The special you heard a moment ago, “God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale,” is a personal favorite of mine because it reminds me that God is the God of all creation; that everything in the earth, above the earth, and under the earth belongs to our God. This is the point that I want to get across to you today, that the gift of Jesus Christ is a gift for the entire world. There is no one or no thing that Jesus has left out of His mission of redemption.
And so in that spirit we look at today’s text, from Romans 15.4–13…
4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
10 and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
11 and again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
12 and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is a difference… between Christians and non-Christians. These differences are witnessed everyday and all throughout our lives, but the differences are probably most noticeable during times like Christmas and Easter. For Christmas, the Christian community has it’s focus in a completely different place, although there’s always a little healthy overlap.
For the non-Christian, the Christmas season is often about (but not limited to) family and togetherness, gifts and parties, lights and snow, cider and ornaments. There is a spirit of cheer and a sense of giving where other people are thought of first before oneself. It’s beautiful and like we discussed last week it would seem that the culture even hastens the time of year, as we hear the music of the season and see decorations in stores in the early parts of Fall. There’s something to say about a time set aside for generosity.
But for Christians, the season is seen with a different set of eyes; it’s experienced with a heart that has something else at the center. When we see Christmas through the eyes of faith, it means something so much more. Christians understand the season to be about the incarnation, of God becoming human and dwelling among us; it is about God’s grace, that we would be the recipients (though undeserving) of God’s gift of redemption through Jesus; it is the inauguration of God’s redemptive work through people, for people, in all the world. Where the world sees snowflakes, we see a young couple with child; where some see a lighted tree, we see a lighted sky filled with angels, pointed at a small stable in a small town. Christmas is different for Christians, but the gift of Christmas isn’t just for Christians.
Paul is making a case in our text for unity between Jews and Gentiles, for harmony between those on the inside of the faith and those on the outside. But if there is a mediator between God and humanity, Paul is proclaiming that it is Jesus Christ, the One who has come from heaven to draw all people to Himself (John 12.32). Therefore, Paul writes that through the power of the Holy Spirit we have hope of salvation and of fellowship with God and each other. He encourages his readers that Jesus and His redeeming work have been proclaimed through the scriptures and the prophets, that God has told us throughout the ages of this great gift of salvation. We have a testimony and a witness to these things that are happening and of things that are yet to come in the scriptures.
That testimony reveals to us all that salvation has come in Jesus. The world can feast their eyes on what has not been since the beginning, in the garden of Eden—God dwelling with humanity. And so we have this great Connection to the Divine in Jesus because He is like us in life but without sin, knowing what it means to be both human and in right relationship with God. And so when we, whether Jew or Gentile, come before God and place ourselves at the feet of the Almighty, we are welcomed by God. Each of us has a place in the kingdom. But that message comes clearly when the community of God exercises the love of Jesus and embraces the world that God has seen fit to save.
Paul’s concern for welcoming and acceptance is made known in v.7 when he says, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” For Paul, it is of the greatest importance that the two peoples become one people in Christ Jesus. Like the differences between the Jews and Gentiles, we today have the same mission in front of us: to invite others into relationship with us and God so that redemption is clearly seen and shared. Our worst nightmare as Christians would be for us to hoard Jesus all to ourselves and let the world fall to the wayside having never known the gift that God wrote their name on, too. Each of us has a card to open, a bow to untie, and paper to tear that contains Jesus within.
For the Church this season, this is a call to share the season with the world, to bring to mind the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Christ. We are to invite the world to see what we see, to hear what we hear, to know what we know, like the Christmas song reminds us. **Sing**
God has made a way for all people through Jesus. The Jews have the covenant from Abraham, the great promise from God of being a beacon of blessing and hope to the world. Now, those outside the Jewish faith are being grafted in through Jesus. Just as Jesus is a faithful Jew, so He is now the gate through which those outside the covenant are now made part of the family of God. God is the God of the nations and glory will be brought throughout the earth to the name of the Most High God.
And so that invitation is open to you today, should their be anyone here who does not know the love of God. If the gift of Jesus Christ—of His love and His salvation—has not been accepted by you today, I invite you to do so. Our communion liturgy says it best, “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another” (UM Hymnal, p.12). Whether in this service, after this service, or at a time of your choosing, I am here for you, to walk with you through your story and journey of faith. I want you to know this: You are invited by God’s grace, justified by faith in Jesus, and enabled to live in peace with God and people through the Holy Spirit! I hope you’ll take our closing song this morning seriously. Sing it loud or take its words deep into your heart. Let us pray before we sing…