Fellowship of Hope
First Sunday of Advent | December 3, 2023
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I want to share with you a controversial idea this morning. Some of you may disagree with it. In fact some people disagree with this idea so much that they will remind you every year that they disagree with it. Some of us here today will not agree with what I’m about to say. But I’m going to say it anyway: I believe that it is good and acceptable to begin celebrating Christmas as early in the year as you want.
If you enjoy the Christmas decorations that go up around town in early November, then I think you should enjoy them. If you like listening to Christmas music or watching old Christmas movies before it’s even December, then I think that’s ok. I invite you to receive that joy.
I was in a coffee shop once right after Halloween and they had already started playing Christmas music, and I’ll confess to you that I enjoyed it. In fact, at our house we put on Christmas music just about as early in the year as we can – it’s a tradition that Teresa started. And actually, I don’t think she’ll mind me telling you that there are times all throughout the year, whether it’s December or July, that she might listen to Christmas music just to brighten her mood.
I’m reminded of that song “I wish it could be Christmas everyday,” which by the way came out exactly fifty years ago this month.
So we start listening to Christmas songs in November. I guess I just like the idea of a longer Christmas season. And anyway, who’s to say you can’t celebrate the birth of Jesus for two months? There’s plenty to celebrate! Why not spread the joy out? We get to experience the joy of the season now while we look forward to Christmas day.
Of course it’s also true that for many of us, this time of year can bring all kinds of emotions. Maybe it can be a little bittersweet. Maybe there’s some sadness or some pain. Maybe for some of us there’s some deep hurt. I think that the good news is that Jesus comes in the midst of all of that. The whole reason we have hope in this season is because we celebrate the coming of Jesus who comes in the midst of everything we’re going through. In the midst of our sorrow or our hurt, we can know that in his grace, Jesus draws near and walks alongside us. Paul says we are in fellowship with Jesus who offers us peace.
So we hold onto hope. And that may be the most honest way to enter into the Advent season.
The word Advent means “coming.” It’s a season when we reflect and pray and prepare for the celebration of Jesus coming into the world, but also for the time when Christ will come again. And so it’s a time of both Now and Not Yet.
As we prepare for Christmas, as we prepare for celebrating Jesus coming into the world, we reflect on all that means – that God loved us so much that he sent his son into the world to be with us as one of us.
And when Jesus came into the world, he told us he was starting something new, and that something new, he told us, is called the Kingdom of God. Jesus said the Kingdom of God was drawing near because he was drawing near. Jesus was initiating or beginning the building of his kingdom, and he was doing it right here with us, his people, his church, his fellowship.
Now we also know that the kingdom isn’t fully here yet – we still have all this brokenness and suffering and pain. And there are times we want to cry out those words that we heard from Isaiah earlier, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
But we hold onto hope. Jesus says, “keep awake,” pay attention, hold onto hope because he will come again, and restore the world, bringing peace for all people. Isn’t that the promise of Christmas? And so while we live in an in-between time, a time of now and not yet, we hold onto hope, and we are a people of hope.
Will Willimon once wrote, “Our lives are stretched between the sneak preview of the new world being born among us in the church, and the old world where the principalities and powers are reluctant to give way. In the meantime, which is the only time the church has ever known, we live as those who know something about the fate of the world that the world does not yet know. And that makes us different.”
I think that’s part of what Paul wants to say to the people in Corinth. It’s a difficult time for them; it’s a time of trial and division (we read about that later in the letter). But Paul says, I give thanks to God for you because of all that God is doing in and among you. In and through the grace of Christ, God has joined you together into a community of faith.
Paul wants to remind them that, as they wait in this time of uncertainty, God’s grace will hold them together. God’s grace will keep them strong. And God will be with them every step of the way because God has been, and is, and always will be faithful.
God has given them every spiritual gift they need, Paul says. God has even given you the gift of each other as a people who are in fellowship with Jesus. And the word for fellowship here – it’s sometimes translated as partnership or even sharing. We share Christ with each other.
And this good news that Paul is sharing with the people of Corinth is good news for us too. Christ is with us and Christ has joined us together. While we are a community of people, all of us living in the tension of the now and not yet, by the grace of God, we have been joined together in fellowship. In relationship and community.
And there’s something about being together in fellowship that brings us joy and hope.
My family has a tradition of visiting the Pigeon Center every year for their Seasons of Light festival. It’s sort of the beginning of the Christmas season for us. They have this event where different people from our community come and share about different holiday traditions. You go from room to room, and in each room a different tradition is represented, and there will be someone there to tell you the story of that tradition. But not only that – they have food from each of these traditions and you get to try all these different foods! Now, if for some reason you just wanted to go to the Advent room, you could do that. I don’t know why, but the food they always have there is lasagna, so you could go and hear a minister talk about Advent and get some lasagna. We really love trying them all though. But the very best part, my favorite part of the whole thing, is the community, the fellowship with friends. Just getting to be together – somehow in fellowship, we find renewed hope and joy and a sense of peace.
Our newest family tradition is coming here on the Saturday before Advent to help decorate the church. You can look around and see all the lights, and the wreath, and how beautiful it all is. I even managed to not fall off the ladder! But of course my favorite part is the time together in fellowship, just being in relationship, in community with each other. There is just something about being together in fellowship that reminds us that Christ has joined us together, and that Christ is present with us.
Today we get to welcome a new member into our fellowship.
Here the sermon transitions to the new member liturgy followed by Holy Communion.