Lectionary Text: Romans 16: 25-27
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
In this Fourth week of Advent, we read this doxology along with the imminence of Jesus’ birth. Read alongside the story of Mary as God-bearer, we have the sense that the full Gospel is starting to unfold. This is in no way a “replacement” for the Law of Moses; it is that Law seen to its fulfillment in the new humanity, the new Adam, in Jesus Christ. Gentiles have been “grafted” into a story that was already taking place, already in full swing. This is nothing new. It is, rather, the doxology. For Paul, HIS gospel was the “unveiling” of something that had been around from the very beginning.
Scholars think that it is quite possible that Paul did not write these verses but that they were attached to the end of the letter perhaps AS a doxology, a statement of praise and proclamation. But regardless of who wrote it, this is a statement of response. It is, to use Paul’s words, an “obedience of faith.” The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ invokes our response; otherwise it is virtually meaningless. In Feasting on the Word, Cathy F. Young quotes Helmut Thielicke when he says, “Faith can be described only as a movement of flight, flight away from myself and toward the great possibilities of God.” The whole gospel in its fullness is about our response. It is our faith that moves it and opens up the possibilities that God envisioned.
Advent is about letting ourselves envision what God envisions and then moving toward it. Because into this world that often seems random and meaningless, full of pain and despair; into this society that is often callous and lacking of compassion, directionless and confused; into our lives that many times are wrought with grief and a sense that it is all for naught; into all of it is born a baby that holds the hope of the world for the taking. We just have to be open and willing to take it. The great illustrator and writer, Tasha Tudor said, “the gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy!” This is what this doxology says: All of this that has been laid out for you, all of this that has been created; all of this that has for so long been moving toward your life, take it. Take joy! Tomorrow will be your dancing day!
I love Christmas Eve at St. Paul’s. I actually don’t know how to explain it. It’s magnificent; it’s magical; it’s mystery. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It moves you into someplace that you have not been before. It takes you out of yourself and gives you a glimpse, albeit a tiny, tiny glimpse, of what it’s all about, of why we’re here, of that to which we journey. This will be my eighth year to participate in the processional that winds through the nave, encompassing everyone who is there in music and candlelight and incredible joy. I say processional because, even though it comes toward the end of the service, it leads us to something more. It leads us to our response. It brings me to tears. (I will say that in these last seven years, I have been brought to tears each year–six because it has moved me beyond myself and the seventh because, I have to tell you, Gail caught Emily’s hair on fire with her candle and had to hastily put it out with her bulletin. Thankfully, Emily had very little hair product on her hair that night! We were laughing so hard we couldn’t even see where we were going! (See, you just don’t know what will happen when you let us loose!)
But the point is that this is our way of taking joy, of connecting to the mystery of the God who came and comes. Often, our choir will sing an Old English carol that I have grown to love (in fact, let it be known, that I want it sung at my funeral!) because it is a song of joy, a song of deep abiding love. It is the song that we should all be singing. It is our invitation to joy. The song itself is more than a carol. It has additional verses (although some are extremely anti-semitic). It tells the story of Jesus’ life, the Gospel, the Good News–the birth, the life, the death, the life. It is the Song of Joy and our invitation to join in!
To see the legend of my play, to call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! My love, oh! My love, my love, my love, this have I done for my true love.
Thus was I knit to man’s nature, to call my true love to my dance.
In a manger laid, and wrapped I was, so very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt and ox and a silly poor ass, to call my true love to my dance.