Happy New Year!
No, not quite yet in the worldly or secular sense, but as far as the liturgical calendar is concerned, we began a new year with the first Sunday of Advent. Even before we focus on the story of the baby Jesus in the manger, the Christian liturgical year begins with the four weeks of preparation and expectant waiting for Christ’s coming, and coming again.
The longer I live, the greater appreciation I have for the Christian approach to marking the passage of another year. In our tradition, we don’t just say, “Good riddance! Out with the old year and in with the new.” We pause and seek to gain perspective on our individual and collective life’s journey. As those whose path is defined by our relationship to God, we profess the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as the seminal event of our history, ushering in the kingdom of God in our midst and culminating in Christ’s coming again in the fullness of time.
As if standing on a mountaintop mid-journey, the Apostle Paul calls us in the age of the Church to find meaning in where we’ve been and re-direct our course for the next part of the way. In Advent, the lectionary invites us to use the lenses of hope, peace, joy, and most comprehensively love to order our steps.
In this last Sunday of Advent, in Romans 16:25-27, we have Paul’s closing words from his letter to that Church and to us. The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes in its introduction is “probably the latest of Paul’s undisputed letters to be written,” making these the last words of what they term Paul’s “theological last will and testament.”
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.
Through the gift of these verses, Paul exhorts us to give glory to the one, true, living God who has blessed us to live in this time when the Creator’s intention for humankind has been revealed through the Word made flesh through Christ.
Earlier in his writings, Paul has spoken the truth of his own rebellions, shortcomings, thorns in his flesh, as well as those of other persons of faith, as a way of connecting our personal stories to the greater story of salvation we know in Christ. In these verses, he encourages us to do the same, wherever we may find ourselves.
Our hope is in Christ, not in our selves. The faith we have is in God’s faithfulness to God’s promise of steadfast love, and that faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1), and the means by which even our sufferings can be catalysts for endurance and character (Romans 5:3-4).
For Christ is our peace. Through him, we have been reconciled with God and as those entering the world already the recipients of more grace than we could ever hope to repay, we can be at peace with ourselves and our neighbor.
We can have joy that is more foundational than our circumstances at any one moment, because of sacrificial love of God in Christ who secured for us the final victory over death (Hebrews 12:2).
And whenever any of the above seems elusive, Paul gifted us with a description of love that is as tenacious as it is patient, kind, and forgiving (I Corinthians 13) and is a glue stronger than even death in assuring us of our relationship with God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).
I pray you embrace these gifts, making them your own, and sharing them with whosoever this Advent and always. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!