The Fourth Sunday of Advent; Year A (12/18/2016)

Texts:Isaiah 7:10-16 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7) Romans 1:1-7 St. Matthew 1:18-25

Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that hinders our faith, that eagerly we may receive your promises, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

St. Matthew 1:18-25. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Brilliant! They Won’t Be Expecting That!

A number of years ago, for a Christmas season all-ages Sunday School event, we watched “An Unexpected Christmas” — the story of Christmas as told by the kids of St Paul's Church, Auckland, New Zealand. [You can watch the video here: An Unexpected Christmas] It is a lovely exploration of how God planned out and executed the story which stands at the center of the Christmas  season.

Angel from Auckland

While the heavenly host look on in anticipation at every step of the way, God suggests unexpected twists and turns that will take place as the Christ Child is introduced to the world. After each new revelation, a somewhat mischievous young angel with round eyeglasses blurts out, “Brilliant! They won’t be expecting that!”

So far this Advent we have been tending to messages about the end of time, and the ministry of John the Baptizer. But this weekend we turn our attention to the Christmas story itself. Not the familiar version from St. Luke (“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…“), but the less-well-known account from St. Matthew’s Gospel. And in this account, as the kids of Auckland would remind us, we discover that it is a surprising story indeed.

Mary and Joesph, a couple formally committed to marriage but not yet living as husband and wife, are looking forward to all that their life together will bring them. Who knows what hopes and dreams they carry? But it certainly doesn’t include the surprising way that God enters into their lives, and works through them to bring good news to the world. Mary discovers that she is “with child.” The child is not the offspring of Joseph, or of Mary’s infidelity, but of the Holy Spirit. Joseph receives this news and has every right to call her out publicly for not saving herself for him, but instead chooses to act more compassionately and let her go her own way. He subsequently has a bizarre dream, believes it to be the word of God, and embraces his role as Mary’s husband and as Jesus’ father as his personal call to ministry.

All of this seems quite familiar to those of us who have heard it year after year. But anyone coming upon this story for the very first time would be more likely to respond, with the young angel from Auckland, exclaiming, “I wasn’t expecting that!”

It is a surprising story. And perhaps most surprising: the belief that Almighty God, creator of the universe, the One with neither a beginning nor an end, chooses to become one of us, to experience the fullness of human life, to live and die among us, and to be raised from death, so that we too might receive new life.

Perhaps this year, as we prepare ourselves to hear the story once again, we might listen with new ears, and be surprised by the twists and turns of this remarkable, surprising, life-changing story.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How is this version of the story different from St. Luke’s version (Lk 2:1-20)?
  2. What must Mary have thought after the vision from the angel?
  3. Why does Joseph choose to interpret his dream as a personal message from God?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What surprises in this story do I often overlook?
  2. How do those surprises help me understand the ways of God?
  3. What surprising ways might God be at work in my world today?