Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend, make the mountains shudder at your presence – as when a forest catches fire, as when fire makes a pot boil – to shock your enemies into facing you, make the nations shake in their boots! – Isaiah 64:1-2, The Message
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might; come and save us.
Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
The son of man you have raised up for yourself.
Then we will not turn away from you;
Revive us, and we will call on your name.
Psalm 80:1-4;17, NIV
I always thank my God for you, because of the his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way … therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5; 7 NIV
For most of my life, these kind of scriptures weren’t in the same area code as the joyful Christmas texts. I would have never associated them with the birth narrative. As a child, I was too busy dreaming of the gifts I would receive on Christmas day. As I grew older, I was busy planning what I would buy for those I cared most about or what parties and activities I would take part. Oh, sure, I knew the reason for the season. Keeping the story neatly in a manger and under the angels singing kept it tame enough for me to focus on other things. There was no advent to derail my assumptions of what December was all about. (see what is Advent for an excellent, succinct explanation)
As I’ve grown and as I’ve been taught to pay attention to the church’s different rhythms, these strange, angry and mysterious scriptures that are incorporated into the Advent season have begun to create in me a new appreciation of the season that leads up to Christmas. Its purpose is to frame the celebration of Christmas in a way that our society around us fails to do. Advent prepares us to recognize and appreciate the gift of Christmas with awe and gratitude that even the best store bought gifts cannot match.
But in order to receive the gift of Christmas – that our creator God would actually choose to be humbled and become like one of us – we have to be reminded of our frailty and our waywardness. Then and only then can we truly accept the astonishing gift of God’s willing presence in the midst of our messiness. While the message and work of the Christ child is one of restoration and wholeness, the Advent season accentuates the reality of the now and not yet. God is with us! But we – our communities and many of our family, friends and neighbors – are not yet whole. We are still waiting on this full redemption. We have the hope that it will come, soon. But while we wait, we hope and we work as God’s people to provide a taste of what will one day be. This is what the Advent season is about. The more you can help your class see this design in the season, the more they will be ready to accept its lessons – at first rough and tough though they are.
The context of the Advent season helps illuminate where we are going this week in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9. Paul greets the Corinth church with a warm greeting of thanksgiving and a reminder of who they are in God’s economy and kingdom. The Corinthians need this encouragement because Paul will spend much of the remainder of the letter admonishing them over the way they treat one another and the competing factions they have created. The entire letter is focused on building the community into the testimony of grace it has already received, strengthening the Gospel witness in its midst. But implicit in Paul’s message is that the Corinthian church is not yet there. They have not yet attained what could be when the power of their gifts given by the Holy Spirit are faithfully used in the building up of the Christian community rather than for the benefit of one person or group of people.
Does this resonate today? It should. When have Baptist, Christians, Americans – even nations been at such odds? Our technology, innovation and connectivity shows us that we have the ability like never before to come together for the good of humankind. But never before have we been so divided by partisanship. Our gifts have become weapons for tearing down instead of building up. And so we wait, still. More than ever we desire to “let there be peace on earth.”
Eugene Peterson, in his introduction to 1 Corinthians, says:
“When people become Christians, they don’t at the same moment become nice. This always comes as something of a surprise. Conversion to Christ and his ways doesn’t automatically furnish a person with impeccable manners and suitable morals.”
The city of Corinth had a reputation in Paul’s day. It was a cosmopolitan port city. It was unruly, hard-drinking, promiscuous and wealthy. Those that responded to the gospel message brought all this baggage right into the midst of their church start. Paul spent a year and a half teaching them the alternative way of Christ. Sometime later, he received a report that things had more or less fallen apart. Factions had developed, morals were in disrepair, worship had degenerated into a selfish grabbing for the supernatural.
The season of Advent has always held in tension the combination of God’s judgement and God’s promise. -Donald Booz
Peterson says that Paul’s letter is a classic of pastoral responsiveness: affectionate, firm, clear and unswerving in conviction that God among them, revealed in Jesus and present in his Holy Spirit, continued to be the central issue in their lives, regardless of how much of a mess they had made of things. Paul takes the Corinthian church by the hand and goes over all the old ground again, directing them in how to work all the glorious details of God’s saving love into their love for one another.
And so the Corinthian church, while looking forward to Christ’s return, also waited to be made more in the likeness of God’s promised wholeness. This wasn’t to be a passive waiting. As they learned to love one another with their gifts, instead of hording them selfishly, Christ became more evident among them. As Jesus states in Mark, “no one knows the hour” when God will call his faithful to his side and put an end to this turmoil. But the people of God gathered in unique communities can each be an oasis of love and hope in the middle of a system that encourages self promotion and power grabbing at the expense of others. It takes faith, courage and a lot of patience while we wait to see this promise come in its fullness. Advent helps us name this tension and the hope that one day it will be resolved.
Some additional questions you may choose to pose to your class:
- In what specific way are you waiting for God?
- What does it mean to actively wait?
- How can a community of disciples encourage an active waiting?
- What does grace mean to you?
- Why is grace so important among a community of disciples who aren’t immediately made nice when they encounter God?
- Where have you seen grace in action this week?
“Waiting for God” is no passive endeavor; it involves painful longing and bold allegiance, in short, a passionate patience.” – William P. Brown
Grace here has radical and social implications; it is not simply a word spoken to individuals or a power at work in individuals. Grace creates a new kind of community – one in which the divisions and hierarchies of the world no longer function because the grace of Jesus Christ, no human accomplishment or status, is the source of the community’s life. – Charles L. Campbell