The fourth Sunday in Advent needs to channel its inner Rodney Dangerfield: It just gets no respect!
Let’s face it, even in those Christian churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary this coming Sunday will end up being far less Advent 4 and much, much more “The big Sunday before Christmas Extravaganza.” There will be choirs singing anthems, with maybe a bell choir and/or children’s choir for good measure. Bigger congregations might even have a small orchestra to accompany the organ. Naturally, congregants will revel in singing familiar Christmas carols. Typically attendance at this Sunday-morning service draws the second-largest (trailing only Easter Sunday). True, Christmas Eve draws a big crowd but it’s “Christmas Sunday” that provides the chance to dress up in holiday finery.
I’m probably just being too cynical about it because, after all, no matter what I say (or what anybody else says) that’s what’s going to happen in churches far and wide this Sunday. Even though lectionary-based churches will read the Advent 4 scripture passages, the overwhelming message for the day is “Jesus is born!” So, enjoy it everybody.
For my purpose here, however, let’s focus on Advent 4, starting with the Gospel lection from Matthew:
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 fulfill 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. –Matthew 1:18-25 NRS
Joseph is the often-neglected character in all the Jesus infancy narratives. That’s too bad, because there’s actually much to appreciate in his involvement.
He could have quietly backed out of the whole enterprise, of course, to protect the reputation of his betrothed, Mary, as well as himself. But he didn’t, all because of a remarkable dream. In the Bible dreams are often the way God communicates, and this dream tells us a lot about Jesus and his mission.
Matthew draws on imagery from Isaiah concerning the promise of God’s saving power, to be expressed with the birth to a young woman of a male child to be named Immanuel (the Greek form of the name is “Emmanuel”). He uses the word “virgin” because that’s how the Greek-language Bible (the Septuagint) uses the word. The Hebrew, however, could mean virgin but is more likely “young woman.” This is an area on which many folks in the past 2,000 years having gotten stuck, theologically speaking. Some have made it a test-case for “true Christian belief.” Let’s not take that detour.
What’s most important here is that Joseph did as the angel in the dream told him. While we have no way of knowing just how much influence Joseph had on the childhood of Jesus, we do know that he was a God-fearing man. That says a lot right there.
With Jesus God would “be with” humankind in a new, intimate, mysterious, and remarkable way. This was the ultimate game-changer. Everything would hinge on this “God with us” aspect. Perhaps that is the great take-away for Advent 4. We human beings would no longer be alone, without hope or direction, simply living our allotted days out in an often-dreary world.
Everything changed. And Joseph was a key player in that.
- Advent 4: Year A (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
- 4th Sunday of Advent 2013 (mswseasons.wordpress.com)
- Tuesday Lectionary Leanings~It’s Joseph’s turn edition (revgalblogpals.org)
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Francesca Battistelli (girlfriendscoffeehour.com)
- “God With Us”; scripture and questions for Dec. 22 (plymouthspirit.wordpress.com)
- O, Come, O Come, Emmanuel (brentkuhlman.wordpress.com)
- Jesus Was a Nobody (smithnrs96.wordpress.com)
My book, What Was Paul Thinking? (Isaacs’ Press, 2010) is now discounted at both Amazon.com and Barnes& Noble.com in print ($10) and e-book ($5.99) editions. If you’ve ever wondered just what Apostle Paul was getting at (and let’s face it, Paul can be hard to understand and appreciate at times) this is a good place to start.