Rev. Dave Lyle
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6: 20-23)
Part of what makes Christmas so special is that it’s different from other days. Our celebrations are marked by surprise. Our children spend Advent wondering what’s underneath that wrapping paper. Christmas morning brings the joy of discovery. Who knows what the gifts will be?
The rest of the year is different. We know what to expect, more or less. Life is often reduced to the transactional. You get what you pay for, and you get paid for what you’ve done. This is how the world works. Or more to the point, how the world doesn’t work. The problem is that if we get what we have earned, then what we have coming is death. The paystub is clear: Our hours are filled with sin and the wages of sin is death.
St. Paul, however, has a different gift in mind. In his letter to the house churches in Rome, he pulls off a grand surprise. What we’ve earned in sin is death, but God has something else up the divine sleeve. We get not what we deserve from God. We receive what God desires to give us. We unwrap the gift that is nothing less than God wrapped up in human flesh. Emmanuel.
With the gift of freedom comes servanthood to God and the righteousness of a life covered by Christ. We are free now to act in the most surprising ways, returning violence and hate with peace and love. This is the sanctified life. As you discover again the gift this Advent, may you marvel at the wonder of it all. You will not be given what you deserve. Instead, you are gifted with Jesus, the One who brings holiness and unending life.
Gracious God, thank you for the greatest surprise of all, this Jesus whom we do not deserve. Amen.