In churches, our hope is not just in the cyclical changing of the seasons, but in the end of the age, when the Son of Man returns. Our hope for the future is based on how God acted in the past and how God is acting in the present. The second reading this week encapsulates this past, present, and future assurance.
As Paul opens his letter to the Corinthians, his compliments are generous. But he is careful to point out that these great things that are happening when the Corinthian Christians come together are a testimony to the greatness of God’s power in Christ Jesus. If you are familiar with the book of First Corinthians, the words “speech” and “knowledge” in verse 5 may stand out to you. As the book continues, it will become apparent that Paul’s praise was for neither the speech nor the knowledge that the Corinthians may have thought Paul meant in these opening verses. He will go on to challenge the expression of worldly knowledge that some may have been drawn to (1:18-2:16), as well as the excessive speech that seems to characterize their gatherings (14:1-40). In these opening verses, however, Paul is eager to tell the Corinthians how powerfully God is working in and through them.
This work of God in and among the Corinthian Christians is a testimony to the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul takes this opportunity to look back—both to what he shared with the Corinthians and to the life of Christ—as the impetus of the good things that are happening now in the Corinthian church.
Advent is a season for us to look back. Our readings this week take us on a narrative journey through Scripture. They start with Isaiah’s hope for a savior and the psalmist’s pleading for a Shepherd who would care for the flock, then move to the words of Jesus himself in Mark, predicting a future time of reckoning, and then on to the life of the Church in First Corinthians, where Christians are embodying both this fulfillment of past prophecy as well as hope in the future fulfillment of Jesus’ words.
Just as Paul invites the church in Corinth, so we are invited to look back on this good news of a savior who has come and transformed our lives and our world.
Paul then goes on to promise the Corinthians that they have all the spiritual gifts they need to wait for Jesus to be revealed (v. 7). This again might sound familiar to readers of First Corinthians; Paul will delve into a deeper discussion of spiritual gifts in chapter 12. But for now, he assures the Corinthians that they have all the gifts they need to await Christ’s coming.
He further assures them that Jesus will enable them to stand firm so that they will be blameless when Jesus returns. What a promise! As the letter unfolds, it is hard to imagine anyone describing this group of people as blameless. And yet, Paul has confidence—not in them, but in the power of God in Christ.
This is the invitation to the church today to have confidence that we are not lacking anything we need as we await Christ’s promised return. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes look around and wonder what God is doing through the church. But as we remember the past, we can have confidence in the future.
Finally, Paul assures the Corinthians that God is faithful and that they have fellowship with Jesus. Because of the reminder of what God has done in the past and how that is embodied even now in the Corinthian church, as well as the hope that we have in the future, we can be confident of God’s faithfulness and we can have fellowship with Christ now.
What a promise to a church in turmoil! God has fulfilled his promises and is currently fulfilling them through you! You have everything you need to await the return of Christ, and furthermore, God will keep you firm to the end so that you will be blameless at that coming. And finally, God is sharing in our lives today, even as the past and future sometimes seem too distant to be real.
The Season of Advent calls us to set aside time to remember what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do. Paul opens this section with thanksgiving. This is not an empty list of gratitude platitudes, but a theologically dense accounting of the reasons for his hope in a church that may seem to be struggling greatly by all outward appearances. We have the same reasons for hope and thanksgiving today.
When we string lights in the darkness, it is not just a testimony to our faith that winter will not last forever, but a testimony to our faith that the God who kept his promises is still in the business of keeping promises today and forever.