Sunday, December 21st, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38.
"What was kept secret for long ages is now disclosed"
At the end of my sermon series this past summer I promised one more homily on Romans this year. And so, on this fourth Sunday of Advent we are confronted by the concluding verses of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, a glorious doxology extolling the revelation of the mystery of God in the Christ-event. How utterly appropriate it is that we read this text concurrently with the great annunciation text found in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38), for was it not upon this announcement to Mary about the birth of a son to her, the Son of the Most High God, that the entirety of Paul’s proclamation is founded? What was kept secret for many ages was indeed revealed in that announcement to Mary. What was hidden was suddenly disclosed. It was in that moment that all of human history, all of the history of the people of Israel suddenly made sense. It was in the words of that angel that the words of the prophets were broken open. It was in that angelic song that not only the stories of old came to life, but that the stories of their own lives finally made sense. It was in these words that the Word of God, Jesus Christ, was disclosed once and for all. In that very announcement the world became aware of what St. John would later proclaim…the Word, the Logos of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, was there from the beginning, from creation, in creation, in the guiding of sacred history, and now, in our very midst – the Word becoming flesh.
Thus, St. Paul can look back through the prophets, the Law, the writings of his ancestors and behold the Christ. That is why St. Paul, who once so zealously persecuted the Church with those ancient Scriptures ready at hand can now look upon those same Scriptures and find his Lord and Christ revealed through them and alive in them. It is this revelation to St. Paul that brought about the obedience of faith in him and this revelation that he proclaims not only to the people of his own day, of Rome, of Corinth, of Ephesus, of Galatia, of Thessalonica, of Colossae, but also across the pages of history to the people of our day, Toronto, London, Tokyo, Mexico City, New York, Moscow, to places great, and yes to place small. That message is this: that Christ has come to save us, great and small, rich and poor, young and old, wise and foolish. He proclaims a Christ revealed in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings of old, through whom the world was created, who guided his people through the wilderness, who carried them through exile and yes, in the fullness of time, was made human that we might partake of the divine nature. He proclaims a saviour who came not only for a single people but for the whole world, a light to the nations, through the grace and mercy and power of God, a gospel made known to all the gentiles.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent we stand on the cusp of hearing that old, old story once again of shepherds kneeling before his crib to adore him. But what is it that gave the shepherds their courage to leave their flocks and draw nigh? What is it that would eventually lead eastern magi to undertake a lengthy journey to pay him homage? What is it that gave a young man courage to embrace his bride whom he should otherwise put away in shame? And what is it that would enable a frightened young girl to utter the profound words, “be it unto me according to your word?”—words that would change the world?
It is the proclamation of the Word, itself, for as St. Paul says, “God … is able to strengthen you according to (the) gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ.” The very proclamation of the Word made flesh turns fear to joy, weakness to strength, despair to hope. The very proclamation of the Word made flesh enables us to look back over our lives and our history and see the hand of God leading us to our place of “yes,” to our place of “let it be unto me according to your word.” It is this proclamation of the Word made flesh, of Jesus our Saviour born, crucified, and risen in glory, that vanquishes all our fear and doubt, all our insecurities, all our frailties. Is not the message of Paul, after all, a consistent message of “not me, but Christ in me?” The proclamation of Paul throughout his entire corpus of writing, and the message of the angel to Mary, is a consistent message that it is not our effort that matters, but our “yes”, our “let it be unto me according to your word,” our acknowledgement that with God all things are possible. And so it comes to pass that in the birth of a tiny child in a stable cold and dark, with God all things are possible.
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 26but 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 for ever! Amen.
Text Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves