FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Jerusalem is being besieged by the allied forces of Israel and Aram. Ahaz, king of Judah and Jerusalem is about to surrender when God speaks to him, bolstering his courage. God tells him to ask for a sign of his coming victory “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Sheol is under the earth, the abode of the dead where souls live on without power or even memory. Ahaz declines to ask for the sign because he will not test the Lord. So God says, OK, I’ll send signs anyway. He sends several, the first of which is the birth of a child named Immanuel to a “young woman” (in the King James she is called a virgin). Christians have long taken the passage as a prophecy of the birth of Jesus.
These are the opening words of Paul’s letter to the Christians of Rome. Our lesson (taken from the New Revised Standard Version, is one long sentence, but into that sentence Paul managed to get his personal creed. Two points interest me. Paul doesn’t conceive of Mary as a virgin, for her son “descended from David according to the flesh.” No longer does he concern himself with Jewish Christians, but declares that his mission is to carry the gospel (good news) to gentiles. The ancient, unidentified editors of Paul’s letters placed them in a peculiar order, not according to the time of writing, but according to their length. Romans, though written late in Paul’s ministry, is his longest letter; so it was placed first.
© Arthur H. Cash