Fourth Sunday of Advent
This Sunday, the second reading will be from Romans 16:25-27.
One thing you might not notice at first about this reading is that it's all one sentence: “To him who can strengthen you…be glory for ever and ever!” If we were taking out all of the modifying clauses, that’s what this sentence would say. That’s right – all once sentence. Apparently our ways of writing about theology haven’t changed much in twenty centuries.
So, most of the meat of it comes down to deciphering what’s in between those two clauses, and the task of figuring out what modifies what is no spring picnic. We (me and the English professor in my pocket) could have a really good time diagramming this sentence, but we will spare the (very large) portion of the population who have no interest in such things.
What I want to focus on is this:
Paul is calling on the brethren to join him in praising God because of the perfection of his plan for salvation.
For a while, when I was trying to understand this reading, I wondered if this was one of those readings that they just didn’t know where to put it, so they just “picked a spot” for it in the calendar. After all, it’s not in sequence with the readings that come on the Sundays before and after it (which aren’t in sequence with each other); it’s one of those verses that fall at the very tail end of an epistle; and its content is duplicated no fewer than five times in other places.
On further consideration, I realized that there is no better time to reflect on (and praise) the total picture of the plan of salvation than Advent. From the very foundation of the world, God had a plan for salvation. The first Messianic prophecy in scripture occurs in Genesis 3:15, only nine verses after Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit. God didn’t waste any time letting man in on the existence of the plan for salvation, but the action was a little longer in coming. Indeed, hints about the savior and the plan occur throughout the Old Testament.
In Advent, we prepare for Christmas – the incarnation of Christ, and we anticipate the Second Coming. These are the endpoints of the action in salvation history. When Christ came into the world, and when he comes again to separate the sheep from the goats. The plan is perfect in its mercy and perfect in its justice, and it is majestic. – Just as the one who devised it is perfect.
Let us pray for the heart to worship God for sublime greatness and simplicity of his plan for our salvation. And let us pray also that we may always seek the will of God and do it. Let us ask him to grant us the strength to do his will, even when it is difficult or painful. Let us beg that he help us to trust that those people in our lives have been placed there for a purpose – even though we may not understand those purposes now.