Monday, December 12, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)

The Collect of the Day
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The First Reading:  Isaiah 7:10-16
Our first reading is tied to our Gospel reading, in which Joseph is to proceed with his marriage to Mary and raise her son. The angel quotes from this passage about “the virgin” who is to conceive. There is a, translation problem with the use of “virgin” in the Gospel, which comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures with which Matthew would have been working, which translated “young woman” (in the original Hebrew) as “virgin” in Greek. The description of the dilemma in which King Ahaz finds himself can be read in 2 Kings 16:1-20.  This is taking place about 734 b.c.e. Hebrew scholars highly dispute the identity of the child described here. Christians have always seen this as a foretelling of Jesus. The difference between “Immanuel” and “Emmanuel,” is that the former spelling is Hebrew and the latter Greek.

7:10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 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. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 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.

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Our psalm today is a communal lament, calling on God as Shepherd to deliver the people from their enemies.  It follows on the first reading in that it invokes the shepherd image, with Bethlehem in the first reading being the home of the Shepherd King, David. In our context verse 16 may refer to Jesus, or perhaps to Joseph.

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 Second Reading:  Romans 1:1-7
As Paul opens his lengthy letter to the Romans, he calls attention to Jesus’ lineage from David and his descent “to the flesh.”  He was then declared “Son of God” by his resurrection (although the Gospel writers use the title for him long before his death and resurrection). Verses 2-6 may have been an early creedal formula.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 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, 5 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, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 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 Holy Gospel:  Matthew 1:18-25
Matthew’s birth story differs greatly from the more familiar Luke.  Here, at its beginning, it is Joseph who is the main character, not Mary.  It is he who receives a dream and makes the decision to proceed as if he is the father, thus making Jesus a son of David (as the genealogy which precedes this passage has made clear).  The quote from Isaiah 7 is noted above, including the switch to the title “virgin.”  The most important thing about this passage for Matthew is found in the title “Emmanuel.”  This is “God with us.”  This is the child of the promise.

1:18 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. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill 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.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2016 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved.

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