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Advent 4, December 19, 2010

Advent 4 Year A RCL December 19, 2010

Isaiah 7: 10-16
Psalm 80: 1-7; 16-18
Romans 1: 1-7
Matthew 1: 18-25

In Our first lesson today, King Ahaz of Judah is in a terrible political bind. The northern kingdom of Israel has united with Syria against the powerful and ruthless Assyrian Empire and they are threatening Ahaz with destruction unless he joins them. Isaiah, speaking as the prophet of God, is telling Ahaz to rely on God for help and stay neutral in this conflict. The suggestion here is to trust in God and do nothing to try to fix the situation. A difficult thing to do.

Ahaz does not want to listen to Isaiah or to God. He has his own ideas. His motto is, “I have made up my mind. Please don’t confuse me with the facts.” Isaiah offers as proof of God’s care and involvement the promise that a young woman will bear a child who will be named Immanuel, God with us. As Christians we associate this promise with the birth of Jesus. Incidentally, Ahaz ignored Isaiah, slipped out of taking any advice from God by saying he did not want to put God to the test, made an alliance with Assyria, and was eventually defeated by that empire. How difficult it is for us to listen to God at times. How challenging it is do to nothing, to just pray, to simply pay attention, wait, and be alert for God’s word and presence and guidance.

We are very close to Christmas now, and the gospel is telling us about the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s point of view. He and Mary are betrothed, engaged. In those days, this was the equivalent of being married. When Joseph hears that Mary is going to have a baby, imagine how he feels. What can he think but that she has broken her vows to him, that she has been unfaithful? What a shock. Joseph knows Mary very well. We know Mary very well, and we know that she is not someone who takes commitments lightly. She gave birth to Jesus, she raised him, she followed and supported him, and, when many of his followers ran away, she and a few others stood at the foot of the cross. So, knowing all this, we know that Joseph must have been hurt and filled with disbelief. This is not like Mary. Yet she is pregnant. Something must be done. He is a good and decent man. He decides to divorce her quietly. No scandal. No publicity.

But now Joseph has a dream. In the Bible God often speaks to people in dreams. The angel tells Joseph that this baby is the son of God. Joseph is a very different man from someone like Ahaz. Joseph is a deeply spiritual person open to God. Later on, he will have another dream, which will save their lives and ours, the dream that tells him to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt. Joseph, like Mary, is an extremely courageous human being who totally trusts in God and follows God’s direction without question. So Joseph and Mary are married.

Immanuel, God with us. This is the name of this baby who is to be born. God is always with us. Do we, like Ahaz, put our own agenda ahead of God’s guidance? Do we say, “Thanks, God, but I think I can do this myself. I’ll call you when I need you.” We seem to have an innate tendency to want to take everything into our own hands. We sometimes fail to realize how limited our vision is in comparison with God’s vision. Ahaz is a clear example of that tendency.

Can we be like Joseph, always listening for God’s guidance? What an excellent example he is. His whole life is falling apart. The person he trusts the most in the whole world has, it seems, betrayed him. He is desolate, beside himself. Embarrassed, humiliated. An angel of the Lord tells him want is really going on. It is not as it appears at all. On the human level, there is only one explanation. But on God’s level things are very different. What if Joseph had not been able to believe? What if Joseph had not had so much faith? What if Joseph had not been a man of prayer, open to God’s presence? What if Joseph had been like Ahaz?

Can we move our attention from the human level to the divine level? Can we listen for God? Can we give up our agendas and see what God has to say? Can we quiet down? Can we look up at the night sky as the shepherds did and listen for the immensity of God’s love and good tidings? Can we dare to hope?

Gracious God, open the eyes of our faith and the inns of our hearts so that, when he comes, we nay have a place prepared for him. Amen.

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