Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
A month ago when all of the aisles in stores dedicated to costumes and candy converted to being dedicated to ornaments, wreaths, and trees which kind of person were you?
According to this popular internet meme, there are two types of people those who are as excited as a child on Christmas morning that they can start decorating for Christmas morning and those who brace themselves with steely resolve for what is inevitably going to come. Can I be honest with you, between those two I am in the “so it begins” camp. When I see Christmas decorations start to creep out, my first thought is not “yay” it is sighing because I know it means I am going to have to carry dozens of totes up stairs, unpack them all, repack them with what got displaced, haul them all back down into a basement, and then undo the whole process in a month. I am, at best, neutral about Christmas decorating. However, there is one big exception. If we are going to go through all of the effort to get haul those totes up, set up a Christmas tree, and decorate it then there needs to be presents under that tree. Like many people, we went through the annual ritual of decorating last weekend, and the tree had not even been up for an hour before we had gift wrapped boxes underneath of it. As a child, growing up, that was my favorite part of the Christmas traditions. It was not getting presents, it was the expectation of getting presents. Opening the present was not as much fun as the expectation and anticipation. I would spend weeks wondering what was in the box. That was my favorite part of all the Christmas hoopla growing up, so if we are going through the trouble decorating, then I am going to make sure it is included.
Doing this is also oddly liturgical. In the calendar of the church we are in the season of Advent. Honestly, Advent is a bit of a weird time for us. Advent is really not just pre-Christmas, or at least it is supposed to be more than that. Advent, as it initially emerged in church tradition, is meant to be a unique season in the church. Advent is a season in church life that is to be marked by expectation and anticipation. This December, this season of Advent, we are going to seek to reclaim the season a bit. Christmas is, without out a doubt, best known for presents. Yet, when we focus on what makes advent unique, we find that it has gifts to offer us as well. These are not physical gifts that can come in a gift wrapped box, rather they are gifts for soul. They are gifts that if we claim them will provide a centering and grounding to our faith and life. The first gift of advent is expectation.
The bible is full of expectation. It was with great expectation and anticipation, that the Israelites awaited delivery from Egypt. After a long and painful journey in the wilderness, it was with expectation and anticipation, that the Israelites stood on Mt. Nebo looking to inherit the promise land. Psalm after Psalm is written to evoke deep feelings of longing and expectation for God’s presence and deliverance. The prophets fall just shy of making up half the books in the Old Testament, and page after page of the prophets are filled with expectation and hopeful prophecies pointing to the coming of the messiah. The gospels paint a picture, that at the time of Jesus’ life this anticipation had hit a boiling point. People were expecting the messiah, and they saw the great need for the savior during their life time. In a lot of ways, the idea of advent is to get us into that mindset. There was much anticipation and expectation for the messiah to come, and at Christmas we celebrate just that. But remember, Advent is meant to be more than just pre-Christmas. It calls back to the expectation that led back to that first Christmas, but Advent is more than that. After the gospels, the rest of the New Testament manages to still be full of expectation. From the letters of Paul to the letters of Peter to the Revelation of John the language is still full of expectation for what is to come. This morning’s scripture from 1 Corinthians is a good sampling of the expectation we find in the New Testament: “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 that day of or Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This morning’s scripture and many like it show that for the first Christians, expectation was a big part of their faith. Just like a child is full of wonder and expectation of what could be in the box, the early Christians had just as much excitement about what joy the second coming of Jesus would bring. If we are being honest, that sense of wonder, of excitement, and of expectation has kind of been lost. Perhaps it due to the passage of time or just a change of perspective, but “holy expectation” is not a phrase many of us would use to define our faith. It could be that, in part, advent arose in church tradition to help us preserve this. The scriptures and focus of Advent remind us of just what we should be expecting.
The reason why the first Christians were so full of expectation is because they were fully aware of a key theological point in our faith: The Kingdom of God is here but not yet. On Christmas, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God invaded this world. God set into motion a new age. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, death was defeated, eternal life was offered, and people had the path to be forever reconciled with their Creator. The Kingdom of God had begun, but the old age-the age of sin and death, had not passed away. This is where we still exist. The perfect love, the perfect forgiveness, and the perfect savior are all present and can be experienced. The Kingdom of God is here and now. However, the old age has not passed away. People still suffer. There is still evil and corruption in the world. The early Christians were full of expectation for the day when all of creation would be made new, the old, broken ways of the world would fall way and the kingdom of God will be fully realized.
This morning’s scripture reminds us that God is faithful and there will be a day of our Lord Jesus Christ. On that day of the Lord, he will return, and the kingdom of God that is here and not yet will be fully realized. The death that was defeated on the cross will be eradicated one and for all. There will be no more death, no more tears, and no more sorrow. We will be God’s people, God will be our God and the perpetual light of Christ will shine on us forever and ever, world without end.
The image of a Christmas gift is a really good metaphor for helping us understand how we should expect this glorious day. A child, can be full of wonder expectation, and excitant about a gift. The reason why they are full of those things, is because they know the day is going to come when they can open the gift. As the day gets closer the anticipation builds. How many of you can remember the day of Christmas eve as a child? It is the longest day of the year! I remember that my brother and I would make elaborate plans to fill the day in an effort to make it feel like it would go faster. The reason why that day felt so long is because the expectation and excitement to find out what was in the box had reached the highest possible level. Of course there is a downside to Christmas gift expectation, if what is in the box does not line up with what we can expect there can be disappointment. However, when it comes to expecting God’s Kingdom fully realized there is no chance we can be disappointed. When Jesus returns in all of his glory and sits on his heavenly throne, there is no way we can be ready for it. There is no way that our expectations, no matter how grand, are going to measure up to the incredibleness of God’s kingdom. We should be able to have a level of expectation about what is to come, because it has been promised that the best is yet to come.
The other reason why a Christmas gift works is the other reason why a Christmas gift builds anticipation. It is the reason why gifts under the tree were/are my favorite part of the Christmas traditions. From the time it is placed under the tree until the time it is opened, the gift is there. It can be touched, felt, examined, and experienced. Through how it shakes, how much it weighs, how it looks, we get glimpses of just what is in the box. It is these glimpses that create the expectation. In the same way we get glimpses of God’s kingdom. We may not be to comprehend the full scope and awesomeness of God’s kingdom, but remember the kingdom of God is both here and not yet. God’s kingdom has not been fully revealed but it is realized in part. When the lost are found, when disadvantaged are cared for, when the forgotten are called by name, when the hopeless find hope, and when the unloved experience love then we get a glimpse of God’s kingdom. When then disciples of Christ act as the body of Christ, and they are his hands that serve a hurting world, his feet that find a lost world, and his shoulder that comforts a broken world then we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Whenever we humbly put aside our schedules, our biases, and our pride to serve the least of these then we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is here. Brothers and sister in Christ, through our Lord Jesus we are heirs to that kingdom we may participate in building it here and now, and we should do with a holy expectation that there will be a day when His kingdom comes.
In the life of the church we tend to associate the season before Easter, called lent, with the concept of spiritual disciplines. Perhaps, though we could have some advent disciplines. A spiritual discipline is a practice that we intentionally undertake to grow in faith. This morning, we gave all of the children their own sparkle box, but perhaps all of us could benefit from creating and filling a sparkle box over advent. Doing so would cause us to engage the world, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to live out Jesus’ message that the “kingdom of God is near”. All of us could benefit from being more mindful of the actions we take that are gifts to Jesus through loving others. Because when we take those actions, we will experience in a small part the kingdom of God. When we experience God’s kingdom, we will be filled with expectation about what is to come. And expectation, after all, is what Advent is all about.