Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 24, 2023

Romans 16:25-27 Commentary

As I read and contemplated this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson, my mind drifted almost immediately to “famous last words.” But almost as quickly as it drifted there, it also sped to the realization that most people don’t remember many last words. Perhaps that has something to do with most last words’ content and focus.

I plan to retire from active parish ministry in about six months. I’ve chosen my sermon texts through the time that I will, God willing, retire. So I’ve already begun to think a bit about my own last words for the church that has so lovingly cared for my family and me for more than 25 years.

They likely won’t be as prescient as Nostradamus’ “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.” My last words for my church won’t be as poignant as Leonardo da Vinci’s, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” My last words certainly won’t be as humorous as Groucho Marx’s “This is no way to live!”

I’ve, in fact, come to conclude that if God’s people in the church I serve are to remember anything of my final words to them, those words will need to focus on God. So I could do far worse than to offer something like Paul’s final words to the Romans: “To the only wise God be the glory forever through Jesus Christs” (27).

Of course, some scholars wonder if those are, in fact, actually Paul’s words to the Romans. But I don’t think worshipers are interested in a discourse on biblical criticism on Christmas Eve – if ever. What’s more, I’m sure that no matter who actually penned the words “to God be the glory,” those inspired words are consistent with Paul’s perspective on and posture before God.

I don’t imagine that many pastors will choose to preach on Romans 16:25-27 as a stand-alone text on Christmas Eve. Yet even if this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson only serves as one of this Sunday’s readings, the Spirit can use it to help inform preachers’ proclamation of a more Christmas-oriented text.

In Romans 16:27 Paul sings, “To the only wise God [mono sopho Theo]* be glory [doxa] forever [eis tou aionas] through Jesus Christ! Amen.” As we prepare to proclaim this gospel, preachers might bear in mind a couple of grammatical quirks that we don’t necessarily need to share with hearers.

Verse 27’s Greek is part of a sentence that stretches back to verse 25. So were a grammarian to grade Paul, she might fail him for penning a run-on sentence. What’s more, verse 27 contains no verb in the Greek. When translations like the NIV add “to the only wise God be” to it, they’re inferring something from what Paul does write. On top of all that, as my colleague Scott Hoezee has noted ( verses 25-27 technically form an incomplete run-on sentence. He compares it to saying something like, “The mailman, whom we all know …”

So, prompted and led by the Holy Spirit, what might preachers do with this on Christmas Eve, 2023? We might choose to point to one of today’s two suggested Lectionary readings for today. After all, in Luke 2:9 the gospel writer observes that “the glory of the Lord [doxa Kyriou] shone around [perielampsen]” the shepherds, leaving them terrified.

Preachers might also note Romans 16:27’s link to Luke 2:14’s angels’ announcement and celebration of Jesus’ birth. There, after all, they praise God by saying, “Glory [doxa] to God in the highest [hypstisois].” (Interestingly enough, just as in Romans 16:27, there’s no verb in the angels’ announcement).

It’s as if the Spirit inspires Luke to note that when the angels contemplate the Second Person of the Trinity’s Incarnation, they see God’s glory. Yet when people somehow glimpse that glory, it often leaves us, like the shepherds, scared out of our wits.

As preachers help our hearers think about God’s “glory,” we might note that, as the biblical scholar John Frederick points out (, our concepts of glory may hinder our understanding of God’s glory. God’s glory isn’t the adoration that we sometimes crave for ourselves or grudgingly offer other people. Instead, Jesus’ friends link God’s glory to God’s character. In Romans 16 Paul professes that God is, quite simply, glorious.

It’s, however, not easy to precisely define the nature of God’s glory. It’s one of those terms that preachers and scholars use often, but define seldom. But perhaps we might land somewhere near here: God’s glory is, at least in part, what was mysterious for millennia but now God has “revealed [phanerothentos] and made known [gnoristhentos]” through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God so that all nations might believe and obey him” (26). We see, in other words, at least some of God’s glory in God’s utter determination to show God’s ways to God’s people of all sorts of backgrounds. That, in turn, offers God’s adopted sons and daughters ample reason to join the Paul, the Christmas angels, the shepherds (Luke 2:20) and the saints of all ages, in glorifying God, not just on Christmas Eve and Day, but forever and ever.

Yet when Romans 16:27’s Paul speaks of God’s glory, he doesn’t directly link it to the Incarnation. He, instead, ties it to God’s “establishment” [sterixei] of his Roman readers by God’s “gospel” [euangelion] and the proclamation [kerygma] of Jesus Christ” (25). The apostle, in other words, glimpses some of God’s glory in the way that God both strengthens God’s people and ensures that Jesus Christ is preached to them.

Paul’s reference to “the revelation [apokalypsin] of the mystery [mysteriou] hidden for long ages past” is itself, ironically, mysterious. The mystery, after all, doesn’t lie in God’s plans to rescue the creation and its creatures. It lies, more likely, instead in the way God chose to carry that out: through the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The apostle implies that the Spirit gifts God’s beloved people with the faith that sees in the “prophetic writings” [graphon propheticon] (26) testimonies to the coming Christ.

In fact, Paul adds, God didn’t just unveil that mystery for God’s Jewish people. God also gloriously revealed the truth of God’s saving work so that “all nations [panta ta ethne] might believe [pisteos] and obey [hypakoen] him” (26b). The apostle, in other words, glimpses some of God’s glory in the way that God equips people of all ethnic backgrounds to receive God’s rescue with their faith that results in their obedience. The news of not only Jesus’ birth, but also his life, death and resurrection is, indeed, glorious news for the whole creation.

That, suggests Paul, is more than enough to provoke within God’s adopted children the offering of glory to God. Given the fact that Luke reports that the shepherds went back to work after seeing the Christ child “glorifying [doxazontes] and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (2:20), that provides a fitting way to end a message on Christmas Eve morning – as well as any other day.

*I have here and elsewhere added in brackets the Greek words for the English words the NIV translation uses.


William Manchester wrote a scintillating biography of American General Douglas MacArthur entitled, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur: 1880-1964. In it he vividly describes MacArthur’s concept of glory.

Manchester writes how people like MacArthur would “[slog] in the mud, enduring filth, living in stinking clothing and crawling over jagged soil under crisscrosses of barbed wire to have a bloody dash with a bestial enemy.” “Why?” asks Manchester. “The explanation was that men like MacArthur, raised to believe in Victorian heroism, invested even the nightmare of trench warfare with extravagant chimeras of fantastic glory.”


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