Epistle: I Corinthians 1:3-9 (Advent 1: Series B)
Human history and especially the Christian life have a shape and Jesus is its shaper at every point.
Advent is the season which begins the liturgical year, and it ties the rhythm of earthly life with the rhythm of heavenly life. The word “advent” is derived from the Latin adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” In the Roman Empire, the word adventus referred to the arrival of a person of dignity or great power; a king, emperor, or even one of the gods. For Christians, Advent is the time when the Church patiently prepares for the coming of the Great King, Jesus the Christ. Quite appropriately, then, Advent follows Christ the King Sunday.
Advent is the first part of a larger liturgical season. It includes Christmas and Epiphany and continues until the beginning of Lent. Even though Advent occurs in the month of December and is often considered a prelude to Christmas, it is not simply about waiting for the birth of Christ. The preparatory and penitential aspects of Advent focus on Christ’s second coming as the Judge of the world on the last day, the “Day of the Lord.” Despite the penitential tone, Advent is a time for holy joy and preparation as it emphasizes four advents or comings:
- The prophetic coming that points to Christ’s birth
- The incarnate coming of Christ in Bethlehem
- The sacramental coming in the waters of Baptism and Communion
- Christ’s coming on the “Day of the Lord,” to which we say, “Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.”
In our first Advent pericope, there is no question about the focus of the season. The name of Jesus occurs eight times in these first 9 verses. Paul opens with Jesus and will close with Jesus. He wants the Corinthians to understand what it means to have Jesus at the center of their story, their thoughts, and their imagination. If they can do that, then all of life is properly contextualized.
It begins with recognizing Jesus is situated at the center of world history, a history which is going somewhere, from an Alpha point to the Omega point, and it pivots on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Paul wants the Corinthians and his readers to learn this lesson: Together (and as individuals) we have been caught up into a great movement of the love and power of the one true God, the God of Israel, whose work for the whole world had now been unveiled through the events concerning His Son.
Jesus is situated at the center of world history, a history which is going somewhere, from an Alpha point to the Omega point, and it pivots on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
Preachers tell your congregations how much this lesson is needed and needed to be repeated, especially in a hopeless age of identity confusion and conflation. To be hopeless is hip and happy. To have no future with no meaning in a non-story not going anywhere is why Facebook was invented. There is no metanarrative, no overarching storyline of history, told and explained by the grand narrator who is God. Instead, there is autobiography. There is only my story because there is no history.
Not so for the Christian and not for those in Corinth. Also, this is not true for those in your parish. With a few deft strokes of the pen, Paul sketches a picture of the Christians in Corinth so at every point their story is intertwined with Jesus’ story. God has set them aside for His own special purposes in Christ Jesus, explains Paul, which is exactly what it means to be “holy” (verse 2). This happened when they heard the Gospel and received Baptism. There is the line of demarcation between purpose and purposelessness. God has set them aside for special purposes and such people are expected to cooperate with this fact and reality. That is what most of the letter is about and what most of pastoral ministry is about: Convincing the baptized they are, in fact, bound up as participants in the manifestation of God’s kingdom rule on earth and there is meaning and purpose behind their baptism, their catechism, their place and participation in the Church. We are going somewhere together. In the meantime, we have work to do. Even then we need each other, and this kingdom called the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church every step of the way.
Paul follows the opening greeting by telling them what he thanks God for when he thinks of them. He uses the opportunity, in the process, to hint at some of the things he will address in the succeeding chapters. He thanks God they are family. Paul is thankful this family, and our family, has meaning, purpose, and hope precisely because we have come from somewhere, are someplace, and are moving into the future God has planned. Notice how Paul moves from what happened to them in the past, through the sort of people they are in the present, to the hope they have for the future, with Jesus at the center at every stage. God gave them His “grace” in King Jesus (verse 4) through the Word of the Gospel in the waters of Baptism which regenerated them. “Grace” is one of those words that contain a universe of meaning. It sums up the fact of God’s love for them and how He acted decisively on their behalf even though they had not deserved it, but rather the opposite. That is where they have come from. Paul says to God: Thank you for your grace.
“Grace” sums up the fact of God’s love for them and how He acted decisively on their behalf even though they had not deserved it, but rather the opposite.
The result of this grace was God’s riches enriched them (verses 5-6). That is where they are now. They have been blessed by God and are being sanctified in every station of life, every good and worthy vocation, in all privileges and in every hardship. They had become a community of disciples through baptism. They were learners of the way and will of the King through devotion to His Word. They are growing eagerly in the knowledge of God and His new life making them able to teach one another, and so strengthening and confirming the original royal proclamation, the “messianic message” made to them. In this message they know meaning, they experience purpose in life, and they savor hope. So, life can be sweet even when it is bitter.
God called them in the past, equips them in the present, and will complete the whole process in the future. That is their story. This is your congregation’s confidence. Human history and especially the Christian life have a shape and Jesus is its shaper at every point. Only He can infuse even the mundane and the difficult with sanctifying purposes, ultimate meaning, and enduring hope. It is not a Pollyanna existence. Rather, because it is going somewhere and Christ has made us part of His Church, which is the principle instrument in altering and shaping the world, it can never leave a person despairing or not caring about life or death.
Your auditors, preacher, are participating in a historical movement that persists through every revolution, every transition of power, beyond every changing headline and fashion. This is their story because their fundamental identity is bound up with the purposes of God in Christ.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in I Corinthians 1:3-9.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I Corinthians 1:3-9.