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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Promise Beforehand - December 22, 2013 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Text: Romans 1:1-7

Today is the fourth and last Sunday in Advent. In just three days we will celebrate what we have been preparing and waiting to celebrate, and I hope noone has jumped the gun and already begun celebrating. We will once again, as we do every year, celebrate the fulfillment of all the Old Testament as we celebrate the birth of God in flesh, Jesus, the Savior of the world. The world waited some four thousand years to celebrate. We have waited only twenty-two days so far. Our Old Testament reading for this morning is another of God’s promises pointing to the one who was promised in the Garden of Eden as Isaiah tells us that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. And our Gospel reading gives us the historical account of Mary, the virgin mother giving birth to a son. Could all of this be a coincidence, I think not, rather this can only be the hand of God working in human time and history to accomplish what was first promised in Eden.
 
Which brings us to our text for this morning and our reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome. Paul begins by introducing himself in verse one, “1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (v. 1). Paul introduces himself as a servant, literally he says he is a slave, and an apostle. Paul considers himself to be an apostle, that is one who is set apart for a purpose. Paul also considers himself a slave of Christ Jesus, as opposed to being the opposite which he tells us later, that we are slaves, either to sin or to Christ.
 
Paul says that he was called by God to be an apostle and he was an apostle. An apostle is one who was set apart by Jesus, one who walked with Jesus, so that there were truly only twelve apostles, yet, Paul was called personally by Jesus on the road to Damascus making him truly the thirteenth apostle.
 
Paul sets out to briefly explain the Gospel picking up at verse two, “2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,  5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (v. 2-6).
 
Paul speaks of the Holy Scriptures and here he means all of Holy Scripture, all of the Bible, the law and the prophets of the Old Testament. Paul was called by Jesus, the one first promised in the Garden of Eden immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and brought God’s punishment and curse into the once perfect world He had created. This Jesus who was promised by God to reconcile His broken creation with Himself is the One who called Paul to be an apostle.
 
Paul explains that the One who would fulfill God’s promise of a Messiah, a Savior, would be from the line of David, King David according to the flesh. Indeed the promised Savior would be truly a human being and a descendant of King David. He would be one like the rest of His creation, except without sin. And this Savior had to be one like the rest of God’s creation so that He might trade His life as a substitute, taking our sin and giving us His forgiveness.
 
Paul continues explaining that this Messiah was also truly God according to the Holy Spirit, that is that the Savior was not conceived in the normal way, but God the Holy Spirit conceived this Savior in Mary’s womb. This Savior is truly God and He had to be truly God in order to be born in perfection, which is the demand of God and the law of God. And He had to be truly God in order to raise Himself from the dead.
 
Finally Paul explains the Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is through Jesus’ obedience for the sake of, in the name of and in the stead of all humanity that we have forgiveness of sins. It is this Savior who through His perfect life, perfect suffering, perfect death and perfect resurrection that earned forgiveness and salvation for all people and you and me, that is the promise of Holy Scripture and the Gospel message.
 
Paul begins concluding his introductory words by reminding us of our part in God’s work, our calling. The first part of verse seven, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (v. 7a). Normally when I talk about God’s calling I begin by saying God first calls us to life and He calls us to life at our conception. Soon after calling us to life and very soon after our being born, God calls us to faith. God calls us to faith through the waters of Holy Baptism as water and His name are put on us. And God call us to faith through His Word. God calls us to faith, to believe in Jesus as our Savior.
 
God calls to life, to faith and God calls us to our vocation, that is He calls us to serve Him through our service to others. In essence He calls us to obedience, to live God pleasing lives. Notice as always, God does not call us to anything on our own, notice Paul’s words, to all who are loved by God. It is God who is the prime mover. It is God who loves first. It is God who works in and through us our obedience, our works of service, our serving Him by serving others.
 
Paul says that God calls us to be saints meaning that God calls us to be given faith and forgiveness of sins. Jesus has already won forgiveness for us on the cross. Truly in and of ourselves all we can do is resist, refuse and reject that forgiveness, which we do when we fail to acknowledge and confess our sins. The desire of one given faith is to be given the gifts God gives. The opposite is also true, to refuse the gifts, to absent oneself from where the gifts are given is lack of faith. The same is true in all aspects of the Christian life. Faith shows itself in its desire to be where the gifts of God are given out. Faith shows itself in its response of thanks, its response of first fruits giving. And the opposite is also true, a lack of faith is seen in one’s absenting themselves from the place the gifts of God are given. A lack of faith is seen in one refusing to acknowledge the gifts of God by not responding with one’s first fruits.
 
Paul concludes his introduction with words of grace and peace in the second part of verse seven, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 7b). Grace might be describes as God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. Grace is a free gift from God. Now I know you have heard me say that God does not do math, at least He does not do fractions. God gives the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. But we might think of grace in math terms. Grace is zero, that is that we own nothing. Zero plus anything is the anything. Zero plus one is one. Zero plus two is two, and so on. The same is true for Grace. Grace plus anything is the anything. Grace plus works is works. Grace plus all you gotta do is all you gotta do.
 
And peace, peace is not as we understand the peace of the world, a few moments, an evening of calm and serenity. True peace, true Godly peace comes from the forgiveness of sins and the removal of guilt. We can only have true peace through the forgiveness of sins, because with forgiveness of sins is life and salvation.
 
What does this mean? Paul begins his letter to the Romans and God’s Word to us today by reminding them and us of God’s promises and the fulfilling of His promises completely in Christ. All of Holy Scripture, all of history points to the one moment of Christ birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. The Old Testament looked forward to this one event and we in the New Testament look back to this one event. God created a perfect world. Man spoiled God’s pefect creation. God promised to restore His fallen world and Jesus came as that restoration. Even today, as we continue to live in a fallen, sin filled world, we continue to spoil God’s reconciled world and yet, God continues to come to us to give to us, to bless us beyond what we think or imagine.
 
Because of our fallen nature all we can do in and of ourselves is refuse and reject God and yet He continues to reach out to us, to call us to faith, to give the gifts He has to give. God is the prime mover. Even though we refuse, reject and struggle against God according to our inborn sinful nature, God calls us, strengthens and keeps us in faith.
 
As we approach our Christmas celebration, the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises, we look forward to celebrating these promises and their fulfillment in just a few days, three days. We do not celebrate yet, but we wait until Christmas day and then we celebrate and we celebrate for twelve days, the twelve days of Christmas.
 
What an awesome God we have. What a loving God we have. What a gift giving God we have. Our God is not a God who is a far off, but a God who is near, who is with us, who is acting for us on our behalf. God gives and we are given to. God gives life at conception to each one of us. God gives faith and forgiveness of sins through the water’s of Holy Baptism. God strengthens and keeps us in faith through His Word. God gives forgiveness through confession and absolution. God gives forgiveness and strength through His Holy Supper. God loves you so much and He has so much He wants to give to you. In two days we will begin our Christmas celebration. We will have the opportunity to be given the gifts God gives at our Christmas Eve service. On Christmas morning we will again have the opportunity provided by God to be given His gifts in our Christmas morning Divine Service. Four days later we will again have the opportunity to be given to by God at our Sunday morning Divine Service and two lays later at our New Year’s Eve service. Indeed in the next few days we will have four opportunities to come and be given to by our God, because He loves us so much. Indeed our desire is to be where the gifts are given so that we might be given the gifts. And indeed then we might well say of our great God, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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