Fourth Sunday of Advent
Introduction and Call to Worship
As God’s people we look in faith for signs of God’s presence in our world. Come, let us worship God who is near.
First Reading Isaiah 7:10-16
God offers a sign to the people, a child to be born, to tell them that they are not alone or forsaken but that God will be with them and that the child will be called Immanuel – “God is with us”.
Second Reading Romans 1:1-7
When God offers a sign that God is in the world it is not offered to Jews alone but to all the peoples of the world.
Gospel Matthew 1:18-end
God’s sign is complicated – the child will be born to unmarried parents. It takes a message from God before Joseph is willing to continue with such an audacious plan.
HOMILY “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.” (Matthew 1:20)
He was a righteous man.
A Bishop once came to preach a pre-Christmas sermon and like so many visitors, just before he was about to speak, he tapped the microphone to see if it was working: deadly silence; so next he tried gently blowing on it...once again nothing. Getting to the end of his tether, he turned towards a rather nervous looking parish priest and boomed ‘there’s something wrong with this sound system’ to which the congregation, who by now were desperately wondering what an earth was going on, all responded in a loud voice ‘and also with you’.
I know this is an old joke, which has probably done the rounds many times before, but I wanted to share it with you this morning as it shows how easy it is for us all to slip into automatic pilot. Today the Church’s calendar invites us to focus our attention upon the earthly mother of Jesus, St Mary, and given that there has been a community meeting here in Thorpe for over 1000 years in a building dedicated to St Mary, it was very tempering for me to offer you a few thoughts on how St Mary might spiritually inspire and equip us as we enter the season of Christmas.
However, as a step-father myself, I have a strong devotion to the often overlooked member of the Holy Family, St Joseph.. which is why I have an icon of him on my Ordination Stole.
And so, this morning, I thought it would be helpful if we explored together the ways in which St Joseph can strengthen our Christian faith. Just before the few verses that make up this morning’s Gospel passage, St Matthew goes to great length researching and recording the family tree of St Joseph, tracing it back to the origins of humanity as represented in the character of Adam. This, you may be thinking, is all very well and good for a Jewish audience, who would have been able to recognize many of the people contained in this list; but what, if anything, does it have to say to us as we try to live out our Christian faith here in Surrey. I would like to suggest it reminds us that as baptised Christians we are now part of an essential and eternal link that is charged with the exciting challenge of passing on the faith which existed since the beginning of time. Christianity is not, as some might think, an inward looking, self-centred means of coping with the reality of life; rather it is a positive, transformative and empowering way of life which God wants us to share with others.
So how do we pick up and run with the command to share Christianity with others? Let’s have a look at what St Joseph did: In verse 20 he listened to God, as he reassuringly told him not to be afraid. So what was St Joseph so afraid of? He clearly loved his wife- to- be, Mary, as otherwise he wouldn’t have thought twice about behaving like a tabloid journalist and publicly shaming her fall from grace; perhaps, like all of us, he was simply worried about what people might say about him. It doesn’t matter that this account was written in a different culture, many centuries ago...people or people, and nobody enjoys being ridiculed or setting themselves up for a lifetime of uncertainty; but at the end of the day, as many of us know just like St Joseph, when God sets us on a mission he never abandons us.
And so, with a mixture of emotions, St Joseph embarks upon his God-given calling to support his heavily pregnant wife- to -be. Scripture doesn’t see the need to share with us how St Joseph must have been feeling inside as he begins this next chapter of his life. Did his family disown him? Did his work colleagues and friends make fun of him behind his back? Who knows...but what St Matthew does tell us is that St Joseph had the courage and humility to accept God’s invitation. He was willing to put his initial plans to one side and, regardless of the personal cost, he freely invites God to be in full control of his and his family’s destiny. Although none of us sitting here this morning have been called to physically support St Mary within the setting of a marital home, God has a longing that we too might be willing to prayerfully listen, accept and respond to his request to play our part in making Christ’s salvation known, not just over this festive season but in the months and years ahead. Now thankfully, we are all unique and therefore God isn’t going to call us to service him and his church in exactly the same way. It’s also worthwhile remembering that St Joseph’s call came at a time when he thought he had his whole life all mapped out. So, perhaps when we get a moment, we might think about praying to St Joseph this Christmas and asking him to discern how God truly wants us to fulfil his desire for us. Are we being steered towards ordination, parenthood or a relationship, or a variety of equally important ministries? One thing is certain: just like St Joseph found out, life with God in the driving seat is full of surprises – which is why being a Christian is so much fun.
Names of places and people are more than simply words, but conjure up meanings and associations that take us deeper into reality. Emmanuel is not just a name but carries promise of “God is with us” deep in its heart.
God’s engagement with creation is full and fleshly. God gets “down and dirty” with us and is not shamed by it. Nor should we be.
Our healing comes when we are part of that community with God which looks to embrace others and does not discriminate.