4th Sunday in Advent
December 24, 2017
“A Strange Twist”
Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Epistle lesson previously read from Romans chapter 16.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Bruno nervously ran his fingers through his hair and that’s when he saw his partner Shorty Lopez walk in. “Where you been?” Bruno growled. “You ready for another heist?” “What’s the job?” said Shorty. “First National Bank of Prairieton, Iowa” Bruno replied. “Rich farmers across the state line. We should split a hundred grand. Here’s the plan. Tonight while you’re holed up in a motel, I’ll meet with the bank president.” “You’re going to dinner with the president?” Shorty asked. “She’s my aunt. I’ve got to find out when the vault opens. But listen. There’s a new foolproof escape plan. I’ve snatched a ‘Student Driver’ sign. You’ll steal a car, attach the sign to it, and park at the bank like you’re some kid waiting on his Drivers’-Ed teacher. I’ll get the money, slip into the passenger seat and you’ll drive– slowly. Cops won’t be looking for a slow-moving car with a student driver sign on it.”
Everyone likes a good mystery or a story with a strange twist. It appeals to our human nature to find out the “who did it” and the “how” of something that was done. God’s plan for salvation for His people also involves a twist – a “mystery” as Paul called it in verse 25 of today’s lesson from Romans 16. This story took many twists and turns while being revealed by prophets and apostles, but this story of salvation is not some TV movie, but it is the centerpiece of human history.
The strange, twisting story of who the Christ child is and what He has done for us is a mystery that requires revelation. That revelation began way back in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3 God promised that One would come who would crush Satan’s head even after Satan had bruised His heel (Genesis 3:15). It is a story that was foretold by prophets and countless generations until Jesus was born in a village outside of Jerusalem. And then, 30 years later, the story took a strange twist.
Bruno and Shorty checked into the Prairieton Motel, and when they were settled, Bruno drove to his aunt’s elegant home. Aunt Alice greeted him at the door with a warm hug. “It’s good to see you after all these years, Bruno. Where are you working?” “Omaha,” he lied. He hadn’t done an honest day’s work ever since he got fired from his last job. Aunt Alice invited him into the dining room. “How’s the banking business going?” he asked. “Very well, thank you. After we eat I’ll show you my scrapbooks and bring you up to date on my life.” “Oh…great.” Bruno remembered those musty pages from his childhood. Aunt Alice clipped articles that highlighted the news events of each week, pasted them in her albums and as she put it, kept track of “progress.” Boooooring!
“I suppose you still work a full day,” Bruno said. “Certainly. I may be 75 years old, but as bank president it’s my duty to be there at 9 AM when they open the vault.” Nine AM. That’s all Bruno needed to know. Once they finished dinner, his aunt led him back to the parlor, handing him leather-bound scrapbooks. What did he care about Prairieton? Finally he faked a yawn and spoke. “I must be going. It’s sooo late.” “Why, it’s only eight o’clock!” His aunt protested. “Here, just take a look at this one. You’ll be surprised at what’s happened this year in our little town.” Bruno pushed the book aside. “Really, gotta go. It’s been nice seeing you again and thanks for dinner.” On the way back to the motel, Bruno stopped a few blocks from the bank and cut the wires connecting the alarm system to the police station. Everything was going according to plan.
The mystery of God, the revelation of salvation through Jesus Christ, was also once a mystery, but has been made known. It was certainly made know to St. Paul. Once a feared persecutor of Christians, he was converted by God Himself, and Paul became a heroic figure of the Christian faith. But the strange twist of Jesus didn’t begin with Paul. It is not “his” Gospel (verse 25), but it is the Gospel message that he proclaimed. The content of the message of God loving this world so much that He would send His only Son into this world to save it is the unifying theme of Holy Scripture. The Bible points to Jesus, whether it’s Old or New Testament and the fact that He came to save sinful humanity from its sinfulness.
God’s mysterious tale of salvation took a strange twist. The same Jesus Christ whose birth was announced by angels was killed on a cross! That was not what people expected of the Savior of the world! And yet that is what He does to save sinners; to bring forgiveness of sins and restore our broken relationship with God. No one expected a Messiah that would die…and even fewer expected a Messiah that would rise again. A strange twist, to say the least. But that’s not the end!
The next morning Bruno donned his disguise to fool the bank’s cameras and the cops. Even Aunt Alice wouldn’t recognize him. Bruno helped Shorty hot-wire a gray Buick. They secured the oversized ‘Student Driver’ sign to the car and drove to the bank. Shorty parked in front while Bruno went inside and approached a teller. “Fill this,” he demanded, passing her a bag. “Keep quiet and nobody gets hurt.” Once he had the loot, he ordered everyone into the vault and locked the door. Too easy!
Shorty eased away from the bank and drove slowly down Main Street. They were almost home free when sirens screamed behind them and they saw police cars approaching from every direction. Bruno realized they were trapped and, as the first officer to reach the car eyed the cash-stuffed bag on the back seat, he asked, “How did you know?” Before the cop could reply, Aunt Alice appeared, glaring at him. “Bruno, what do you think you’re doing, young man?” Aunt Alice impaled him with a steely gaze. “You should have done me the kindness of looking at that last scrapbook, Bruno.” “What does your dumb scrapbook have to do with all this?” Bruno asked. “I told you Prairieton had problems. One of them is that funds were misappropriated from the education budget. As a result, we can’t afford drivers-education class for the high school.” The cop nodded. “The student-driver sign was the tip-off. Prairieton doesn’t even have drivers ed.” Aunt Alice gloated. “It was all in the scrapbook, Bruno.”
When the twist of a story is revealed, it has an effect. Maybe it makes people groan or feel amazement at how the story ended. In God’s revealed mystery of how He saved His people in Jesus, that too has an expected result. Jesus dying and rising again is not the end; the twist does something. The intention is that the revealed twist of God’s salvation history is proclaimed so that faith is established in Jesus Christ. We too have heard the message and heard the strange twist of God’s plan of salvation for His people. As we gather later tonight on a glorious silent night, we will rejoice at the revealed mystery that has set us free from death and gifted us instead with life through the life of the Christ child born to save us all.