Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Date: November 26 & 27, 2016
First Sunday in Advent, Year B [New Hymnal Lectionary Test]
1 Corinthians 1:3–9 (EHV)
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
4I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus. 5You were enriched in him in every way, in all your speaking and all your knowledge, 6because the testimony about Christ was established in you. 7As a result you do not lack any gift as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also keep you strong until the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, who called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
God Keeps Us Ready
Happy New Year! That might feel like an odd greeting for late November, although perhaps we’ve already heard the songs being played around us that wish us both a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. But our new year’s greetings today do not come from an over-zealous nature that would have us skip over almost the whole of December to focus on Christmas and January already. No, our new year in fact means just the opposite.
Today we begin a new season of the church year (despite my goof in the bulletin that didn’t list it as such in the front). Today we begin the season of Advent, a season that focuses us on being ready for Christ’s coming. Whether we think of celebrating his first arrival as Bethlehem’s manger-laid baby, or especially his second coming as King of kings and Lord of lords, we are right to think that we need to be well prepared for his arrival. We get ready through repentance and rejoicing in all that God has done for us. But the apostle Paul will remind us this morning that our getting ready really doesn’t happen by our own effort. Like all things, even our preparedness is a gift from God.
Our lesson for this morning comes from the very beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Christians living in the Greek city of Corinth. Well, it’s the first of the two letters that the Holy Spirit preserved for us. It seems likely that it’s actually the second letter he wrote them, the first letter having not survived to us today. From the inferences we can make in this letter, we can assume that Paul’s first letter was written to address some issues in the congregation. A reply came back from the congregation with questions, and perhaps a little bit of an authority-challenging edge to it.
So Paul writes to them this letter that we know of as First Corinthians. The section before us is the initial greeting Paul used to begin the letter. He starts out with a phrase that we can easily skim over because we’ve heard it or a variation on it so many times in our lives. But let’s not skim over it today.
Paul begins: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! When Paul tells the Corinthians that God’s grace is theirs, he saying a lot in that little word. Grace is not just a rather empty “church-speak” word that has no real meaning for us today. Nor is grace a special power that God gives us to enable us to do his will, as some churches would teach. No, grace is a word that can only be used to describe God’s love for mankind. It is a love that loves even when it is not loved back. It is a love that loves even though the person who is loved (the Corinthians, you and me) doesn’t deserve it. In fact, it is a love that gives exactly the opposite of what the person deserves.
And that’s where grace and peace intersect. The load of sins that the Corinthians and that you and I carried before God were our end. Our sins mean unending war with God which we actively choose to continue. It means that we deserve hell, eternal death and torment, as punishment. Because of our sins, that’s where we should be, and we should be seeing the Christians in Corinth and even Paul himself there as well.
But, Paul says there’s peace now. How? Because of God’s grace. God’s undeserved love for us meant that he didn’t want us to face what we truly deserved. So, he sought to change that. Paul continues on in his greeting: 4I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus. 5You were enriched in him in every way, in all your speaking and all your knowledge, 6because the testimony about Christ was established in you. Paul is so thankful for God’s grace to the Corinthians, because he knows that grace means everything. The grace, Paul said, was given in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the fullest, most tangible expression of God’s undeserved love for us. We couldn’t do anything for ourselves so God did it all for us. Jesus came, not to show how to get ourselves to heaven, but to get us there himself. We contribute nothing to our forgiveness; Jesus did it all. He died on the cross and suffered the punishment that you and I deserve. That is grace in its clearest form. We sinned again God; God allowed himself to be punished for the sins we committed against him. We deserved hell, Jesus gave us heaven. We have received the opposite of what we deserve.
This is not something that can disappear like the fog of breath on a mirror, though. This is something that is foundational and long lasting. Paul says that the testimony about Christ was established in you. That word translated “established” has the sense of something that is deeply and firmly anchored. When God created the faith to believe what Jesus has done for you, he didn’t do so in a temporary way. He established it to last and endure through eternal life. God worked through his Word and Baptism to create that faith, and he continues to work through his Word and the Lord’s Supper to reinforce that faith which clings to Jesus as Savior.
The problem in all of this comes, not from God, but from us. There are people in this world who couldn’t care less about what God has done for them, and thus they will never benefit from it. But those of us who have heard this truth for months, years, or decades are not immune from having this be of no benefit to us. Because of our familiarity with it all, we can run the risk of letting it become blasé and old hat. We’ve heard it all before and we’ll probably have the chance to hear it all again, we reason. So we’re tempted then to let Jesus and this grace take a backseat in our lives. We’re tempted to leave God behind until we think we need him. But Jesus warns that if take that lackadaisical attitude toward him, it may be too late before we realize we needed that grace to rescue us.
I think most of us probably lock our house and our car with some regularity. Why do we do that? Because we never know when a thief might try to come in and steal something that belongs to us. So we lock the doors of the car before we go into the store and we lock the doors at home before we leave or go to bed to make sure, as much as we’re able, that things are safe.
Jesus described in our Gospel how uncertain we were about when he would return. We simply do not know when the end will come, and anyone who claims to know is either a liar or has been deceived himself. So what is Jesus’ advice? Keep watch! In another discourse on this subject, Jesus compares the coming of the Last Day with that of a thief breaking into a home. If you knew when he was coming to steal you’d make sure to be ready, but since you don’t, that doesn’t mean you just give up on the whole thing. No, you make sure you are continually ready with locks and perhaps security alarms.
Would we not do well to keep watch as well for our Savior’s return as we do for a potential thief? I wonder if we can’t train ourselves, every time we lock a door or set a security alarm, to think about how the end of this world may come like a thief, and thus keep that at the forefront of our minds in little ways every day.
If we do that, or have something else that keeps us reminded of the fact that he is coming—and soon!—what do we do with that? Being mindful of his return isn’t the sole goal. We want to have the whole of his message to us in mind: our sins, his grace, and the promises he’s made. The great comfort is, that like forgiveness and faith before it, this readiness ultimately doesn’t come from us. Paul explained to the Corinthians: 8He will also keep you strong until the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, who called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
God is faithful; God will keep you strong. He’s the one who continues to work through his Word to get us and keep us ready for the end. We want make time to be in that Word where he gives us that readiness. That’s what makes church, Bible class, devotional time at home, all so important, not just in the lead up to Christmas or around Easter, but every day. There in his Word is where God makes us and keeps us ready for our Savior’s return and our time to spend eternity with him.
Are you ready? Keep watch! You are in God’s grace so you have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to. Thanks be to God! Happy New Year! Amen.