4th Sunday in Advent
Our 4th Advent lections all align and complement the theme of Incarnation with
Gods face about to shine with the birth of a little baby (Psalm 80 / Isaiah 7), with
one of the worlds longest "Dear _____" openings which proclaims the gospel
of incarnation (Romans 1), and in the actual drama and human dilemma of one who faced the
birth in such a way that social scandal and shame would face off against righteousness and
mercy (Matthew 1).
PSALM 80:1-7, 17-19LET YOUR FACE SHINE
This psalm is a lament from a community pained by national
calamity. Perhaps it was the destruction of Samaria in 722 bce by the Assyrians (cf. 2 Kgs
17). The recurring line throughout the psalm which marks the ending of each of the three
strophes is, Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. In
between those lines we hear pain mixed with anticipation for a new and hope-filled future.
ISAIAH 7:10-16THE LORD WILL GIVE YOU A SIGN
Historically, the section from 7:1-8:18 date to the time of the
Syro-Ephraimite war (735-732 bce) and is organized around the symbolic names of First
Isaiahs children. When asked by God via the prophet for a sign of the accuracy of
what God is about to do, Ahaz wobbles and whimpers, Gosh, I dont want to test you
or anything (my rough translation). The prophet angrily announces Gods personal
sign: a young woman will bear a son, Immanuel, who will make good choicesrefusing
the evil and choosing the good.
ROMANS 1:1-7THE ANCIENT KERYGMA
This is probably the only salutation in the entire three-year
cycle that form a lesson in itself. But what a greeting! Packed with multi-layered
meanings within words and phrases, Paul describes the gospel story in a single (long
sentence). Certainly this passage is appropriate for the Advent seasonit speaks of
the prophets foretelling, the Son descending, the Christ ascending and the apostles
atelling the good news. Go tell it on the mountains!
MATTHEW 1:18-25A RIGHTEOUS MAN IS HARD TO FIND
This, of course, is Matthews telling of the conception and
birth of Jesus. "Now heres what happened, it goes like this," (my
paraphrase). Matthew tells us. Matthew then jumps right into the secret pregnancy
and the social stigma and pressure that placed on Marys fiancé, Joseph. He
ruminates over what to do with this scandal and decides to "dismiss her quietly"
(v. 19). A dream comes to Joseph that reassures him to marry his fiancée, Mary, followed
by an explanation of the strange pregnancy and a concluding fulfillment Isaiah 7:14 (see