Advent Reflection #18, 2016


Romans 1:1-7
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What are your credentials? How does your business card read, or your signature on your emails? Credentials are important. In days gone by, long before the internet, facsimile, or even the telephone, a traveler would often carry her credentials with her as a way of introduction of vouching for her character and abilities. Without credentials, a person could claim to be just about anyone and you would have to take their word for it. Credentials, though they could be tampered with or forged, were the best way of being recommended to someone else, of introducing your character and experience to a new contact.

We utilize credentials today. We submit C.V.’s or resumés when applying for jobs. These typically list a few referees willing to write or verbally provide a reference for you. Basically, these referees testify to your credentials. Credentials help to verify a person’s identity, competency, and whether or not they can be trusted. Though providing credentials is much easier and more reliable than it used to be, credentials themselves are still just as vital.

Paul is quick to tout his credentials when he feels it is necessary. He does so in this passage. He begins his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome in this way, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God . . . .” Paul claims to have been set apart and called by Jesus himself, thus an apostle just like the other 11 living apostles. This clearly is a unique and important testimony to be able to make. His first and primary identifier, though, is his go-to credential: “a servant of Jesus Christ.” Translated more bluntly, Paul identifies himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. This is an interesting credential to lead with, but Paul almost always does. For all of his brazen confidence, and yes, even arrogance, Paul always returns to the notion that he is a servant or slave of Jesus, and thus of others.

Near the end of the passage, Paul provides credentials for his readers as well, credentials that I think we ought to cling to today. Paul describes his readers as, “called to belong to Jesus Christ.” What if your business card or C.V. began with “servant of God” or “I belong to Jesus Christ?” What if when you were struggling with self-doubt and self-confidence you whispered to yourself, “I belong to Christ Jesus?” What if you leaned into, and even rested in that bold truth: you belong to Christ Jesus? Isn’t that a huge part of the “why?” of Christmas, of the Incarnation, in the first place? Why did Christ come? One simple answer is so that we might know him, and belong to him. Whatever you are going through today, you belong to Christ Jesus. You don’t belong to your boss, your job, your sins, to President Obama, or President-elect Trump, or anyone else. Caesar is not Lord, Jesus is, and you belong to Jesus. Period.

As you pray today, rest in that thought, meditate on it: you belong to Christ Jesus. Your sin cannot change that. Your doubts cannot change that. Your unfaithfulness cannot change that, for he is faithful still! Take some time to simply whisper your credentials repeatedly throughout the day, saying, “I belong to Christ Jesus.” Say it when you are excited, when you are sad, when you doubt yourself, say it when you receive good news and are happy, say it when you know you’ve sinned. You belong to Christ Jesus. May that be your most important credential.

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