First Sunday of Advent (B)
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Though Paul probably anticipated a return of Christ soon, his advice holds well for the long game also. What matters is his encouragement to the Corinthian believers to know that they have every spiritual gift to equip them in the waiting.
“Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Notice too how Paul describes the attitude of waiting. They are to wait eagerly. We may not all eagerly await Christmas, despite the tinsel in the shops and the Christmas songs on repeat, but can we still eagerly await the coming of Christ into people, places and situations where he hasn’t yet been seen?
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down ….. come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.”
The prophet is eager for the Lord God to come and change the status quo. There is something in each one of us that cries out like this. We all know situations and know other people who face things which need an other worldly visit, a divine intervention, in order to disrupt the status quo, to mend what’s broken, to restore what’s been lost, to heal what hurts.
So what’s stopping us from seeing this happen? The prophet is clear that sin is the problem,
“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.”
Someone has said that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Sin stains the heart and causes conflict, turmoil, disunity etc, etc, etc. Throughout history God had raised up ways to help people to deal with sin – his people could follow the laws he gave, their sins could be atoned for through sacrifice and the intermediacy of the priest. There were the judges and the prophets who would call the people back to right ways and to the covenant the Lord had made with Abraham and his descendants. Yet it wasn’t enough to deal with the fullness of the human problem. People kept falling back into self-centred, sinful ways. They called for kings to rule over them rather than God. They abandoned God to be like the other nations of the world. Human nature was riddled with sin.
Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins for ever.
Oh, look upon us we pray,
for we are all your people.
Yet God is our Father. He can’t not act to deal with human problems. And this is why there is a waiting, within human nature, for things to be put right. Isaiah chapter 64 ends with the longing question,
After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
In Mark 13, Jesus’ disciples are boasting about the fine stonework of the Temple. Jesus isn’t swayed by that and begins to talk about how all of that will come crashing down. That’s not going to be the way human problems will be dealt with anymore. They’re not to be deceived into thinking they can put their trust in any one religion. It’s him they must trust, even if that means they’ll not be very popular for doing so (13:13). Yes the Messiah will come, but the Messiah would be the head of a very different sort of temple, one made from living stones. In the meantime, other temples need to fall.
Jesus talks of the Son of Man coming in “great power and glory”, sending his angels and gathering his elect (27), and implying that this would happen before the current generation passed away (31). Did he get that wrong?
If we look back at verse 24, Jesus says “in those days”. Might we understand this as a long time during which the Messiah is reigning and gathering people into this new temple of living stones?
Certainly, the day and hour are unknown to us, nor even to the Son. Only the Father knows, the same Father whose work we are, the one whom we wait upon to act to deal with the human problem. And we know that, in Christ, he has dealt with the sin problem, and he is dealing with it even now, day in, day out. That is why we still pray, come Lord Jesus, o come, o come Emmanuel, come into my life, this person’s life, into this situation, to this place. In this way, we keep watch, like servants with tasks to do, not knowing when the owner of the house will return, but keeping the flame of the Spirit ablaze, hanging on in there, working and praying as if he might appear at any moment, on guard, alert, watching, waiting, trusting that he will come, at just the right time.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.