The word ‘radical’ doesn’t begin to describe Jesus. Can you imagine the mixed feelings, even the confused disarray, were God physically to arrive in Auckland in the home of a carpenter and set about casting demons out of people, healing their diseases and telling them to repent?
But more than that. Can you imagine were God (in human form in Auckland) to begin to hint that he was in fact God. How many of us would experience this as peace and good will towards all men?
Just think what a disruption Jesus would have been before the days of the press and social media, where rumours would have flown by word of mouth like wildfire. And this for three short years that then culminated in a grisly death and word of resurrection three days thereafter.
What a whirlwind!
What was needed was a man with the education of a Pharisee, the determination of a badger and a conversion to God’s ways that was implacable; to begin to make plain to the world, the phenomenon that was Jesus.
Paul was that man.
And while Paul was in the habit of moving from one city to another, establishing churches as he went, and then writing letters to them in order to address their particular pastoral issues; when Paul wrote to the Romans he had never visited them and he was keen that they should understand both who he was, who they were, and who Jesus was in no uncertain terms. That is what makes the Letter to the Romans such a fascinating epistle.
The people who compile the Lectionary readings for the fourth Sunday in Advent are very clear about what they want us to understand about Jesus. Both the Old Testament and the Gospel readings refer to Jesus as ‘God with us.’
They make it clear that his arrival was prophesied and that it actually happened.
Wedged in between these two readings is the epistle, the opening lines of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and Paul wants the first impressions to be accurate. He wants to identify the important things.
Paul was well-known among Christians and he could simply have said, Paul, 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.
That would have been an acceptable greeting. However, between the word, Paul, and the words To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: are six whole verses, verses within which he says the things he really wants to ring in Roman ears.
But in the last of these six verses Paul sneaks in something that changes the impact of the five preceding verses. Verse six reads, 6including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
What he’s saying is; “Listen up people, everything I have just said there applies to you as well. It’s not just about me and Jesus, switch on the channel if you’re interested.” There is no ads break with, “Don’t go away, because this is going to end in blood and continue in glory.” Paul simply states the facts as he sees them.
So what does he say that affects you and me?
1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,
As often happens in Paul’s rhetoric, he works it backwards, which is of course more interesting. If you reverse the order of reasoning it sounds like this:
What you and I are called to is:
- to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles
- to Jesus Christ our Lord
- Jesus, both from heaven and from earth (the Son of David),
- Jesus, who was resurrected from the dead
- This we do by our proclaiming the Good News
- Good News which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures
In this Paul describes who Jesus is and who we are – those who preach the Good News.
Before that he identifies himself as: 1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God
So, it’s simple really. Our job is not to entertain, not to beg, but to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name
We do it quite simply by preaching the Good News/the Gospel, and if we don’t know how, we find out. Where there is a will there is a way.
I described Paul earlier and, come to think about it, it’s not a bad set of qualities for us to take on if we are to present Jesus to the world.
What was needed, I said, was a man with the education of a Pharisee, the determination of a badger and a conversion to God’s ways that was implacable; to begin to make plain to the world, the phenomenon that was Jesus.
In other words, it’s up to us
- to be informed
- to be determined and
- to be converted incontrovertibly to God’s ways so that we might present Jesus to the world.
Paul once said, “Be imitators of me.” If we are to present the Christ-child to the world, in all his love; be informed, persistent and converted to Christ so that we might do so effectively, we could do worse than imitate Paul.