ROMANS 15:4-13

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. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 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, 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 were two streams in messianic Judaism that flowed alongside one another throughout its history, and even down to our day. One stream focused these expectations around a more exclusionist vision of the future, where the messiah’s coming would eradicate Israel’s enemies and secure world dominance for God’s chosen people. In this case, the Gentiles were definitely outside the circle of divine favor and salvation.

The other stream held a greater and more positive interest in the non-Jews of the earth. Not their destruction but their conversion to Torah and fellowship with God was the desired outcome. This second stream, of the more evangelistic type of messianism, is actually the more dominant of the two – if by dominant we mean more generally representing the worldview of the Bible.

In the first century CE these two traditions came into conflict, with Christianity (especially under Paul’s influence) following the path of world evangelism and the inclusion of the Gentiles.

Paul (the author of this dispatch) may begun his Pharisaic career more committed to an exclusionist messianism, but his visionary encounter with the risen Jesus radically changed his perspective. From then on, he became the leading proponent for a truly evangelistic (as distinct from “evangelical”) Christianity – not waging war on unbelievers, spinning out elaborate apocalyptic fantasies of their demise, or simply writing them off. They, too, were loved by God.

                                                                       

One of the most powerful metaphors that the apostle Paul invented to help in the growing self-consciousness of the Christian movement was that of the church as “the body of Christ.” The birth of this body had been the event of the resurrection, when Jesus was delivered by God from the extinction of the grave and granted the status of a “life-giving spirit” for all who seek authentic existence.

This metaphor and its association of ideas added something further to the paradigm of evangelistic messianism: It expanded the notion of the messiah (Greek christos) to the point of incorporating the disciple community in its identity.

In addition, it extended the work of the messiah into becoming the missionary purpose of the church, the disciple community. For Paul, the full accomplishment of Jesus Christ on behalf of the world’s salvation was as yet still pending, as his redemptive suffering seeks its completion in the self-sacrifice of every believer.

This critical move of Paul’s, to internalize the messianic identity of Christ first into the disciple community of the church, and then further into the true self of the disciple him- or herself, opened the Christian imagination to the mystical dimension.

When we proclaim Advent as being about more than just commemorating a miraculous birth long ago, but also about celebrating the birth of Christ-within, we are following through on Paul’s original insight.

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