What is the best secret you have ever kept? Was it yours, or someone else’s? Secrets are generally kept for two purposes…either to protect someone or something, or to orchestrate a surprise.
Romans 16 comes along as a surprise this week. We’ve been tickling our toes in the Advent waters of Isaiah, Luke, and the Psalms, but today we are suddenly thrust into the final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans was written well after the birth and death of Jesus, so you will not find any Christmas carols here.
But what you’ll discover is probably the most significant part of Jesus’ birth narrative, which is often overlooked in our lackluster worship experiences and traditional, same-as-last-year Christmas Eve messages.
That thing is mystery.
We have lost our sense of mystery. Not just about Jesus, but about everything. Nothing surprises us anymore. Movies are so formulaic, we can predict the outcome in the first five minutes. (Only two minutes for a Hallmark movie.) Television is worse. Politics, national affairs, the economy, even the pandemic all follow patterns and processes that are predictable to a degree. Think I’m wrong? Study the Spanish Flu of 1918. What we are dealing with today was predicted.
As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9:
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
The secret that Paul refers to in this last paragraph is a mystery that shook up the world. It was held in secret by the prophets for a time, and then revealed in due course in order to surprise the world.
Romans 16 (Common English Bible)
25 May the glory be to God who can strengthen you with my good news and the message that I preach about Jesus Christ. He can strengthen you with the announcement of the secret that was kept quiet for a long time.
It was always assumed that the Gentiles would never have any part in what the Jews held as their own. A messiah was promised to come and redeem Israel. But there was a secret component to that…he would also redeem the rest of the world. Surprise!
26 Now that secret is revealed through what the prophets wrote. It is made known to the Gentiles in order to lead to their faithful obedience based on the command of the eternal God.
The mystery of Jesus is that he came to lead his people, not in war against their oppressors so that he could establish his own kingdom, but into peace.
The surprise of Jesus is that he is God incarnate, God-made-flesh. He was born of a woman, walked among us, and was crucified for the sins of humanity.
The secret of his crucifixion is that it had been planned all along in order to save us.
The mystery of his resurrection caught the world totally off guard.
And here’s the not-so-secret of it all: if you accept Christ as your savior and put your whole trust in his grace, you, too, will share in the resurrection.
It’s time to let the secret out. Jesus was born in a manger so that he could die on a cross for the forgiveness of sins. May we all shed light on his glorious, absolute truth.
27 May the glory be to God, who alone is wise! May the glory be to him through Jesus Christ forever! Amen.