Advent Devotional – December 17
Advent Week 3: Joy
1 Corinthians 1.20-25
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
The decorated tree is still in the living room and the smell of cinnamon sticks wafts through the house. We’ve only managed to get through half of the baked treats that we prepared over Thanksgiving, and I haven’t even finished the Christmas specials that have stacked up on the DVR. But here comes Paul preaching Christ crucified! How did we make this shift? Can’t we hold onto the baby Jesus for at least a few more weeks? I’m not ready to make the journey from the manger to the cross just yet. It’s the curse of knowledge, I suppose. Even the wise men who had an eye to the future didn’t know the full story the way we know it. As we hold our candles high on Christmas Eve, we know that this light will be snuffed out at Calvary all too soon.
Paul doesn’t stop at just preaching Christ crucified—he places it up against signs and wisdom to be something significantly different. Jews demanded that truth be confirmed through miraculous signs, and in Jesus we simply have a gospel preached. Gentiles demand truth through worldly wisdom, but there is none to be found at the foot of the cross. Paul is making an unsettling assertion: the gospel is foolishness. What is so foolish about the gospel?
My family is part of a Baptist church in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. It’s a congregation with traditional worship and a brand new pipe organ. According to the folks who are researching the trajectory of religion in America, we are a dying church. Or at least we should be. Apparently churches like ours are losing ground (and members) to multi-campus suburban churches with coffee shops, pony rides, trampoline parks, and whatever other amenities they have to offer. And that’s just for those who are actually searching for a faith community, because this research also tells us that more and more young people are losing interest in religion because they feel like it is no longer relevant; it has lost pace with scientific and sociological progress. Our church doesn’t meet the wisdom or the “wow” test, but for some reason we’re still on our corner of town, growing.
I wish I could claim any one reason why this is happening—why this congregation defies the trends. It seems that the church really isn’t interested in making Christianity attractive and acceptable—at least by a worldly standard. When you free yourself from creating a pre-packaged marketing campaign for Christ, then sharing the “foolish” gospel becomes remarkably simple. As Eugene Peterson translates Micah 6:8, “It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.”
It’s ok to step back to the manger now. Pick up the baby Jesus and hold him tight. Yes, the story will go on, but as resurrection people the love that you simply preach with your life can give way to a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ for others. Don’t worry about tomorrow, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Share Christ’s love and discover God’s power and God’s wisdom.
Prayer: God, give me the wisdom to recognize truth when I hear it. Give me the courage to say the truth when I’m called to do so. Give me the faith to exercise power in ways that empower others. And keep me humble always. Amen.
Action: Think about the words you use today. Avoid sarcasm, and spend the day encouraging those around you.
Daniel Ingram is Coordinator for IT, Registration, International Camps and Special Projects with Passport Camp Inc in Birmingham, AL.