Advent 4B Lectionary Text: Romans 16: 25-27
25Now 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 26but 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— 27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
This passage that our lectionary assigns us for the fourth Sunday of Advent is a doxology. It comes at the end of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Interestingly, though, it’s not found in every translation of the letter and in some it appears in a different place (like after Chapter 14 or something). So, truthfully, we’re not sure what it is. 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. German theologian Helmut Thielicke said that, “faith can be described only as a movement of flight, flight away from myself and toward the great possibilities of God.” The whole Scripture in its fullness is about our response, about our movement, our journey. It is our faith that moves it and opens up the possibilities that God envisioned.
We read this doxology alongside the veritable imminence of Jesus’ birth, the story of Mary as God-bearer, as the one who responded to God’s call to birth the Savior into the world. The story is truly beginning to unfold. And, yet, the story has been there all along. As Christians, we come into a story that is already there. God has been calling and people have been responding for thousands of years before Jesus. It’s not new; it’s continuing. (Maybe instead of “Old Testament” and “New Testament”, we ought to call it “The Story of God” and “The Continuing Story of God”. I like that!) The Letter to the Romans is the Apostle Paul’s understanding of that story. (It’s really incredible. You should read it “cover to cover”, so to speak, if you haven’t already. It is truly a masterpiece.) And at the end, either Paul or someone who read Paul’s letter and then wrote a response of praise, added this doxology. It was the writer’s praise to God for the unveiling of something for them that had been around from the very beginning.
So why are we reading a doxology? Doesn’t that come at the end of something? Isn’t that the point where we pick up our purse or put our jacket back on set to music? Isn’t that the point where we put our bulletin away and get ready to get out of there first so we can go eat? Well, here’s the deal. We are one week away from Christmas Eve, one week away from the end of all our looking and waiting and preparing for the coming of God yet again. And part of our preparing is thinking about what comes next, what we’re going to do with all this preparing, all this waiting, all this changing that we’re doing to ready ourselves for God. See, if you’re not thinking about what you’re going to do with it, what actual response you’re going to make, then the preparation is worthless. The call means nothing without a response and the proclamation is empty without the doxology.
Advent is not just the “pre-Christmas” season. These days leading up to Christmas Eve call us to envision what God envisions and then move toward it. I think it’s a season that teaches us to see through the shadows of the world. Because this world often seems random and meaningless, full of pain and despair, sickness and loneliness, and even death. But into this world that is often callous and lacking in 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 ready, open, and willing to take it—and respond. 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! And, as part of your Advent preparation, listen for how you are called to respond.
The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ. Thomas Merton
Grace and Peace,