December 6, 2023

He Will Keep Us Strong to the End

Prayer for Illumination

God of grace, You speak words of hope amid anxious times. Send Your Holy Spirit to open our ears to that hope. Give us wisdom to read our own times through the lens of Your grace, and find comfort and courage through Christ, Your Living Word. Amen.

When did you last have to wait, wait, and wait? Our lives are full of waiting which requires great patience.

Waiting for the red light to change to green, waiting for your name to be called at the walk-in clinic; waiting in a cashier line; waiting for a lab result; waiting for your house to be sold; waiting for a visitor to come while in a hospital bed; waiting for the result from a job interview, waiting for the fever of your sick child to go down; waiting for a teenage child to come home; waiting for an estranged sibling to call; waiting for your child to overcome an addiction; waiting for a breakthrough from financial difficulty.

Sometimes we have to wait for weeks, months, or even years to get news, whether it’s good or bad. Sometimes the wait is just for a couple of hours but the anxiety and fear drag you down so much that you feel like you can’t take it anymore. Whatever the case, we know the challenge, the stress, and the anxiety of waiting.

People in the Bible had to wait as well. The Jews waited for the Messiah to come and liberate them. The people who saw and believed in Jesus waited for Him to return. They believed that the end times were near and that Jesus who ascended into Heaven before their own eyes would come back soon, very soon.

As the days slowly dragged by and then months and then years and then generations, the followers of Jesus had difficulty holding on to hope: the hope that their long-awaited Savior would come back for them.

What about us? Are we waiting for Jesus’ second coming?

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. During this Advent season, we, as Christians, not only look back upon Christ’s first coming and celebrate our Savior’s birth joyfully, but at the same time, we look forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s Kingdom when He will return for His people.

The lectionary reading from the Epistles on this first Sunday of Advent is from the first Corinthians chapter 1.

The city of Corinth was one of the most prosperous cities in Greece, and a center of trade, pagan worship, and unashamed immorality and idolatry. The church in Corinth existed in this grossly sinful atmosphere. Most of the members of the church were Gentiles, and many of the problems of the church found their basis in the life of the city.

Of the many churches Paul planted and ministered to, the Corinthian church was probably the one that gave Paul the most headaches and heartaches. The Corinthian believers were very gifted both financially and spiritually, yet the church was divided into various groups; some of its members were involved in sexually immoral activities; and there was a lawsuit among the members.

On top of that, a group of men had come to Corinth who presented themselves as apostles. They were false teachers who were challenging, among other things, Paul’s integrity and his authority as an apostle.

Paul established a church in Corinth during his 2nd missionary journey and stayed in the city for 18 months, preaching and teaching. Even after leaving them, he never stopped praying for the young church in a city full of vice and debauchery. However, he received reports concerning all the problems in the church. So Paul wrote this letter in response to the reports.

He could’ve started the letter with how disappointed he was with them or with an objection against the false accusation. However, before beginning to address problems in the church, Paul first declared his thanks to God for the people.

Paul has given thanks for God's grace to the believers in Corinth, including His grace in making them rich in speech and knowledge. He says now that "the testimony about Christ was confirmed" in them. In other words, Paul sees clear, doubtless evidence that they genuinely believed the Gospel, the message of salvation.

Major issues indeed needed to be corrected in the Corinthian church and they may be in a distressing spiritual condition, but Paul addresses them as God’s holy people. They are sanctified in Christ Jesus, having a holy standing before God because of what Christ has done for them. Paul was first and foremost grateful for their faith in Christ and God's grace to them.

Specifically, he is thankful for God's grace and the good gifts God has given to them. Through the grace of God, the Corinthian believers have been specially enriched in such gifts as knowledge and speech, enabling them to understand the message of truth and explain it. In fact, they are not lacking in any spiritual gift.

Those gifts confirm that the Corinthian believers are truly in Christ. This means Christ will sustain them all the way to the end. Because they are in Christ who has paid for their sin with His blood, they will stand blameless before God on the day of the Lord. But they must allow God to control it if they want to be blameless when they stand before Christ.

We, the Christians in the 21st century especially in North America are facing similar problems as the Corinthian believers. Our church is in the threat of fast-changing cultures. We cannot remain as we used to be, but at the same time, we cannot comply with society.

We cannot isolate ourselves from the world or we cannot conform with the rapidly changing system of the world. And sometimes we feel like we are not standing strong in our faith, and fear that we are being swept by the waves of cultures.

Also, as the church, we wrestle with divisions among us because of different beliefs and theological opinions about the Scriptures, worship, the sacraments of Communion, baptism, and marriage, or use of spiritual gifts in the church, and so forth.

On top of that, each of us struggles with our issues such as anger management, addiction, fear, hate, anxiety, abuse, unforgiveness, broken relationships, apathy, and so on.

However, as to the Corinthian believers, Paul is telling us today that God has already given us all the gifts we could ever need to remain strong to the end.

The first and most important gift is God’s grace given us in Christ Jesus - God’s saving grace. When we were still sinners, when we were living in darkness hopelessly, God’s grace was given to us freely through Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to us to give us hope for salvation and resurrection, the hope of healing, the hope of eternal life, the hope of reconciliation, the hope of freedom, the hope of new life, and a new beginning.

We fail and fall. We are weak and not perfect. We argue and are unforgiving. But the coming of Jesus as the Savior of the world has changed everything.

Even if, like the Corinthians, our lives have been full of sin and mistakes, God’s love in Jesus covers our multitude of sins. All of us have received the greatest gift in the world. What a marvelous promise for this season of Advent.

Furthermore, God has given us the Holy Spirit. And through the Holy Spirit, He has showered us with many spiritual gifts - love, faith, administration, discernment, exhortation, giving, hospitality, leadership, mercy, teaching, healing, words of wisdom, you name it.

No one is without a spiritual gift. Every one of you has entrusted one or several spiritual gifts. That is why we need one another. And together we can stand strong as we wait for Christ’s return.

Do you sometimes worry about what will happen to you on that day? What if I’m not eagerly waiting when Jesus is unveiled?  What if I’m asleep at my post?  Or, what if I eagerly wait, only to discover that I’m on the wrong side? What if Jesus is not real?

Paul assures us that such a thing cannot happen because Jesus Himself will keep us strong to the end so that we will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Day of the Lord may come like a thief in the night, but those who are in Christ will not be caught unprepared, because the Lord himself will preserve us to the end.

The season of Advent is a time to celebrate the faithfulness of God, not only in keeping His promises to send Immanuel into the manger but also in keeping His promises to hold us in fellowship - koinonia - with His Son to the very end.

Last week, I talked to Marilyn. They probably moved to a new place - Harrison Pointe yesterday. It has been a tough journey for them for the last few months. To name a few - they had to keep their house clean all the time for an open house, but the house has not been sold. Ben fell backward and had a concussion. They had Covid, and then Ben developed pneumonia. They had to pack while they were sick.

Amid the discouraging situation, Marilyn is grateful. She is grateful for the caring church family, for the loving children and grandchildren; and for the faithfulness of Jesus. She looks forward to the new place, the new community of people, and all the services she would enjoy at the residence.

Desmond Tutu, who was a South African Anglican bishop and theologian, said “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Friends, sometimes, our world, our circumstances, and our own sinfulness are not very promising or hopeful. But see the light. See the star of HOPE that shines in the night.

We eagerly wait in hope for the healing of your spouse, for the reconciliation among your family members, for the recovery from addiction, and for the revival of the church.

Believe that in Jesus Christ, you have been given the greatest gift, the amazing Grace, and the spiritual gifts to help your family, friends, neighbors, and the church to stand strong. You do not lack any spiritual gifts as you wait for our Lord.

Remember, our awesome God who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is FAITHFUL.

Let us pray.

Faithful God, the Advent season is a season of waiting, and in fact, our whole life is an Advent season, waiting for the return of Jesus, our Savior. Even though we are disheartened many times we do not lose our hope in Jesus. “Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus”