Tuesday, December 13, 2016

4th Sunday of Advent

Throughout this season of advent we have been focused on the ancient prophecy of the coming of a messiah, and how in Jesus we have the fulfillment of that prophecy.  This Fourth Sunday of Advent is no different as we read more about what to expect with the coming of this savior:

Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Romans 1:1-7
Mathew 1:18-24

Our first reading is again from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  This week we go back to an earlier time where King Ahaz is in trouble.  The Assyrian Empire is on the move.  The Northern Kingdom of Israel is under threat and King Ahaz of Judah is concerned that Jerusalem and his kingdom are next.  Rival forces are converging on Jerusalem so Isaiah is called by the Lord to go and meet with Ahaz and begs him to stand firm in his faith in the Lord.  Ahaz, on the other hand, is more comfortable putting his trust in the might of the Assyrians.  Our passage this Sunday picks up the story.  The Lord is upset with Ahaz, and is trying to give him one last chance to repent… to “ask for a sign from the Lord your God.”  While God sees this as an opportunity for reconciliation, Ahaz doesn’t take the bait, which causes God to get angry (…is it not enough for you to weary people…”), and in a show of power, tells Ahaz that “as a sign” a virgin will give birth, bear a son, and name him Emmanuel, which means “God Saves” (which is “Yehoshua” in ancient Hebrew, or “Jesus” from the Ancient Greek).  This is a power play between Ahaz and God… with God saying, “If you can’t trust me, I will send someone who does.”  Our Psalm follows through on that sentiment as we sing, “Let the Lord enter; he is king of glory.”  If we put our trust and faith in the Lord above all others, we can’t lose.

Our second reading from the opening of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Here Paul states unequivocally that in Christ Jesus we have this long promised messiah… a descendant of King David, but a king that belongs to everyone, including the Gentiles and the beloved people of God in Rome.  Perhaps equally important is how Paul describes himself to this Roman Church… as “a slave of Christ Jesus,” a sentiment that many of these early Roman Christians understood well.  By Paul placing himself as a slave to the Gospel, he also clearly establishes understanding that no one of us is above another, except for the Lord.

Our  Gospel from Matthew then goes on to explain the birth of Jesus, using those very same words prophesied by Isaiah in our first reading.  It’s no coincidence that Matthew made this connection to the original prophecy.  We need to remember that Matthew’s original audience was Jewish.  As such, a Jewish audience would know and remember these words from Isaiah, and Matthew is quick to make the connection from that older prophecy to that of Jesus.  This is typical of Matthew, drawing on the words of the prophets to reinforce his evangelization, to show his Jewish followers that Jesus is indeed the one who was foretold would come.

For us Christians, it is a reminder for us both of Jesus’ immaculate conception, and Joseph’s willingness to accept this calling.  It needs to be noted that Joseph, by Mosaic Law, did not have to accept Mary after learning of her pregnancy, and was well within the Law to have her stoned to death.  Not only was he willing to spare her shame, he willingly accepted God’s messenger and took her into his care.  This act of compassion is a sign of the Kingdom of God that is to come, and reminds us that our duty is to serve one another.

Final thoughts:
The length of the season of Advent is a function of the calendar.  Depending on which day of the week December 25th falls determines how long the final week of advent will be.  Because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year we get to experience a full fourth week of Advent (as opposed to when Christmas falls on a Monday, as it will next year, where we go from the Fourth Sunday of Advent straight into Christmas the next day).  This extra-long Advent gives us a chance to slow down and ponder what it means to have this ancient prophecy fulfilled, and how this child Jesus was a King in the most unexpected of ways, coming into the world in the most humblest of ways.

Looking around the neighborhood I can see signs of this extra-long Advent.  What a difference a week can make!  Everyone seems a little less rushed.  Where houses are normally brilliantly lighted and decorated right after Thanksgiving, many didn’t get their lights up until this past weekend.  Stores are busy, but they don’t seem to have the level of panic that I’ve seen in years past.  Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for this opportunity to experience Advent a little while longer… and taking advantage of this extra full week to ease into the bustle of the Christmas season and the new year that is to come!

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