The Wonder of Christmas – Community of Unity

Romans 15:4-13

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.’

10 Again, it says,

‘Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.’

11 And again,

‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.’

12 And again, Isaiah says,

‘The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.’

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Isn’t it true that when you know that you’re chosen by someone, you know that you’re loved by that person. Like Mary being chosen for this one-in-a-billion role that would change the course of world history; like a man hearing his girlfriend say, “yes, I choose you” as he pops the question; like when you win the job or get chosen for the team, or get awarded the great prize for the effort you put in, when you are chosen you know you are known, respected, valued…. loved.

And when you know you’re loved because he/she/they chose you, you walk taller, see bigger, move with courage to love life and people even above and beyond the normal, “I’ll scratch your back and I will scratch your’ kind of approach we usually have. No. when you know you are appreciated and loved because you got chosen out of love, you might scratch another’s back even when they don’t return the favour!

And that is what Paul has been speaking about in this letter to the Christian community in Rome. Right at the beginning he says;

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

All the way through this letter Paul is teaching unity; that this love that chooses you before you choose him brings Jews and Greeks together, different people together, different in ethnicity, colour, ideas, backgrounds, language, geography, pecking order at work or school or community … Paul gets this good news of the love of God choosing sinners who cannot earn this choice or choose themselves and just thinks its dimensions and impacts through for how we live life as chosen baptised loved sinners.

He speaks of a unity that is not made by us, but gifted to us, a unity that comes from being chosen by God from his love in this Jesus. He is saying that this underserved mountainous self-sacrificing love of God has come to you, and that it revolutionises how we relate and live and work.

With a heart full of this love of God in Jesus you knows you belong, because you are loved.

So whatever you do; living or dying, you do it all in this love of God that chooses you; tells you that you always belong.

If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:8)

Easy to do what Paul does and urge others to not judge and make for peace and unity in love. But what about me? What about hearing the Lord urge me to listen and learn and love people of difference? That is when the judging and theory stop, and true repentance and real change can come.

But how do you get to that place of honest assessment of yourself, your opinions, your vision of what needs to be done or not done by others?

It takes a community to love. The Body comes into play. We need each other to learn to love and then do love – self-sacrificing God kind of love. For Paul, loving and being loved in life is all about being part of a unified community founded in this love of the Saviour.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 15:13)

The God whom we welcome, whom we receive, who we accept at Christmas is the one who uses the people sitting around you now to tell you that you are chosen, you are loved and you are called – all in love, to love.

We need each other to love and be loved and show the love of this Saviour in our places.

It is so easy to just treat the church as some institution or some club of like-minded people or some family connected group that does not really require my love, my effort, my learning, my repenting.

It is so easy to not bother about working on unity, taking the harder road of working for peace in conflict, acceptance in difference, respect in shame, belonging above all our judging.

It is so easy in a very old and established congregation to just take people for granted and church for granted as if Sunday is just a goods and services transaction – I turn up, pay some money and maybe do a role and God does his bit and I go about living my life not as a 24/7 chosen and loved baptised resurrected sinner now a saint, but as just me on my terms – until next Sunday….

Read Romans and you will see that church is no small thing and no easy thing and a crucial thing for the life of the world. Church is the love of God in a world of fear. Church is a community of unity in a sea of division. Church is the practice of forgiveness in a landscape of hurt.

Friends, Christmas is coming. The Saviour is arriving. The Baptised is preaching and the Spirit is urging.

This Jesus will fill you with all joy and peace AS YOU TRUST IN HIM to the point of a dam overflowing, a levy bank breaking, a river flooding. (Romans 15:13)

Once that baby boy arrived, to the angels singing and shepherd cringing, there was no stopping what he came to do. He has come and he has created a church. And this church is involved in a holy endeavour that Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, women and men, adults and children, first nations and current nations people will know they are chosen and that they are loved and that they are called to love.

I read an insightful comment on Paul’s words this week;

As this text interrogates us, it flips the script, telling us that WE GENTILES are now those who have been insiders for millennia. We (Gentile sinners) are the ones who have the power to tell others that they are or are not welcome. But here is the paradox: the more we relegate the gospel to people only like ourselves, the weaker grows our hope and the dimmer grows our Advent light.

Because it is only in the gospel surprise I can receive from someone who does not look like me who may be sitting next to me singing praises to God, that I know the scripture to be fulfilled, as Isaiah says, “There will come the root of Jesse (Romans 1:3), and he who arises to rule the Gentiles (Romans 1:4) in him will the Gentiles hope (Romans 1:5).” This is the picture of Advent we are called to paint as we love each other in this diverse community of praise.

It is good to be concerned about our unity and to work at this welcome love of this Saviour we celebrate at Christmas.

God chooses this community because he loves this community, and he calls this community to love each other in all our difference.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen