“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:1 – 6)
First of all, let me say I am feeling much better tonight. Last night when I sat down to write, I was feeling pretty shaky – went through some things. But tonight I am on much more solid ground.
Paul was also on solid ground when he wrote this opening. Paul (or should I say the writer of the letter to the Romans) can pack a lot of theology in a small space. So much so that it stands as a good introduction to Jesus Christ whose birth celebration is coming close at hand. God promised through the prophets in holy scripture the coming of God’s Son who was also the main topic of the gospels. This Son also stood in line of the descendants of David, which made him in the kingly line but also of flesh. However, this Son was also divine as the Son of God and had power which was shown most evidently in the fact that he rose up from the dead, AND by doing so saved all humanity past, present and future (that is not said explicitly here, but Paul has certainly pushed that point other places and probably does later on in his letter.) This Jesus calls forth obedience and in obeying those called belong to Jesus. Not a comprehensive ‘exegesis’ but not bad for a brief overview/run through. It is only after saying all that, Paul says, “Hello.”
“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Verse 7)
This opening answers three fundamental questions that the believers in Rome might ask. First, who is Paul? Second, what does he believe? And third, what does Christian faith mean for us? It is, beloved reader, a solid foundation for the beginning of any missionary initiative.
Now, you might wonder, why are we considering missionary initiatives at Advent? I want you to know that I don’t pick out which passages the Revised Common Lectionary has at any one time (although I do decide on the order that I present them). I am emphasizing though the missional nature of this passage because this Advent season I am looking beyond the birth of Jesus Christ to Jesus Christ’s (and the Lord God’s) purpose in being born into the world. Year A of the lectionary cycle concerns the calling of new Christians. And the newest of the Christians were the ones who came to know Jesus in the flesh. Jesus came for them – not just for them but for all who would believe because of them. Paul was not too far distant from Jesus’ life. And the believers he taught were part of the first generation of believers. Paul, in his letters, wanted to get the theology set down correctly so the belief (according to his theology) would be correct. And, he liked splashy openings!
How different, yet how the same, was the Lord’s opening salutation of the birth of God’s Son. Born in a stable, yet announced by angels. Merely an additional number in population of Bethlehem, yet visited by wise men. And the story just grows from there!