Final Preparation. This Advent season we’ve been using Paul’s love chapter from 1st Corinthians to get us ready for the Advent of our Lord. This text isn’t normally associated with Advent, but it sure seems to fit perfectly. Advent is about having FAITH in the promises of God to deliver us from sin. Advent is about having HOPE because we know God’s Word is true and sure. Advent, as we’ll see tonight, is the culmination of all these as God makes His love real and undeniable. Advent is readying us for Christ’s coming at Christmas so that we can behold the suffering servant who will free us from sin out of Love. Advent is preparing us for the time when Christ will return as the King of all creation in glory to make eternal life a reality because of Love. That’s why even though this whole text from 1 Corinthians 13 spends a fair amount of time talking about spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues or moving mountains, they pale in comparison to Love. Simply — If you don’t have Love, you have nothing. Love trumps every spiritual gift or every miracle God may work through us.
What Is Love? God’s coming into the world is God revealing the full extent of His Love for us. But that takes some preparation to understand. More than that, it takes patience to appreciate. In 1 John 4:8, we see that God is the very definition of Love. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Our Lord’s coming at Christmas 2000 years ago and in the untold future is a portrait of Love. Jesus IS the role model on how to Love. Paul uses the word "agape" to describe this godly love. It's so much more that romantic or sexual love, "eros", which, for the record, also come from God. It is more that the friendship bond of "philia" which comes from God as well. Agape is a sacrificial Love which seeks to do what is best for another. For God so loved the world (loves us), that He gave Himself totally. Agape love is giving love. This is the love that Advent seeks to help us understand, appreciate and embrace. It is what God did by coming into this world. It is what God will do by bringing us into His eternal realm. Love In Action. God’s Love is revealed and proven by His coming — then and in the future. It put our needs first. This is the kind of Love that serves, that builds us, that helps. Does the world need this kind of Love? More than anything, especially at a time when more & more people are separating themselves from God. Advent us trying to help us see how much God loves us. God gives His love to us, and wants us to share it with others. The fact is God commands us to love one another as He has loved & still loves us. John 13:34 has Jesus speaking those very words to His disciples & to us. The first letter of John tells us 5 times “You must . . . love one another. If Love is commanded, then it must be important & just maybe, the greatest of all.
Keep the faith. Don't lose hope. Above all else, let your lives be filled with Christ's Love. If we can do this , Advent has done its job - then we are indeed ready for Christ's coming.
Let us pray. Dear Lord, thank you that you are the very definition of love. Help us to receive your love shown first in your coming and then most visibly at the cross. Help us to take that most perfect model of love and pass it on to others - those we like being around and those we do not, those who love us and even those who hate us. We need your help to do this, God, so we commit ourselves to you, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Linked But Separate. Faith, Hope & Love remain — so Paul tells us. We continue Paul’s Advent message that ultimately brings us to the supreme testimony of God’s love, our Savior’s birth. Yet, while Faith can & does build Hope, the two are distinguishable from one another. They’re not the same. Faith has work to perform today; Hope cheers Faith along the way encouraging. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God as Paul reminds us in Romans 10:17; Hope comes by experiencing the Word of God as he tells us in Romans 5:4 — And patience, experience; and experience, hope: Faith accepts the gift of promise; Hope confidently expects the fulfillment of promise.
No Hope. Advent is very much a time of hope as we look forward to the coming of our Lord. Yet, not all see hope in the same way. In fact, it seems as if some in the world have no hope at all. I see hope revealing itself in one of three ways. There are those with No Hope. There are those with False Hope. There are those with True Hope. What’s the difference? One of the reasons I feel such concern for our younger people is that many have not just drifted away from a relationship with God (as many do in life), they have stopped believing in Him all together. They are people without Hope & without God in the world. For anyone of any age to be without Hope is a terrible thing indeed. God knew how important Hope is for the human soul. Adam & Eve, when they had sinned, were without Hope. That’s why God gave them Hope in the first covenant promise declared in Genesis 3:15.
False Hope. Sadly, False Hope is even worse than No Hope. A person who is hopeless (No Hope) may be inclined to accept True Hope, especially through the living faith of another. False hope may look good, initially, but only until trouble arises. Then it collapses because like the one who built his house on sand, there is no firm foundation. False Hope is the addict who thinks they can escape their problems by getting high. The church member who thinks baptism, membership or deeds is all that is necessary to escape hell has False Hope. Those who believe in religions without Christ have False Hope. Our list of False Hopes is almost limitless, which is why Advent’s preparation for our Lord’s coming is so important. It points us toward where our True Hope is to be found.
True Hope. What is True Hope? There is only ONE in regard to salvation. That’s what Advent is getting us ready for.
Titus 2:13-3:7 — while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
1 Peter 1:3-5 — Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
True Hope can only be found in Christ. Our Hope is in the love of Christ. Just as is our Faith. And that’s where we arrive next Wednesday at the greatest of these — LOVE.
The First Word Is Faith - Paul’s Advent Contribution.
If you have been to a wedding in the last 20 years or more, you have probably heard the “Love Text” from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians 13:4-13. Brides seem to prefer it to the older, more traditional (from a far more conservative generation) text from Ephesians 5:22 & following. You know, the one that starts with “Wives, submit yourselves to your husband. . .” and so on. Paul is SOOO misunderstood in what he wrote there, often unfairly branding him a chauvinist. He’s not, but that’s a sermon for another day & series. Equally unappreciated for the whole message of its content is the 1 Corinthian text. Sure, it gives a beautiful, thoughtful & intuitive summary of love, but it is so much more. This text is also very much an Advent text to prepare us & draw into the coming of our Lord, both in Bethlehem as a baby & when He returns as King & Lord of all. It’s the last verse, 13, that stands out for our Advent message this year: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” For the next three Wednesdays lets examine each one separately finishing with the greatest — LOVE. But let’s also remember, that without the FAITH & the HOPE LOVE would not be as great as it is.
Understanding Faith. - Faith is defined by secular sources in a number of ways, but let me focus on two, neither of which encompasses all we need to understand as Christians. First, complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Second, strong belief in God or in the doctrine of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. I’m very comfortable with the first definition, especially if the someone is GOD & if the something is something like gravity. In the case of God I will provide proof in a moment. As to something like gravity — I know, no, I have absolute trust & confidence that, without seeing, any object that possesses mass in the entire universe will be attracted to any other object possessing mass. Let me demonstrate — drop something to the floor. My difficulty with the 2nd definition rests not in believing or having FAITH in God, but in two other points which helps realize the SECULAR definitional aspect. I do not have the same absolute faith in doctrine, since it is often man made, hopefully based on God’s Word; but, it seems not always, which is why I’m not a big fan of religion but go all out for FAITH. And to say there is no proof of FAITH is the world’s continued attempt to diminish God & our need for Him over worldly substitutes. You want proof? Think on this. For some 2 thousand years, the Church &, yes, the world, has spent it’s efforts at this time of year — ADVENT — getting ready for the coming of Jesus into the world, Christmas. No other event or happening can even come close to rivalling this singular purpose of preparation, much less equal it, in recorded time And this is only a beginning.
Proof of Faith - Scripture abounds with examples of people of Faith putting their complete trust & confidence in God & His holy Word. How about Noah who built an ark in the middle of a barren, parched land with no bodies of water anywhere near, nor the rains to provide them. Yet, he build an ark, not a boat or even a ship, but an ark. Then there’s Abraham & Sarah being the parents from which a nation will form, all nations will be blessed & a Messiah — a Savior — will come to save the world from sin. In their old age they step out into the unknown, totally trusting, having FAITH in God’s promises to them. And let’s not forget the willingness to sacrifice his only son at an age when he isn’t even firing & Sarah is without the seed to make anything happen, just because God says so. As proof goes, that’s called FAITH. Let’s not forget Daniel in a lion’s den, Elijah taking on almost 500 priests of Baal, Nathan telling David the king he’s a murderer & adulterer, or Saul who persecuted & killed Christians becoming Paul who brings Christ to the world. AM I making my point? Shall I go on? There’s one story after another, Old Testament, New Testament, they all share the same FAITH in God, His Word & His promises of salvation in Jesus Christ. The history of the Church only adds to the proof of FAITH. Martin Luther refusing to compromise God’s Word for the sake of convenience. Believers who risked violent seas & an uncharted land to be free to worship God is all about FAITH. And let’s not forget all those who have done the same without notoriety or public acclaim, but did so because of FAITH.
Faith Is a Gift. We’re here this evening because we have FAITH in God’s promises to save us from sin. We believe that Jesus is the source of that salvation. So, we prepare for His coming at Christmas & for when He returns in glory — that’s FAITH. We also need to be clear in understanding that faith is not without its bumps in the journey, which is to be expected. Abraham & Sarah had them otherwise there would be no “call me Ishmael.” A prophet Elijah would not have fled because a queen had a fit. We all have those days, those moments in our faith journeys. Those who say otherwise are the ones who give religion a bad name. It is God’s gift of FAITH, trusting in Him that makes way for our HOPE, which is where we prepare for Advent next week.
Pastor Lee R. Harder