Sermon for Advent 4 on Romans 1:1-7
What’s the longest you’ve held on to a promise before you completed it? For some here that’s the promise of “till death do us part.” The couple reaching five years of marriage is still holding the promise they made on their wedding day. They haven’t completed it yet. After fifteen years, the promise is still being held. Even getting to fifty years only means they’ve held that promise a long time. But the 50th anniversary celebration isn’t the end of holding the promise. Other promises are made and kept relatively quickly. ‘Yes we’ll go get Culvers for lunch.’ Some its months. ‘I promise for my birthday I won’t ask for more presents because I already got something big for Christmas.’ Then there’s those years in the making, like wedding vows.
In comparison to God’s timetable on keeping promises, human beings got nothing. God makes his promise, then it might be centuries before what’s promised happens. This Tuesday and Wednesday, we’re on the cusp of celebrating again the great keeping of a great promise of God. A promise God made, then expanded on so people throughout history would understand it more. First it was just the promise of one who would set enmity between Satan and humanity again. Then a blessing for the whole world. A man. Born in Bethlehem. To a virgin. Christmas is the all-important culmination of God’s promise.
Going through a busy season can stop all that from seeming important. With just days to go till Christmas, you’re probably feeling the pressure like many others. Lots to do. Lots to prepare. Pressure to make it all perfect. In the middle of all that, don’t miss the most important part of Christmas, identified in the second lesson…
God comes just as he promised
He is the gospel
He is the Immanuel
Maybe we make too many promises? We’ve promised the spouse we’d have a great gift for them. That promise from October is really challenging us now. Back then we had plenty of time. Now it’s December 22 and we still might be looking. What to get? Where to get it? Wrap it, slip it under the tree making it seem like it was picked out months ago. The kids got promised Christmas break would be a blast. Vacation time to head to a relative’s house, spend time with their friends, hit up the zoo or a park. Now all that wide open time seems compressed. Is it already the 22nd? More relatives just said they were coming for Christmas Day. The office Christmas party had to be last weekend, so close to Christmas. And checking Amazon twenty times a day won’t make the kids’ presents arrive any faster. The house stays messy. The Christmas lights again don’t look like we dreamed they’d look last year when we took them down. There’s no way to keep half the promises to kids, spouses, friends, or ourselves. Not in December. Not this year.
Losing track of what’s most important almost seems like a rite of passage. Every year you say it won’t happen. You don’t want to miss what’s important. So take in what Paul introduces in his letter. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised in advance through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. This gospel is about his Son…” God gave Paul the important task of pointing people to the gospel, God’s big promise. What God made throughout the Old Testament. Prophet after prophet essentially gave the same message like what Isaiah said. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son.” See, the gospel is about the Son.
God’s promise foretold in the many pages of Old Testament Scripture was advanced through many centuries. Through centuries where human beings messed up God’s world. Sinned and stained the perfect world God meant to have. You contribute to that truth. With your promises unkept, your distraction from what’s important, your missing what Christmas is really about. It took God to promise to set things right. God would confront sin and defeat it. It wasn’t fate or written in the stars. God had a definite plan. He predetermined when. Martin Luther said, “There is no word in the New Testament that doesn’t look back to the Old Testament where it was first told.” The gospel is promise. And God promised Jesus would come. God held that promise a long time. Until just like that, he came. The Son. The gospel is all about the Son.
Jesus is the good news. He is the gospel. When you say gospel you should think of Christ. Because there’s no gospel apart from him. No good news from God apart from Christ. What began in the manger continued until every promise God made about his Son came true. Born to a virgin, lived a perfect life, was made to suffer, faced death. The good news begins and ends with Christ taking on your sin and defeating your death. That’s the gospel. You can’t take Christ out of it, out of the Bible, and not have it all fall apart. What you read in the Old Testament about Jesus prepares and promises. What you read in the New Testament about him confirms and fulfills.
That first Christmas God came just as he promised. Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior was born of Mary. “This gospel is about the Son—who in the flesh was born a descendant of David.” He was the long awaited promise coming true. His coming announced good news, like the angels sang to the shepherds. Good news you don’t want to miss. Because God fulfills his promises. He does what he says. He means his promises to you will actually happen. You have a Savior in Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. And you will be brought to heaven to live with him forever. Jesus is the gospel.
If we’ve shopped Christmas cards we’ve probably seen the cute ones that show a baby in a manger, or cradled by mom, or watched over by Joseph. The baby is rightly emphasized, a reminder Jesus was born. That’s good. Some think that’s it. Just another baby born into a world full of babies and other human beings. Some will see just the cuteness and miss the importance of his coming. We might see the baby, speak of his birth, and concentrate on his humanity.
Except hidden under that flesh was more. “This gospel is about the Son…who in the spirit of holiness was declared to be God’s powerful Son by his resurrection from the dead—Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Obviously Jesus was true man. But he was also true God. Powerful. Mighty. The Son of God and Son of man. The one who grants grace and calls apostles. The one who demands the obedience of faith for all people.
As proof Paul offers up the clinching miracle. In holiness Jesus was perfect and without sin. After his death God’s Son couldn’t stay dead. He rose. Already you can look beyond the manger to Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It’s ultimate proof. Jesus did what no one else could. His resurrection is the standard. The birth at Bethlehem was the beginning, the start of fulfilling all the promises God made. It would conclude with death and a grave so that your sins would be paid for. Jesus fulfilled the promise to be born so he might die for you. Still it’s all about the resurrection. Even that first Christmas, this Christmas, and all the ones to come, are about the resurrection. The promise God keeps is that Jesus was born to rise to life again.
Jesus is the Immanuel. He is God with us. Born as God, born as man. He lived perfectly and gave that life on the cross. The resurrection is the centerpiece of his entire life. It’s why he came. There’s no doubt Jesus is special. He’s Immanuel, God with us to live, die, and rise again. That’s God’s grace in action. Love for you to send his Son to do that. Love for sinners who needed a Savior but couldn’t do anything to make it happen. Love that not one of you deserved. Love I didn’t deserve. And by that love, that grace, you have peace. “To all those loved by God…called to be saints: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” You’re a saint. You’re loved by God. You’re holy right now because of Jesus. At peace with God because of Jesus.
The longest held promise without fulfillment is still being held by God and is for you. Before this world was created, before you were born, God promised to love you in Christ. Promised you a place in heaven because of Jesus. Century after century God fulfilled little promises one by one. Sent Jesus, the gospel to this world. Had him born. Lived his perfect life. Sacrificed himself on the cross. Paid for your sins. Rose from the grave. Had you born, brought to faith by baptism. Continues to grow you in knowledge of the Scriptures, strengthening your faith. And finally, one day, centuries after the promise was first made for you, he will call you home. God keeps his promises. It’s the good news of Jesus. It’s the Immanuel who is your Savior. Every promise God ever made to you is kept in Christ.