Scripture: Romans 1:1-7
Let us pray:
O Divine Mystery, as we prepare for your coming, open our hearts and illumine these scriptures by your Holy Spirit – that we may learn and do your will, following in the way of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Paul’s salutation in Romans is the longest greeting of all the Pauline letters. He carefully crafts it introducing himself and his ministry, since he is sending this letter on ahead of his first proposed visit to Rome. He wishes to secure the support of the Roman Christians before his arrival, so they might also in turn support him when he journeys further into the Western reaches of the Roman Empire to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
So why is this an Advent reading? Why place this reading now, when we are expecting stories of a baby in Bethlehem, a star that guides foreigners, sheep and shepherds and angels and all that? Perhaps because this salutation of Paul’s echoes a full, if basic, Christian message. It speaks from a place in salvation history after the cradle and the cross, a place we share in our faith journey even some 2000 years later. It is much closer to the original telling of the Good News, communicated even before the Gospels were written down with all the added trappings of Divine Mystery included. This Gospel, as Paul preaches it, is perhaps the most authentically formed and early statement of belief shared by all those who became believers in Christ as Savior and Lord.
Paul frames an understanding of his own belief and the shared belief of the Roman Christian experience lived in light of the coming of Christ into their lives. Paul recites this earliest and most ancient Creed, as many commentators label it, to gain entry into the fellowship of the faithful he hasn’t yet met, but he also puts his characteristic stamp on the meanings. For Paul, the creedal statements are nothing less than a template for the way of life in Christ.
Examining it more closely, we find Paul begins and ends his opening comments by grounding himself and the Roman Christians in relationship to Jesus. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ…” he begins in verse 1; he concludes in verse 7 with: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Viewing these 7 verses as a chiasm, the central message would be found in verse 4. Book-ending with the importance of relationships to Jesus, we find the central message to be about Jesus: he who was, “…declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead…” writes Paul.
Examining these 7 verses more closely tells us more. Paul situates himself through commitment and devotion personally to Christ. He calls himself “servant,” implying the way of life he lives in response to the grace he has personally received. Then he names his commitment to the work of Christ using call language, “…called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God….” Paul goes on to elaborate what the gospel of God is – grounded through the “prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David…” vs. 2-3. Here Paul means, the Hebrew prophets and scriptures and further situates himself and his message concerning Jesus to be a legitimate connection via descent to the greatest leader of Hebrew history, King David. Then we have our “Ah-ha!” moment in verse 4 claiming Messiah-ship via declaration to be Son of God. Then, in true chiastic nature, verses 5-6 return to the themes from verses 2 and 3 by further elaborating both to whom he is specifically called and what the relationship of his hearers is in the Divine Mystery of God’s inclusivity, salvation, and plan for Paul’s continued mission.
He brilliantly pegs them to the ground with almost no out, claiming both that they are called to “belong to Jesus Christ,” and that being so called carries with it all the weight of an unspoken shared mission to the Gentiles, which is Paul’s particular calling and mission.
Would it be that each of us could have Paul’s kind of clarity of identity, purpose in life, and eloquence of speaking about it! Paul weaves together the story of Christ with his own story, yet always placing Christ first and foremost. We could learn from this; I could learn from this, especially now as Advent is wrapped up and we prepare for Christmas itself.
Those 7 verses are simply packed, aren’t they? I get the sense from it that we are left with an almost commanding need to act in some way. I wonder what would happen if we considered our own story in light of Christ’s story, and endeavored to weave them together? Can you see where God led you, where you went your own way, where God picked you back up again and guided you ever closer to the mysterious purposes of God and work of Christ for your life?
Perhaps some of you have found it. Perhaps some of you are still searching. Yet know this, no matter if you find yourself genuinely joyful this time of year or lost and lonely during a “mandatorily joyful season,” you are, even as Paul writes to the Romans, beloved by God. As one commentator put it,
“While it is surely sorely tempting to shut down our attention during the frenetic run-up to Christmas … we are in a better position to home in on our calling if we are open to the record of how God has spoken over time (in history and in Scripture) [and I would add in our own lives] and how God may be speaking here and now (in dialogue with fellow Christians and the wider world)—that is, if we undertake Advent listening.”
Come, let us prepare ourselves once again and let us pray that all glory and honor and power and mercy and might be unto the One who was born, lived, died, and rose again to be born in and for us, even Him who is the coming Christ – yet already our Lord. Amen? May it be so.
 Rensberger, David. Feasting on Word (A), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Wood, David. Feasting on Word (A), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Schlafer, David J. Feasting on Word (A), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
Questions for Reflection
In Romans 1:1-6, Paul defines himself according to (1) who Jesus is, (2) what Jesus gives, and (3) why Jesus is for all people. How do those qualities and gifts inform your own definition of self? How might you amend, or more greatly appreciate, your own self-image and the image you have of others because of Jesus?
Household Prayer: Morning
Giver of light, in the light of your Christ I see myself clearly as your child. I rise in thankfulness for you are present when I sleep and when I am awake. I rise to come to you in the hours of joy and in sorrow. I rise to live this day in your wisdom, without fear, without acrimony, but with charity toward those I meet and toward myself when I find I am wanting. Lead me into your desire for me this day, O Lord. Let me know your love is deep and abiding; in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Giver of rest and silence, in you I take refuge when the shadows deepen and the time of sleep has come. I thank you for the ventures of this day, for friends who helped me and for those who sought my help; for the skills you planted in me to hone and use, for the strangers whose lives enlarged mine today and whose insights enrich my life. Keep me safe from harm as I sleep and bring me to a new dawn with strength to work and rejoice; in Jesus’ name, Amen.