We always hear that Christmas is the time of joy, peace and reconciliation. It is a time for unity. In a sense that’s true, but most people divorce this truth with its foundation. That is, God, His truthfulness and His work through Christ are thrown out of the window. Now I said in a sense because everyday is a great time for making peace, reconciliation and being united, not just every Christmas season. But what are the biblical grounds for this harmony? How is this unity uniquely Christian? That’s what we’re going to find out as we look into Romans 15:5-13.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to 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 praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Let’s try to answer the second question first. How is unity and harmony in light of Christmas uniquely Christian? To answer this question let’s take note of the structure of the passage. Paul begins and ends with a petition to God. Verse 5 starts off by saying “may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another”, then he ends in verse 13 with “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace”. This forms an inclusio, meaning they form a one unit. We can say that the joy and peace that God would fill us with is the very means by which we will be able to live in harmony with others. And the purpose of this harmony according verses 6-7 is that together with one voice we might glorify God. Take note that harmony, joy, peace and abundant hope need to be granted to us by God. That is why it is only fitting that God should receive all the glory. That’s what makes this unity uniquely Christian. Verse 13 says that Joy and peace is in believing. And by implication, without faith, there is no true joy and peace and hence there can be no true harmony.
Now sandwiched between the two petitions is the grounds or the foundation of joyful, peaceful and hopeful harmony. Verse 8 says that Christ became a servant(this is Christmas and Lent) to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness. Christmas is first and foremost for God before it is for us. This is to vindicate God’s truthfulness. If God is not true to himself then he is no God, and therefore does not deserve our worship. But God is true and He cannot deny himself, and so Christmas is a way to show his truthfulness and faithfulness. Without this in mind, we would be celebrating Christmas like the rest of the unvbelieving world, oblivious to the cosmic purpose of it.
Now how is this for us? And how does it then becomes a ground for joy and peace filled, and hopeful harmony? The last part of verse 8 and the rest of verses 9-12 tell us. Christ’s coming into the world to serve is God’s means of confirming the promises given to the patriarchs(Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the means by which the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
In Romans 9, Paul already gave a lengthy defense of God’s truthfulness in light of the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah. There Paul argued based on God’s unconditional election. That is, His word stands because the promises were made to the true Jews, those whom God elected by sheer mercy and grace. Here in verse 8, Paul’s argument is based on the earthly ministry of Jesus. He did came to confirm the covenantal promises. So God’s truthfulness is doubly vindicated. But this covenant promises does not exclude the Gentiles. Because the covenants, from its inception pledged that “all nations” would receive God’s blessing (Gen. 12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4). This is certainly Paul’s view of the promise; Abraham is “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13), and hence the father of Jews and Gentiles (4:9–17). Christ’s purpose in coming, then, was not only to certify the promises to the Jews, but also to include the Gentiles. This is why Gentiles glorify God for his covenantal mercy. That is, they praise God because they were the undeserved recipients of his saving kindness. Paul then supports this assertion by quoting OT passages in verses 10-13.
The word καθώς (kathōs, just as) introducing the quotations in verse 10 should be understood as a ground, supporting the notion that both Jews and Gentiles were the beneficiaries of God’s covenantal mercy. The first citation in verse 10 from Deut. 32:43 and the second one in verse 11 from Psalms 117:1, show that Gentiles are to rejoice with God’s people. Then in verse 12 the citation from Isaiah shows that the shoot of Jesse will rule the Gentiles and that they too will hope in him.
So how does the fulfillment of God’s word becomes a means of unity and harmony? Harmony will exist between Jews and Gentiles when both groups hope in the shoot of Jesse. Therefore Christmas is a reminder that Christ came in order that God might be glorified by the enjoyment in him of different people groups. Christmas is first about the glory of God then it is about our joyful, peaceful and hopeful harmony in glorifying him with one voice through Jesus. Have a Merry Christmas Brethren!