The Fourth Week of Advent: We Pray While We Wait

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.” (Romans 16:25-27)

I am not quite sure why, but the writer of Romans sometimes writes in a rather confusing style. Very poetic, but confusing. My whole reflection today might just be an unpacking and explanation of what he is saying.

This is the last section of verses in the book to the Romans, so this is the concluding and closing remarks of the writer. The writer of Romans (or to be more concise, Paul) is identifying that it is God who can and does make believers stronger in their faith. Along with God, Jesus Christ also strengthens and directs believers in faith and worship. For a long time it seemed as if the message and word of God was mysterious, but now it is being proclaimed clearly and for all people. And because God and Christ have done these things, Paul says, theirs is the glory and honor forever.

For generations and generation people have prayed to God, and hoped that God heard their prayers. And they hoped that they heard the word of God correctly. When Christ came no longer did humanity wonder if God heard them and if they heard God correctly, because God-in-man Jesus was there among them. And in a way that humanity could feel reassured that God-in-man Jesus would understand them, because Jesus had grown up among them and shared in the experience of maturing in God and understanding. What had been unknown about God was made knowable through Christ. And Paul’s prayer, while dense in its wording, reminds his reader of that.

If before, through the words of the prophet, God’s people knew in part who they were praying to, when Jesus came to the earth they (and now we) can understand and know even more fully the God we pray to. And Paul’s hope and admonition has spread – through people of faith who have gone before us, we can understand through their writings and experience even more fully who God is. This is the God we pray to, and the God who heard the prayers of the people answering those prayers through the baby Jesus.

May you, beloved reader, pray to God this Advent and Christmas season, seeking God and seeing God through the coming of Jesus. Selah!

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REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . It is a comfort

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (Reference: Isaiah 40:1-2)

Isaiah 40:1-11 is also part of the Revised Common Lectionary for Advent and was the verse I used on December 2nd. I also thought of this verse in conjunction with yesterday’s passage where the focus was on rewards found on God’s “Holy Mountain.”

There are several components of this “comfort” that is to be delivered to Jerusalem. First, it is to be spoken tenderly. In other prophetic writings the writers seem to have God shouting and yelling at Jerusalem, Israel, or Judah. But her the voice of the Lord is to be tender. Second, that while there have been hard times, the hardship is over and has been done successfully and completely. Third, that the hardship has paid for the sin and so beleaguered Jerusalem is now free of sin. Lastly, anything that has been taken away is returned and doubled, so that her loses have been redeemed and her fortunes restored to twice the amount. One can well imagine that this would be news that would comfort.

But this comforting and tender word is not just for Jerusalem but for the faithful who have suffered. It is news especially appropriate for Advent and Christmas, which is why I am sure it is included in the scripture passages in the Revised Common Lectionary.

I am not overly inclined to include what Reading the Anabaptist Bible quotes and excerpts of the writings of historic Anabaptists. It is, quite frankly, a downer and not in keeping with merriment of this season. One would almost think that the historic Anabaptists did not access the joy of Christ’s coming to us, but instead looked forward to their joy of going to Christ through death. Leonhard Schiemer writes, “The oil [of the third grace] is the Holy Spirit. He cannot teach anyone who has not first despaired of all human comfort and wisdom, and has raised the heart to God alone. He comforts and strengthens no one who has not first been terrified [over the soul’s condition] and alienated from all human comfort and strength.” A little further on he writes, “The life of the world has a happy beginning and an eternal mournful end. Our life has a mournful beginning, but then the Holy Spirit comes soon and anoints us with the oil of joy unspeakable. It is not a matter of solitary waiting for the comfort of God, but a Christian should and is able to encourage others and give comfort in tribulation. God speaks through Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her” [Isa. 40:1].”

It is understandable when all around you is suffering and death to look beyond the present reality to what might come. But, beloved, there have been decades and generations of suffering, and there will be more I am sure. There is nothing wrong in finding joy in this life through Jesus and our Lord God. In fact Jesus came to us to give us joy in this life and hope for a life to come. Our joy in the Lord is daily, and so too should our comfort be. May this season bring you comfort and joy beloved! Selah!