3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my[a] God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of[b] Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I Corinthians 1:3-9 (NRSV)
Imagine the Apostle Paul sitting down at his desk to write a letter:
Dear First Church Corinth,
What in the name of heaven are you doing out there? I’ve heard all kinds of stories about how you’re fighting over spiritual gifts, allowing factions to get in the way of fellowship-
He stops, reads what he’s written, tears it up and throws it away. He’s been trying to write to them for some time. He’s disturbed by what he’s heard. Some of the members are getting high and mighty with their knowledge and lording it over the others. It’s one thing to disagree on faith, it’s quite another to announce yours as the only way. They are squabbling over their spiritual gifts as if one gift and talent is more important than another. These and other issues are tearing them apart instead of uniting them. 2,000 years later, we’re not much different, are we?
There is a host of issues to discuss with them. They’re a fledgling congregation in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth. There are gods on every corner inviting worship in a culture that is wide open. This little Christian church worships only one God and they’re known as atheists because of it. Word is out that they eat the body and blood of Jesus. They’re not only atheists, but cannibals.
Paul wants more for them. They’re letting the culture get in the way. They’ve reached the tipping point and need guidance. They need Paul. They’ll have to settle for a well-worded letter from their leader.
Paul turns back to his task with pen in hand. He loves this congregation. They have so much going for them. So, that’s where he begins: with what is right about them: God’s gifts bestowed on them. He writes of his gratitude to God “because of the grace of God that has been given to [them.]” (vs 4b) As we continue to read through this lengthy letter we begin to realize that this short paragraph is also a list of discussion points he’ll touch on later.
The more I study scripture, the more I see our culture in it. We live our faith through our culture — it’s second nature. It’s not all wrong, either. But sometimes we get carried away.
A friend and colleague of mine heard this on the radio recently: 67% of adults surveyed would rather not give gifts during the holiday season.
Why is this? There are probably many reasons, but I suggest one of them is, the responsibility for perfection. Gift-giving is a burden. Do I buy the latest electronic toy for the kids and risk them becoming spoiled and entitled? Does my elderly parent with dementia care about that new bathrobe I bought her when she has three perfectly good ones hanging in the closet?
Come Christmas Eve or morning when we open our gifts, what’s it like? Is it fun and filled with surprises? Or overwhelming? Or, worse…underwhelming?
It’s impossible. Impossible that I’ll get the perfect gift for everyone on my list; that my house will be perfectly decorated; my entertaining will be perfectly elegant; that my cooking will be perfectly superb.
It’s impossible. No matter how much I spend and decorate and cook, it won’t be enough. Does that mean I’m not enough?
What would it be like to decorate and shop and cook and clean, knowing that there’s something important happening that is beyond our ability to totally understand: that God loves this world so much that he sends his Son to us?
What would it be like to focus on this gift from God as a way to acknowledge our own longing for love and acceptance Just. As. We. Are. What would it be like to feel the freedom and rejoicing in the profound love expressed in the manger?
Just. As. We. Are. How often do you hear someone say, “I love you just as you are?”
Impossible? Not with God. Look below your own surface to your spiritual gifts. These aren’t from our culture; they’re a part of you in and through the Holy Spirit.
Impossible? The only thing that’s impossible about this is that God is gracious and endows each of us with that grace and there’s not a thing we can do about it.
Only eight more days until we celebrate the birth. In the meantime, we smell the Christmas cookies and furniture polish, listen to the carolers and the vacuum cleaner. And we also feel God’s love surround us and the Spirit’s gifts that make us what and who we are. And we trust that nothing is impossible with God.
Impossible: Love? God sent his only son to a God-hating world. Now there’s a gift you can’t purchase. Perfect. Sacrificial. Filled with more love than we can possibly imagine.
I pray that your Season of Advent is filled with the knowledge of this love and a stronger sense of the gifts endowed within you by God. When that happens, the rest of the season takes its place where it belongs.
All glory and honor be to God.