|SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR B|
|By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp|
|Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent- on the Epistle|
Celebrating a Mystery
|2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16||Romans 16:25-27||Luke 1:26-38|
The story is told of William Phelps who taught English literature at Yale back in the early 1900s. Once, as he was marking an examination paper just before Christmas, Phelps found a near-blank answer sheet on which a student had scribbled, "Only God knows the answer to this question. Merry Christmas." Phelps returned the paper with this note: "God gets an A. You get an F. Happy New Year." On this last Sunday before Christmas, the Church, using the closing words of Paul to the Romans, in the 2nd reading, invites us to celebrate the great mystery known only to God for ages, which has now been revealed to believers in Christ.
Among the letters that Paul wrote to churches in the New Testament, that to the Romans stands out as the only one written to a church that Paul had never visited. This shows how important the church in Rome was in the thinking of the early Christians. Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire, the centre of the known world of the time. The early Christians understood the arrival of the gospel in Rome as the arrival of the gospel to the whole world. For them the centre and the end of the earth was Rome. So, Paul could, in Romans 10:18 ask the rhetorical question, " But I ask, have they not heard?" and give the answer, "Indeed they have; for 'Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.'" At the beginning of the letter, he thanks God "because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world" (Romans 1:8).
That the free gift of salvation, promised by the prophets of old in the Hebrew Scriptures was now, in Christ, available to all humankind, Jews and alike was, for Paul, the Good News. This was the secret mystery hidden in ages past but which has now been revealed through the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Thinking of this mystery makes Paul explode in praise in the 2nd reading, Romans 16:25-27:
Now to God who is able to strengthen you
The chosen Twelve Apostles received three years of apprenticeship under Jesus and still did not get it. It would take the number one apostle, Peter, the Rock, many more years of growing in the faith and the benefit of a special revelation from God to discover this mystery. Only then would he declare in turn, "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34-35).
It is hard for most Christians today, who take our possible salvation in Christ for granted to appreciate the epoch-making importance of this revelation that defined where the Jewish religion ended and the Christian religion began. Yet, it is the revelation of this most important mystery of God that we celebrate at Christmas. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
Paul tells us in this short passage that the purpose of this revelation was to bring about the obedience of faith (Romans 16:26). This enigmatic expression can be understood either as the obedience that comes from faith, or the faith that comes from obedience, or the faith that equals obedience. Either way, it means that in Christ, the relationship between faith and obedience is no longer that of either ... or but of both ... and. God wants His children to serve Him by faith and obedience, not by faith alone, and not by obedience (good works) alone.
As Christmas draws near, let us join Paul in glorifying God for the wondrous thing He has done for us by sending us his only begotten son. Let us resolve that this year's Christmas celebration will not be another Christmas-as- usual but a heartfelt celebration of divine grace.
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