Year A — The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Commentary for December 19, 2010

Click here for today’s texts

 Isaiah 7:10-16

“Not gonna’ do it!” became something of a buzz word in the late 1980’s. Dana Carvey, then of Saturday Night Live fame, made a significant portion of his career impersonating President George Bush (the first one, by the way) and his soon-to-be infamous pledge not to raise any taxes. The phrase came to symbolize token resistance, at best, and a blatant outrageous lie, at worst.

Ahaz, the king of Israel, says in effect to the word from the LORD, “No, not gonna’ do it! Not gonna’ ask you for a sign, God.” He is offering token resistance to God’s prompting…or is he just outright lying about his willingness to participate in any spiritual awakening God seeks to provide?

What about us…are we “resisting” God’s prompting voice in any way during this Advent season of preparation? (Thankfully, God goes ahead with the “sign” of the season, anyway: Immanuel, God With Us, will still be born!)

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Does God ever get angry when God’s people pray? Hmm, evidently so. 

What would possibly make God angry when we come for some “face time” with the Divine? Are there any attitudes that you or I bring to worship that might be displeasing?

Certainly, as v. 17 reminds us, God’s strong hand is upon the “one at your right hand” — a reference taken by the church to be the soon-coming Child of God.


Romans 1:1-7

The advent of Christ has been foretold by the prophets of Israel, according to the Apostle; it is a promise from God. And God always makes good on God’s promises!

Even in this season of celebration of the birth of the Christ, notice that it is in the resurrection that Jesus is declared with power to be the Son of God. The creche of Christmas will give way to the cross of Calvary; angels sing glory now, but will testify one day soon of the empty tomb and risen Savior!

 If you’ve never heard the hauntingly beautiful hymn, “Christmas Has Its Cradle, Easter Has Its Cross” by Rae Whitney, you can find the text here


Matthew 1:18-25

Does it ever stun you to think that Christmas could have just gone away quietly, with no fuss and bother about a baby born out of wedlock? That’s what Joseph’s plan was, evidently. 

Who can blame him? This work of God –the birth of a Savior?– was something of an embarrassment to him personally; he didn’t really want young Mary to have to endure the scandal and whispers of the community. “She’s PREG-nant, you know!” Can’t you just hear the tongues of the fine church ladies lashing away? (We don’t even want to imagine what the MEN were going to say!)

But in the midst of the clutter, the voice of the Lord: “It’s okay, Joseph; just do it. God is with you.” To borrow a phrase from Mastercard, hearing the calming, comforting and assurance-giving voice of God in the midst of our doubt and confusion –PRICELESS!

No wonder Joseph was so happy to call the young lad Emmanuel…God is with us!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
“The True Meaning of Christmas”

The other day, I got up early, made a pot of coffee and settled down to my early morning ritual; watching Gunsmoke on TVLand. It was a “Christmas” episode.

The story went something like this: A pleasant and good-hearted ne’er-do-well got fired from the orphanage for drinking on the job. He then told off the stern, old-maid headmistress for not celebrating Christmas for the “kiddies.”

As usual, things got a bit complicated and everybody in Dodge got involved; but finally there was a Christmas Party for the children at the Long Branch Saloon and everybody once again — and just in time — learned the TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS!

While watching the show, I remembered a lot of TV shows and stories from my youth that followed the same plot, one which was perfected by Charles Dickens in his classic “A Christmas Carol.” There Ebenezer Scrooge gets to learn what? The TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS.

A few years ago John Grisham wrote a book that became a movie starring Tim Allen. It was called Skipping Christmas, and the main character gets cheap and selfish, but eventually learns, what? The TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS.

Now, here’s a good question. 

What, exactly, is this TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS everyone has so energetically been learning? I hate to say it, but I don’t think it’s the same meaning that Matthew and Luke had in mind when they wrote about the shepherds and wise men and angels and animals and the strange doings in Bethlehem of Judea.

No, the TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS as proposed in these modern times has something to do with these ideas:

1) it is more blessed to give than to receive

2) we should be nice to everybody

3) having lots of stuff won’t make you happy, only loving relationships will make you  truly rich and happy.

All these are admirable sentiments, but they are not unique to Christianity and they are not even remotely close to what the writers of the Gospels wanted to tell us about the birth of Christ.

What we usually do is pick bits and pieces of the Biblical story to “proof text” and “prop up” these ideas. Let’s see: the wise men brought gifts so we should give, the angels sang something about “good will to all people” so we should love everybody, and King Herod was rich and miserable and Mary and Joseph were poor but proud, so there you go.

I’m sorry folks, but giving and niceness and a mild rejection of materialism are not the TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS.

That meaning is found in one little word that occurs in two of our lessons for today: Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 both refer to Emmanuel, God is with us.

That is the true meaning of Christmas. Emmanuel, God IS with us. Not God WAS with us, long ago and far away. Not God WILL be with us, pie in the sky, by and by. But present tense, here and now, in this time and in this place, Emmanuel, God IS with us.

Not only God IS, but hear clearly, God is WITH us.

Not God beyond us. Not God a way off there somewhere, remote and removed from our everyday lives. 

Sometimes we like to keep God at arm’s length, we like to keep the holy tied up in the church, like a lovely Christmas present; nicely wrapped and tied with a bow, carefully stashed beneath the tree, but having nothing to do with our daily and ordinary lives. We have God and church and Christ neatly cordoned off into an inoffensive corner of our lives. 
We may think we have kept God from interfering in the way we live our lives, but that won’t do. Emmanuel, God is with us, won’t allow it. Emmanuel refuses to stay in the corner, Emmanuel insists on messing around in our lives, Emmanuel is God WITH us.

Notice also that it is not God beneath us. 

Some people treat God and godly things as an interesting subject for observation and study. They are charmed by the Christmas stories; they find it interesting how the church adopted the approximate date of the winter solstice as a date for Christ’s mass, the day when the SUN begins to return to life. OH, THE IMAGERY IS SO FASCINATING. 
And then, of course, there are all the parallels with the pagan mystery cults; and of course Handel’s Messiah is such a lovely piece of music. Why Christianity is just embedded in the very fabric of Western Civilization, etc., etc.

But Emmanuel, God is with us, will not allow this. Emmanuel is not God beneath us, nor God beneath our microscope, as some sort of object for our curiosity or admiration. NO, Emmanuel is God with us, God in our midst, God in our lives.

I must warn you to be careful how much you study godly things, for God is very sneaky, and in the midst of your study you may find yourself drawn into relationship with the one who IS; for God is not beneath us, God is WITH us and works continuously to draw all things into the Divine Presence.

God is not beyond us, God is not beneath us, and God is not between us. 

There is way too much religious strife in this world, way too much “God is on my side and against you!” Emmanuel, God is WITH us, came to all people, not just the people like us, or the people we like. God is WITH us, not between us. Emmanuel brings us together, does not push us apart.

For the TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS is this: In a mystery too deep for words, too profound for theologians, too irrational for philosophers and too unproveable for scientists, God’s love dictated that God enter humanity and be with us, all of us, to share in our joy and sorrow, our triumphs and tragedies, our fears and our faith, our life and our death.


And so, the story goes, it happened one night, long ago, in the city of David, that a child was born whose name was Emmanuel, God is with us.

And the Gospel for today is God is STILL with us and will be with us forever and ever, amen.

One thought on “Year A — The Fourth Sunday of Advent

  1. Pingback: Year A: The Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 22, 2013) | The Lectionary Lab

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