3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
It had been a tough week to be a pastor. Our parochial school was struggling. Enrollment targets had not been met and that meant constriction to the budget. That was on top of the usual tensions which brew any time you get a bunch of sinful human beings into the same place. I was honestly feeling discouraged. I put on a brave face and went to the local ministerial meeting. I sat by a young man whom I did not know. We struck up a casual conversation, asking where the other served. It turns out he served the hip and cool church in town, the one with the best music, the one attracting all the young families, including a few from my parish.
He looked at me and said something remarkable. “We are so jealous of your congregation. We are so ephemeral, and you are making such a lasting difference in the lives of our people with your school.” I was honestly a little stunned. I could only see the problems when I walked into that meeting. Those problems filled my field of vision. He was right. When you counted the families of the school children, my midsized parish was profoundly touching the lives of a thousand people every week through worship and the ministry of our school and childcare center.
The problems were still there, but they were different when I walked out of that meeting. Paul wrote these words which begin his first letter to the Corinthians to address a very troubled situation. The congregation was split into factions. They were taking one another to court. There was gross immorality in the membership. Worship was apparently getting out of hand. I always tell my parishes that if we have problems, it is nothing compared to those of First Christian Church in Corinth in Paul’s day. But Paul does not speak of the problems here. He speaks of the blessings, the gifts that they have received. From that point he will move on to address the many problems in the parish, but it is consistently from a position of wealth, blessing, and giftedness.
This Advent season has dawned on a set of conflicts and troubles which are unique to this moment. But every Advent has dawned on a set of problems. I read somewhere that the year 536 was the worst ever to be alive. A massive volcano caused crop failures around the world and starvation and disease put a serious dent in the human population. That is about the time the season of Advent was coming into wide practice. Our lives are more fragile than we like to admit. The world today and every day needs the Christian vision of a life lived out of the immutable, eternal wealth of God’s blessings. The troubles we face today will surely bring pain and even death to people. Some will be impoverished. Others will grieve. The problems remain, but the blessings of God are even more durable. Think about those, smile, be expectantly hopeful, and love your neighbor. God has been good and will be good.