Advent-4 (Yr A) Dec 22, 2019

Old Testament: 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.”




The Response: 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 neighbors, *

    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.




The New Testament: 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.





The Gospel: 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 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.





by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer


Around the year 735 BCE, Ahaz, the new king of Judah, clearly needed a savior.  The northern kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, had formed an alliance with the Syrians.  These two neighbors of Judah had decided to rebel against the empire of Assyria and wanted Judah to join with them.  Ahaz refused; but they were determined to force him to do so, and so they sent their armies against him to make him join in their revolt.


When they began threatening Judah with an attack from the north, Ahaz sent his army to repel them.  Sensing Judah’s vulnerability, neighboring Edom suddenly attacked Judah from the south.  Ahaz quickly found himself surrounded and outnumbered by these three nearby nations.  Desperate, Ahaz sent messengers to the king of Assyria, asking for his protection; in exchange, Judah would become Assyria’s vassal.


The prophet Isaiah then confronted Ahaz with a call to trust in God’s protection in this current crisis.  Then, looking toward the years ahead, he offered him God’s promise: a promise that a “young woman,” probably one of Ahaz’s wives, was now pregnant and would bear a son.  He would grow up to be a leader who would deliver Judah from her enemies for years to come.  He would, in effect, be a living sign of God’s presence with God’s people: “Immanuel,” “God with us.”  He would be the savior that Ahaz and the nation needed.


Some eight centuries later, a writer we know as “Matthew” would tell the story of a man in whom God seemed to be uniquely present among the people, a true “Emmanuel’ for all times.  According to Matthew’s account of that man’s origins, God had destined him to be known by the name “Jesus,” a form of the biblical name “Joshua” or “Jehoshua”: a name that means “Yahweh saves,” because, as his story insists, “he will save his people from their sins.”


In just two days, we will be joining with fellow Christians throughout the world in singing “Silent Night” with its joyful proclamation “Christ the Savior is born.”  In good, Christian tradition, we affirm that God in Jesus has come to save us.


But behind and prior to that declaration, there is a pair of questions.  Ahaz and the nation of Judah clearly needed saving from those who were attacking them.  But we need to stop and ask, “Do we need saving?” and, if so, “saved from what?”


In the past, a common approach to answering those questions would be to point to the idea of being saved from our sins, from those ways that we rebel against God, so that, when we die, we can go to heaven.  For some people, that explanation still works.


But in more recent years, many people of faith have returned to a more biblical view of our relationship with God: one that focuses on God’s call to us to live in accordance with the teachings of God for the sake of this world, not for some other.  Seen within that framework, we need to ask that question again.  What sort of saving do we need in our lives here and now?  And where does Jesus, in his life and teaching, open up to us that salvation?


We don’t usually see ourselves as needing to be saved.  We don’t usually see ourselves as trapped, like Ahaz, looking for someone to set us free.  We are already free – or are we?  Maybe, and maybe not.


There are plenty of people today, for example, who are locked into old prejudices about certain groups of people: prejudices based on nationality, language, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and practices, and so on.  Their attitudes and their fears about “those other people” keep them trapped within the circle of people who seem to be pretty much like them, afraid of those who seem to be different.  Those fears prevent them from being able to welcome and be enriched by those who have other backgrounds and perspectives and life experiences.  People like that are captives of their own fears and prejudices.


There are also people who are victims of their own supposed success in life.  They have good, solid, high-paying professions.  Some of them are able to integrate their work into the rest of their life: life with family, friends, and the wider community.  But others see their work primarily as a burden, as drudgery, consuming all the time and energy they have.  They no longer enjoy what they do.  It’s not how they want to spend their lives.  They think at times about getting out, about making a change — but they are being paid so well, and they just can’t bring themselves to give up that high income and the things that it buys for the sake of a better, happier life.  They, too, are held captive.


There are others who are confined by their past: by memories of old arguments and conflicts with family and former friends.  They are unable to forgive: unable to lay the past aside and move on.  In doing so, they allow themselves to remain trapped by events that may have taken place years before.  They build invisible, but very real, prison walls; and they find that they are not only the jailers, but also the prisoners, trapped behind those walls.


There are many different ways that people all around us — maybe including us — are not nearly so free as we like to think we are, many ways that we find ourselves held captive, many ways that we find ourselves needing to be set free, many ways that we need a savior.  And Jesus, whose birth we are about to celebrate, still comes to save us.


In offering us the gift of his teaching and his example, Jesus comes to set us free from all that holds us captive: to enable us to open ourselves up to the rich diversity of the human family, to choose those ways of life that bring us genuine happiness and fulfillment, to forgive others as God has forgiven us.   And, in doing so, Jesus the Savior offers to us the opportunity to enjoy the true freedom of the children of God.  In him, the God of Israel still comes to God’s people to set us free.