Fourth Sunday of Advent

This gospel is not just an intellectual exercise but the source of strength and thus of life

Anunciation, Leonardo da Vinci, around 1472
"Anunciation." via Google Arts and Culture.

December 24, 2023

Second Reading
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Commentary on Romans 16:25-27

Preachers are often distraught when the Fourth Sunday of Advent falls on the morning of Christmas Eve, primarily because one of the major festivals of the liturgical year is just on the horizon. Preaching on the assigned second reading may add stress to the preacher as it is three verses at the conclusion of one of Paul’s most theologically dense letters. Grammatically, these three verses are just one long sentence, consistent with Paul’s writing style throughout the rest of the letter. So, what is the preacher to do?

It may be helpful to remember that Paul often concludes a letter with a summary of what he has written earlier in the letter, to emphasize the main points. Like in other letters (see my 1 Corinthians 1:3–7 commentary on Advent 1B), Paul is dealing with congregations that are having difficulties living together. After the various greetings, Paul gives the Roman congregation some final instructions, reminding them to cease unnecessary divisions, as those are contrary to what they had been taught as disciples of Christ. These divisions are not only selfish (redirecting attention from Christ to the self), but they can also cause harm to those who are young in the faith. As in his exhortation at the end of 1 Thessalonians (see commentary on Advent 3B), Paul reminds the congregation to do good and refrain from evil.

Having an idea of what Paul had just written can help decipher this long multi-clause sentence that concludes the letter. The preacher is advised to work with the lector who reads this text aloud to make sure that the clauses are not swallowed or said too quickly, and to emphasize the appropriate words.

As the preacher thinks through what Paul is saying here, it may be helpful to rearrange the clauses for clarity; I propose the following:

  1. Now to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever! (verses 25a, 27).
  2. God is able to strengthen you according to the gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ (verse 25ab).
  3. God is able to strengthen you according to the revelation that once was secret but is now disclosed (verses 25c–26a).
  4. God’s revelation is disclosed through the prophetic writings and is made known to all the Gentiles (verse 26ab).
  5. God, who is eternal, brings about the obedience of faith (verse 26c).
  6. Now to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever! (verses 25a, 27).

Separating out the clauses makes the lection less of a run-on sentence and more of the conclusion that Paul intends in the letter.

Setting aside the beginning and end for a moment, the preacher can see four specific claims that Paul is making. The first (#2) deals with the gospel, which in the text he labels as “my.” While one could accuse Paul of being arrogant in his writings, his use of the possessive is not to claim the gospel as his own but to remind the reader of what he had written in the previous 15 chapters of the book. This gospel is not just an intellectual exercise but is the source of strength and thus of life.

The second (#3) gives some context to the gospel and proclamation, noting that the revelation had not previously been disclosed but is now made known. God’s mysteries are now unveiled and made known through the work that Paul and others have done. This disclosure (#4) takes place through the prophetic writings so that even the Gentiles are aware of God’s mysteries.

Finally, God’s disclosed mysteries are not cognitive, for they bring about the obedience of faith. For Paul, this obedience of faith is the life-changing power of God through Jesus Christ. And it is because of that power that God is both the giver and the receiver of glory forever (#1, #6).

Paul couches this conclusion to the letter to the Romans in the form of thanksgiving. In his commentary on this passage, 16th-century Lutheran pastor Tilemann Hesshus, a student of reformer Philip Melanchthon, describes why this might be the case:

Therefore we together with the apostle Paul give thanks to the eternal and almighty God with all our heart and with true sighs, both for all his countless and boundless benefits and for the marvelous revelation of the gospel concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, through which he has also called us into fellowship with his church and offers us forgiveness of sins, righteousness, life, and eternal and heavenly glory.1

With Paul we give thanks to God for such revelation that has taken place through the witness of Scripture and in the upcoming birth of Christ.

The preacher may be tempted to lean into the Christmas story in the morning, but it is important to remember the countercultural nature of Advent that calls us to wait with patient anticipation. Then this evening, when we sing with the angels “Glory to God in the highest,” we also proclaim with Paul the good news of life in Christ.


  1. Quoted in Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VIII, ed. Philip D. W. Krey and Peter D. S. Krey (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 257.