Rom. 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Paul is telling the great Romans that he is not ashamed of the gospel — the good news about Jesus Christ. Chryostom tells us this about the Romans:
“The Romans were most anxious about the things of the world, because of their riches, their empire, their victories, and they thought that their emperors were equal to the gods. . . . While they were so puffed up, Paul was going to preach Jesus, the carpenter’s son who was brought up in Judea, in the house of a lower-class woman, who had no bodyguards, who was not surrounded by wealth, but who died as a criminal among thieves and endured many other inglorious afflictions. Since it was likely that the Romans were pretending that they did not know any of these unspeakable things, Paul understates that he is not ashamed, in order to teach them not to be ashamed of Christ either.” (Homilies on Romans 2)
This statement then is a powerful condemnation of the Romans who may be ashamed of the gospel because it doesn’t fit their worldview of a religion. Rome was filled with places of worship for the different gods and goddesses and yet, here was the son of God who had been poor and there were no beautiful public places in which to worship him. This gospel was one to be received by faith and it was available for all of humanity. It broke the bounds of everything that they knew in the world and in a humble way reached out to each of them. If they were going to embrace the gospel, they too would have to not be ashamed.
Christianity, I believe, has been working for a long time to be “respectable” in the eyes of the world. Even particular denominations and churches don’t like being considered odd or different from the world’s perspective and so work to become “normalized” within society. We join certain associations or groups so that we can be more acceptable. We move away from some of the more radical stances we may have had early on so that people don’t think that we are that odd and yet, along the way, in that move to not being ashamed of the gospel what we have embraced may be diametrically opposed to the gospel!
What have we done to not be ashamed of our gospel? Could it be that we have taken upon ourselves the trappings of the Roman religion — the large edifices, the ornate worship, the wealth, the upper class — so that we would not be ashamed? At the same time, to not be ashamed, we may have been infiltrated with the world’s thinking. We don’t want to be different from the world around us, and we don’t want people to think that we are odd so we must adapt Christianity to fit the way in which the world has progressed in their thinking! Somehow I don’t think this would have excited Paul very much. He was the oddball, the one who embraced the simple poor Messiah from the little town of Nazareth. And he was not ashamed of this faith.
Paul was chiding the Romans over their embarrassment of Jesus and so we too are also chided by this scripture. If we were honest we might discover that we, too, may act embarrassed about our Messiah. Paul’s challenge is for us to embrace this humble and simple Messiah who ushered in the new kingdom and to participate with him in this kingdom.
Today we begin the Advent season, an ushering in and anticipation of a new kingdom. Let us celebrate and embrace, and never be ashamed of our Savior!
Lord, thank you for your coming and may I proudly embrace who you are the kingdom you represent. Amen.