that Jesus’ return was imminent.
And we don’t really know what to do when we’re waiting. Because when we’re waiting, we kind of believe that we’re doing nothing. We’re in between the thing that has happened and the thing that is coming. And we think that in between is nothing but space.
And if we’re not paying attention, the space gets filled up with all sorts of things. It gets filled up with all sorts of things that have nothing to do with what came before or what is up ahead.
And what I’m saying is that the present must be informed by both where we came from and where we’re going. Our present must be informed by both what Christ has done and what He will do. We’ve said before that the in-between is about formation. But if we only see the space, only see emptiness, we will lose sight of how God is forming us. About how we are becoming.
For most of us, we are in a unique period of history. It’s been almost a year (more?) since we’ve found out about the coronavirus. And it’s been around 8 months since we’ve had to change our services, we’ve had to think about wearing masks, we’ve had to think about distancing and sanitizing and generally found our lives changed.
Now to be frank, I personally haven’t found it too difficult. I think that we have been remarkably fortunate here in Whitehorse both in terms of the level of restrictions and the effects of the coronavirus.
But I know that for some people, in a variety of ways, things have been extremely difficult. I know that for some people, the sense of loss, the sense of change has been profound. And I think it’s important to recognize that those feelings are legitimate and should be validated. That doesn’t, I believe, mean that we should not take seriously the health guidelines (I believe we should take them very seriously).
But I know that some of us – all of us – can’t wait for all of this to be over. Some of us can’t wait for the light at the end of the tunnel.
But what I want to suggest to you is that the waiting is not just empty space. If all we are paying attention to is the distance between where we came from and where we want to wind up, we will lose sight of what God is doing in the here and now, the in-between. God can work in us, God is working in us, as we wait. God is forming us, God is shaping us, in the in-between. How are we paying attention to that? How are we paying attention to who God is calling us to be in the here and now? How are we experiencing God’s grace, His mercy, and His faithfulness?
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is the season of waiting – of paying attention to the in-between. We want to pay attention to the space.