Fourth Sunday of Advent-A  – December 19, 2010 – 8 a.m. Service of Holy Eucharist, Rite I

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

It is finally the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  For me it has felt like a long journey.  The first three Sundays were dedicated to John the Baptist and his role in preparing the way for Jesus’ ministry.  But that was a grown-up Jesus.

The Gospel for today was end of the first chapter of Matthew, starting with verse 18.  What we didn’t read today were the first seventeen verses of Matthew.  The Gospel of Matthew begins with:

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David,

The whole purpose of this genealogy is to stress that Jesus was a son of David. In the Book of Acts, Peter says it in the first recorded sermon of the Christian Church. In the Book of Romans, Paul speaks of Jesus Christ, descended from David according to the flesh.  Repeatedly Jesus is so addressed.  Following the healing of the blind and dumb man, the people exclaim, “Can this be the son of David?”  The woman of Tyre and Sidon, who wished for Jesus’ help for her daughter, calls him: “Son of David.”  Over and over again this occurs.  It is as a descendant of David that the crowds greet Jesus when he enters Jerusalem for the last time.

There is something of great significance here.  It was the crowd, the common people, the ordinary folk, who addressed Jesus as son of David.  Why is it so important to link Jesus back to David?  Well, the Jewish people were a waiting people. They never forgot, and never could forget, that they were the chosen people of God. Although their history was one long series of disasters; although at this very time they were people subjected to Roman rule, they never forgot their destiny.  And it was the dream of the common people that into this world would come a descendant of David who would lead them to the glory that they believed to be theirs by right.

But by far the most amazing thing about this genealogy is the names of the women who appear in it. It’s not normal to find the names of women in Jewish lineage.  A woman had no legal rights: she was regarded, not as a person, but as a thing.  She was merely a possession of her father or her husband and at his disposal to do with as he liked. In the regular form of Morning Prayer, the Jew thanked God that he had not made him a Gentile, a slave or a woman.

And the women listed are truly amazing:  Rahab was harlot of Jericho.  Ruth was not even a Jew she was a Moabite.  Ruth belonged to an alien and a hated people.  Tamar was a deliberate seducer and an adulteress.  Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, was the woman whom David seduced from Uriah, her husband.

Here at the beginning of Matthew we are given a hint of the all-embracing width of the love of God and the indication that God can find his servants among the most unlikely candidates.

However the importance of this lineage is to show the royalty of kingship; to point to the one to come, Jesus, son of David, born of Mary and Joseph, who comes from royalty, the House of David, the first King of the Jews.

Matthew’s beginning is awkward.  His story of how Joseph is told of this pending birth seems a bit unbelievable at best.  And, although today it is more common than ever that young women have children without being married, it remains a remarkable story.  It makes the sequence out of order.  However, perhaps an explanation of Jewish tradition can put this in proper perspective.

  1. There was the engagement. This usually occurred when the couple were only children and was usually arranged by their parents or a matchmaker.  Often the couple had never seen each other.  Marriage was too serious a step to be left to the dictates of the human heart.
  2. Next, the betrothal.  What does a betrothal actually mean in the Jewish tradition?  It means to contract an actual, though incomplete, marriage.  In strict accordance with this sense the rabbinical law declares that the betrothal is equivalent to an actual marriage and can only be dissolved by a formal divorce.
  3. Finally the marriage ceremony or celebration took place at the end of the year of betrothal.

It is believed that somewhere during the betrothal Joseph discovered that Mary was to bear a child, and that the child had been begotten by the Holy Spirit, and that he must call the child by the name Jesus.  Jesus is the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua, and Joshua means Jehovah (God) is salvation.  Long ago the Psalmist had heard God say, “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Ps. 130:8).

And Joseph was told that the child to be born would grow into the Savior who would save God’s people from their sins.  Jesus was not so much The Man born to be King as The Man born to be Savior.  He came to this world, not for his own sake, but for us and for our salvation.

Putting it another way, Jesus is the only one who can tell us what God means us to be. Before Jesus came, people had some vague, and often wrong, ideas about God.  But Jesus could say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”  In Jesus we see the love, the compassion, the mercy, the seeking heart, the purity of God, as nowhere else in all this world.  Jesus came to tell us the truth about ourselves.

Emmanuel: “God with us.”  We know this story well.  We read it in church, we receive cards with beautiful art depicting the story, children re-enact the story all over the world.  Yes, we know the story.  We also know the rest of the story.  Every week we gather at this table where we receive bread and wine, the body and blood of our crucified Lord, Jesus Christ.  Every week we recall the events of Good Friday, His amazing resurrection and His glorious ascension.  We pledge ourselves, our bodies and our souls and pray that we may be worthy.  Yes, we know the story of Mary and Joseph and Jesus which is why I believe we always weep when we sing, “Silent night, holy night.”  A bit unorthodox for this service, I now ask you to take out a hymnal and turn to page 111.  God didn’t gift me with a singing voice so I need all of you to help as we sing together.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth “

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