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Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 4, Year A

"This lection is, of course, one of the prime passages used and preached on during the Christmas season. The challenge is to say something fresh but yet familiar and reassuring about it."
Ben Witherington

Matthew 1:18-25
18 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. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But 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. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus online text
Textweek general resources
Textweek r
esources for Matthew’s Gospel this Sunday

Some interesting articles on this passage:
William Loader’s thoughts 
Chris Haslam 
Working Preacher 
Great treasures website, parallel bible

God of mystery whom no eye can see, you yourself have given us a sign we can behold: te virgin is with child and bears a son whose name is Emmanuel, for god is with us.  Plant within our hearts your living Word of promise, that, into a world grown weary of empty dreams and broken promises, we may bring forth the living presence of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. God for ever and ever. Amen
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts
The stage is set and Matthew is our guide: "Now the birth of the Messiah took place in this way."  The Genesis of the Messiah took place in this way...
Daniel J. Harrington, a Roman Catholic priest and scholar, in his text on Matthew's Gospel points out a few important pieces of information that help to make sense of the Birth narrative.
    1. Jews of Jesus' time understood marriage as a civil contract. Joseph and Mary and their families have rights.
    2. Betrothal had legal consequences and was arranged through elders in families, and the two parties were in their early teens.
    3. In Matthew's Gospel the two are living separately, Mary with her parents. Joseph visits from time to time.
    4. Reviewing Deut 22:23-27, we understand that at first glance Mary has broken the betrothal and should be put to death. We don't know how often this was carried out.
    5. Divorce proceedings were typically easy and included a written document.
    6. An angel who is a messenger comes to visit Joseph.
    7. Such a visit most often was described in ancient times through dreams.  In continuity with other great leaders of Israel the angel gives a message with the identity of the child and the name.  We see this with Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon and Josiah.
    8.  There are many questions about lineage and birth.  Is the idea of Jesus' virginal conception a response to a charge of illegitimacy or is what leads to the charge? Regardless, early Christians believe in the virginal conception of Jesus and it remains one of the oldest and most ancient traditions about Jesus and his birth. (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 36ff)
    All of these things are important because the point is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient tradition of Israel.  Matthew, as an author, will use this theme throughout his text: 1.23, 2.5, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:9. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 38)  Just as in last week's comment from Jesus that John the Baptist belongs to a prophetic age, here in today's reading we see that Jesus himself is the culmination of and the new beginning for Israel.
    It is out of this theme of fulfillment that Joseph becomes for us a major character of the Advent season.  Joseph is almost the "everyman" of the Gospel.  I imagine him not unlike many of the new members of the Matthean community or new members today.  Like Joseph they had some sense of the past. Like many others, Joseph is a good guy. He is wrestling with some pretty weighty stuff.  He is struggling to understand and discern how to take the next steps in life.  He has a religious experience. He becomes aware that God is with us - specifically with him.  God is Emmanuel. Joseph awoke, and his awakening was in more ways than one. He decides to take different a course and to follow the Word of God that came to him.
    Some might want to go into a discussion about the creed and belief in the virgin birth. I love that conversation.  But I think a more interesting conversation and train of thought is how Joseph represents the life of one entering into community with other Christians and Jesus. I find it revealing to sit and ponder the idea that in this reception of the message that God is with him and the reception of the incarnation, Joseph goes from being a man who, within his rights divorces a woman, to the earthly father of Jesus and a key actor in his lineage and birth. What a precarious moment this is! What an amazing view of how one person's action determines the future.
    I am sitting in my study at home as I write this and looking at one of the many manger scenes dotting our shelves and tables.  It is Joseph who is there - not someone else.
    As our Gospel began "Now the genesis of the Messiah took place in this way..." we can see how the genesis of the incarnation takes place in the life of Joseph. We might look at our own lives and see how the genesis of God was rooted in our lives or is taking a place in our lives.  How is the arrival of God in our lives remaking our own story and our own narrative? How is the incarnation of God the fulfillment of our life lived up until this moment?
    God is with us; this is the foundation of the Good News of Salvation. The incarnation is the fulfillment of our past and the promise of our future.  It changes our perspective on the world and changes what we do with our lives. The incarnation changes our relationship with others and causes us to act differently, perhaps even going against what is justly our right.  The incarnation is a powerful revelation and in this season of expectation Joseph stands before us as one transformed by its message, meaning and invitation and in that moment of action Joseph reshapes the narrative of Good News.  Yes, Joseph is everyman and he is a symbol of our potential and possibility.  He is a symbol of faithful action deeply rooted in the message, the Word of God, which proclaims: God is with us, together we are reborn, together the world is changed and the continuing narrative spun and re spun.

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
     Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website:
     Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

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