This is Paul's heartfelt prayer for a people he felt deep love for, and it is also a message of encouragement and hope which was not only relevant then but is just as relevant today.
Paul starts by pleading with the congregation. Don't consider yourselves any better than those Gentiles who have come to the faith. You might be Jews and yes, Jesus came to earth as a Jew living and ministering among Jews, but there were reasons for this that stretched way back to Abraham and the early Patriarchs. God's promises had to be fulfilled.
But God's promises were not just to the Jews, and to back up his argument Paul uses verses from the Jewish Scriptures - the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament - where there are definite references to God's future acceptance of the Gentiles into His family
"I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing praises to your name." And in another place it is written, "Rejoice, O you Gentiles, along with his people, the Jews." And yet again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; praise him, all you people of the earth." And the prophet Isaiah said, "The heir to David's throne will come, and he will rule over the Gentiles. They will place their hopes on him."
On the subject of unity, it's as simple as this, says Paul. Christ Jesus came into the world to save all men, and that 'all' includes not only you but also those others that you might frown at and think slightly less worthy of that saving grace.
A Spirit of unity is what is needed.
Paul pleads with his congregation in Rome to accept the basic premise that in God's eyes there is neither Jew nor Gentile but one people loved by God and accepted by God as equals.
In our Church today, beset by denominational differences and barriers to unity, where congregations and buildings are slowly crumbling, Paul's message comes as a timely reminder. Within any town, and this is particularly true in Wales where the number of places of worship are almost double that of the rest of the UK because of language issues, there are congregations who hardly ever meet. We are all part of the same Church, we all worship the same God, we all read the same Bible, all the main denominations would hopefully acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour. Yet differences, often lost in the mists of time keep us apart.
What does Paul say to us?
"So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God"
And why should we welcome and accept them?
"...then God will be glorified."
Not just so we can get to know them a bit better but 'for the glory of God'
As we leave Christmas, and travel forward into a new year at a speed that seems frightening, Paul brings us down to earth with a timely reminder of what it's all about.
Christ came into this world for a purpose, it was not on a whim that God decided that he would do this. There was a very real purpose, and that was to bring mankind back into a relationship with its creator, back into God's family just as the prodigal son was welcomed back into his father's house.
Jesus did not just come to bring salvation to the Jews, although he came as a Jew and lived among Jews. It is clear from Jesus' own words, and Paul shows the Scriptural basis for believing this that Jesus came that all might know the saving grace of God.
And that's the message at the heart of our faith. God came to earth, taking the form of a human being to bring hope to a world that had lost its way, lost the plot.
Paul goes on in this passage to sum up his hopes for the congregation in Rome
"So I pray that God, who gives you hope, will keep you happy and full of peace as you believe in him. May you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit"
What a prayer to offer up for loved ones, and what a prayer for us to read and say aloud for ourselves
The world needs hope at this moment. Since the 9/11 atrocity hope has become a somewhat rare commodity to be replaced by unease and fear. A programme on the Brooklyn Bridge showed people who were refusing to walk over it for fear of a bomb attack. The rest of the world waits with unease as the United States decides how far they are willing to go in their quest to destroy terrorist organisations. There is continuing tension within the Middle East.
Closer to home we continue to see pictures on our TV screens of children who have suffered at the hands of adults, old folk mugged for small amounts of money. Drugs continue to fuel the shoplifting figures and car crime statistics. A recent police strike against the drug dealers in one of our towns led to a drop of up to 50% in related crime on property and shoplifting.
This is the world in which we live. It is difficult sometimes to see within it the hope and peace and joy that Paul wished upon his listeners, but that is the challenge that faces us as Christians.
It's told that there was a cabinet meeting in the darkest days of the last war, just after France had capitulated. Winston Churchill outlined the situation in the starkest colours. Britain stood alone. There was a silence when he finished speaking, and no doubt on the faces of many there was despair, perhaps some ready to give up the struggle. Winston Churchill looked around and said 'Gentlemen, I find it rather inspiring'
And there is something within the Christian message that can echo Paul's word of hope even within the darkest of days. God is there, above all that mankind can do to spoil creation, and there is no situation that can be counted as hopeless while there is the grace of Jesus and the peace and power of God present in the world.
But there is more to Christian faith than hope for now or the immediate future. Our hope rests in the Kingdom of God and the promise of an eternity spent in the presence of God. Our hope is in the now and the hereafter. In the now because the Kingdom of God is wherever God is allowed to reign, and if that is in your heart then you are living in the Kingdom. It looks to the hereafter because that is the promise of the New Testament 'He who believes HAS eternal life'
Our hope lies in the victory of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection. It grows as we start to trust God's promises and act upon them, and then adds two other benefits, peace and joy
The NIV translates v13 "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him"
This hope is a dynamic thing, as indeed is faith itself - it grows as we grow. The Scriptures talk of us starting off as children in the faith and then growing as we begin to be fed on spiritual food. And it is the maturity that comes with this growth that can help us to face those important moments in our lives when doubts and fears creep in.
Paul wishes his readers. But what do we mean by 'joy'? Is it that brief moment of present giving and receiving, or the welcoming of friends and relatives into our homes for the Christmas period? Or is it more than these?
In the world 'joy' seems inextricably joined with 'longing'. We long for something for ages, we get it and there is a pause in our longing as we enjoy the moment of possession. But it's often only a moment and then the longing comes back, directed towards something else, and we're caught in this endless cycle of emotional ups and downs.
Can you relate to this? There seem to be so many people out there who are caught up in this. You see them constantly flicking through the pages of catalogues, wondering whether to they ought to be replacing the washing machine they bought 2 or 3 years ago because it hasn't got the latest add-ons. Or wandering round car showrooms because the stereo in their present one isn't working as well as it might.
Christian joy, based as Paul says on a God of hope, is not dependent on things or possessions. Our joy comes from the knowledge and certainty of God's presence in our lives, and the certain knowledge that nothing - no September 11th, or illness or personal problems can separate us from the love of God.
And it is this Good News, of God's eternal love for all mankind, this joy, that Paul wants the congregation to extend to all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, whether Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Catholic or whatever.
Mankind erected the barriers; Christ died to break them down.
Paul not only wishes his listeners joy. He also wishes them peace. There seem to be two barriers to mankind knowing this peace that Paul talks about. One is the tension that pervades our lives. Newspaper stories of atrocities, editorials telling us how badly off we are compared to other countries even when we feel perfectly comfortable, scare stories about health issues and all the other means that editors have at their disposal to up the sales of their paper. We worry, it's inevitable, and these worries mean that there is a tension in our lives which distances us from God's peace - that serenity, that inner strength that can combat the knocks that we get day by day.
The other reason that we struggle to find peace is that there is an inner tension, and that is more to do with where we are spiritually in our walk with God. If we have committed ourselves fully to Him, if we have emptied ourselves of self and opened ourselves to be filled with His Spirit then there is no room for this tension in our lives. We probably all know of people who seem to have this quality, an inner peace and tranquillity. But this is something that should be the experience of us all, because the power to achieve this inner peace is available through the power of God's Spirit living in us.
"So I pray that God, who gives you hope, will keep you happy and full of peace as you believe in him. May you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit."
Within this passage from Paul's letter to the Church in Rome we have a very real message for today. It comes with a heartfelt prayer of hope, peace and joy for all of mankind. It also comes with the hope for unity among believers, not just so that they might get along better together, but so that God's name might be glorified through this unity.