Fourth Sunday in Advent

18th December 2022

Reflection (the readings follow on below)

Ahaz was king of Judah, the southern half of what had been the unified Israel. The kings of the adjoining lands of Israel (the northern kingdom) and of Aram (a western neighbour) wanted Ahaz to join forces with them and overrun the larger – richer – Assyrian nation. Isaiah’s counsel had been that Ahaz should not join the conflict but place his trust and the safety of Judah in the hands of God. Ahaz decided ask for help of the Assyrians, who did then rout the kings of Israel and Aram but in return demanded Judah became one of Assyria’s vassal nations. 

Ahaz was unwilling to ask help from God, and unable to choose between good and evil. 

That the  stories we read of in the Bible are rooted in real history is important. It certainly is for Paul who, in his letter to the Roman congregations, is keen to remind them that Jesus was descended from David, ie that there was a human earthiness or rootedness to Jesus. And then with equal historical certainty, he talks of that same Jesus as the one resurrected from the dead through, as the one who is the Son of God. And further that that same Jesus fills his followers with grace. This is the mystery of Christmas: that Jesus, who is of God, is also of humankind, and is God with us, and God in us. 

Another message that today’s readings give us is about being open to God, willing to hear and receive God’s word – indeed God’s Word. Ahaz is reluctant to listen to either God or God’s prophet. He is reluctant to place his trust in God. Paul, in contrast, has learnt to trust solely and absolutely in God, to be ever open to God’s will, ever open to receiving power and grace from God, through Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel both Mary and Joseph are open to trusting in and doing God’s will – whether that be  bearing a child  or being seen as a cuckold. I am particularly intrigued that is through the medium of a dream that Joseph hears God’s word. Prayer is  about openness, about clearing one’s mind of chit chat and buzz, which is also what one does before falling asleep. Both now in Advent and in the busy season of Christmas, it is good to clear our minds and make time for God.

Isaiah 7:10-16

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.

3 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.

6 You have made us the derision of our neighbours, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 1:18-25

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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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