Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 21, 2008

Sermon on Romans 16:25-27


Text: Romans 16:25-27


David had some big plans.  Life was going well for him as only the second king in Israel’s history.  And he knew that he had nothing to do with his outward success.  God hand-picked him to be the next king of Israel when he was still a boy tending his father’s sheep.  And here he was, reigning on the throne, living in luxury — and none of it was his doing.  David knew that the credit went to the Lord.  And David felt that the Lord wasn’t getting the kind of credit he deserved.  David lived in a finished palace, but the Lord didn’t have a temple to his name.  So David came up with a plan that was very noble and thoughtful.  He was going to see to it that a temple to the Lord was built in Israel.  He was going to see to it that God had a house with his name on it.

What God had to say to David in today’s First Lesson must have floored him.  “This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?  I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day.  I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.  Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ … The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you.  When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. … Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” David wanted to give God an earthly temple.  Instead, God was going to give David an eternal kingdom.  One of David’s descendants, Jesus Christ, would establish David’s line forever by establishing God’s kingdom by his work.

Mary probably didn’t have much of anything for big plans.  She was a poor Jewish girl getting married to a simple Jewish carpenter.  She came from David’s line, and her origins were as humble as David’s shepherd origins.  And so when the angel Gabriel came to her in today’s Gospel, she must have been just as floored and surprised as David was.  “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” The promise that God had given David a millennium earlier was about to be fulfilled, and Mary was going to become the mother of God in the process!  David’s great descendant, Jesus Christ, would be born of Mary, fulfill the promise to redeem the world from sin, and establish the eternal kingdom God had revealed to David a thousand years earlier.

We are in the last week of the Advent season.  These past weeks, you have heard a lot of talk about preparing for Jesus’ Second Advent at the end of time.  But today, as we stand on the doorstep of Christmas, our Scripture readings and our thoughts are very clearly focused on the First Advent of Jesus, when he was born of the Virgin Mary.  And so we see a shift in focus today from the Second Advent to the First Advent.

But did you know there is another Advent of Jesus?  We think about the way Jesus came as a humble baby, and the way he will return as the King of Kings, but in between those First and Second Advents there is another Advent of Jesus.  And you can see that Advent in today’s readings.  The First Lesson (2 Samuel 7:1-11,16) and Gospel (Luke 1:26-38) both talked about the eternal kingdom that Jesus would establish.  Those are not exclusive references to his birth or his return.  Those are also references to the way he comes into our hearts today.  And it is that other, oft-forgotten Advent of Jesus that is mentioned in our Second Lesson today, from Romans 16:25-27.  “To him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him — to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!  Amen.”


Those statements are the last three verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Romans is a 16-chapter book, and Paul masterfully covered just about every Christian teaching you could imagine in this book.  In fact, there really is only one doctrine — Holy Communion — that Paul doesn’t touch in some way in these 16 chapters.  Now Paul has wrapped up the book, and he concludes with a statement of praise to God.  And like any pastor, the second he even hints at making a statement about God, he launches into a “tangent.”  He can’t merely say, “To God be the glory forever, Amen!”  No!  He says, “To him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” Our other readings talked about God establishing his kingdom through Jesus.  But this reading talks about God establishing his kingdom in people.  Did you catch how that happened?  “By my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” God’s kingdom is established inside of people when they hear a message, and that message was the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Everywhere Paul went, he preached Christ: from the cradle at Christmas to the crucifixion on Good Friday to the conquering victory of Easter Sunday.  And that preaching is how the other, oft-forgotten Advent occurs.  Jesus comes to people right now, between his First and Second Advent, when he comes into hearts through his gospel.  No wonder Paul preached about Jesus wherever he went, and no wonder he launched into tangents about Jesus even when he was finishing a letter!

When Paul wrote Romans, about three decades had passed since the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  That means the A.D. era of the world was in its infancy, and the B.C. era of the world predominated human history.  Throughout the B.C. era, God had made promises about the coming Savior, but people had to piece those promises together and come up with the best understanding they could achieve about the Messiah.  The Advent of Jesus changed all that.  The prophet’s words were no longer a mystery, and the way to reveal the mystery was for Paul and the other apostles to keep preaching about Jesus.  “To him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.”

We are accustomed to singing a Bible verse with “Alleluias” just before the Gospel is read in worship.  There are two different verses we typically use in our services, and you probably know them both well.  One is John 20:31.  “These [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The other is Romans 10:17.  “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” Both verses really say the same thing.  This verse at the end of Romans also make the same point.  God has revealed Jesus Christ through the prophet’s biblical writings “so that all nations might believe and obey him.” The original Greek text states that last phrase a little differently: “into the obedience of faith,” although even that translation misses a key point.  The word that Paul used for “obey” or “obedience” really means that someone pays careful attention to something and then follows through.  The word used here was often used to translated the Hebrew word that means to “hear.”  And that should give you a little insight into Paul’s intent.  Paul wants people to hear the message he is proclaiming so that hearing can lead to believing.  This is not so much a message about doing something Jesus tells us as it is about believing in Jesus.  That is how the other, oft-forgotten Advent takes place.  Jesus’ word is preached, his word works in people’s hearts, and Jesus comes into those hearts now, between his First and Second Advents.


What makes Christmas feel like Christmas?  For 25 of the first 26 Christmases in my life, Christmas meant cold temperatures, biting winds, and blowing snow in the suburbs of Milwaukee.  The first Christmas I spent away from that environment, the Christmas of 1999 in North Hollywood, seemed a little strange.  This Christmas will be my eighth in Belmont and my ninth away from snow.  After nearly a decade away from Midwest winters, what makes me feel like it’s Christmas now is no longer blowing snow, but winter rains and dampness in the air.  When that weather rolls around, then I start to think that Christmas is around the corner.  Maybe you do too, if you’ve lived in the Bay Area for more than a few years.  And on top of that, I suppose we could add Christmas parties, Christmas concerts, frenzied shopping trips to the mall and gift exchanges to the list of things that makes it feel like it’s time for Christmas.

That may be what “feels” like Christmas to us, but none of that makes or breaks Christmas.  The way Jesus comes to us this Adventtide is not via presents or recitals or shopping chaos.  He comes to us this Advent and this Christmas as Paul says, “by my gospel,” that is, “the proclamation of Jesus Christ.” But that’s so non-dramatic!  You mean to tell me that this entire season is wrapped up by some guy in a clergy robe standing up in the front of an A-frame building with a steeple talking about a guy named Jesus?  That’s how Jesus comes to us this Advent?  And the answer is, “Yes!”  In fact, it’s even simpler than that.  For Jesus comes to you in a splash of water, and a bite of bread, and a sip of wine, and in the pages of an old book that some people think is outdated.  And all of those things testify to the First Advent of Jesus, when he came as an infant child to be your substitute, and went all the way to the cross where he died as your substitute for sin.  And all of those things testify to the Second Advent of Jesus, when he will come again to bring his eternal kingdom to you who find his spiritual kingdom in your hearts.

For many of us, this is not going to be the same kind of Christmas as last year.  I’ve spoken to more than a couple of church members who have been affected by the tough economic times that we’ve seen lately.  The bills get bigger, the wallet gets thinner, and the presents under the tree are fewer.  The challenges before us in these tough times aren’t trivial.  They’re real, and they can hurt.  But they don’t take away Christmas.

Unfortunately, we can be tempted to think that these challenges do take away Christmas.  We can be tempted to think that our celebration just won’t be the same because our circumstances aren’t the same — our finances aren’t so hot, or we live away from family now, or we’re not experiencing the weather that we’re used to at Christmas time, or who knows what else?

If you look for Christmas in those things, you will be sorely disappointed.  Family and finances and even Christmas ambiance are things we rightly appreciate, but they do not make or break Christmas.  But if we think that Christmas can’t exist apart from those things, then maybe we’re looking for Jesus’ Advent in all the wrong places.

Look to the Word!  Look to the “proclamation of Jesus Christ.” Look to the story of the One who came as a helpless infant at his first Advent.  Look to the One who came from heaven’s throne to Bethlehem’s manger.  Look to the One who was born a helpless infant and lived as a humble man in order to make you God’s own child.  Look to the One who conquered the grave and who will come back as a conquering hero at the end of time.  Look to the story of Jesus’ First and Second Advents as it is found in his Word and received in his Sacraments.  And then, as you hear that story and take to heart, the other, oft-forgotten Advent will also take place.  Then, Jesus’ Advent will take place in your heart.  Then, the Holy Spirit will give you the peace and forgiveness and hope that surpass the value of any Christmas gift, and exceed the joy of every Christmas concert, party, and letter combined.  Friends, as this Advent season draws to a close, let’s draw near to the Word of God, for then the Word who became flesh will use that Word to bring his Advent into our hearts.  Amen.



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