Sermons 2003-2004

"Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

Advent 4A 2004 Matthew 1:18-25

Finally! Finally we’re beginning to talk about baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph and think about angels singing, and shepherds watching and listening, and stars dancing in the sky over Bethlehem. Well almost. There are a few things we need to think about somewhat seriously before we really get to the manger scene.

The first thing is this: each Gospel writer begins the Gospel story in a different way. Luke, probably our favorite, spends some time getting John the Baptist born and in place so he can announce Jesus at his baptism some thirty years later. In the middle of the John the Baptist story, Luke brings the angel to announce to Mary that she will bear this Son of God, and then Mary goes off to spend three months with Elizabeth, the mother of John. And finally on Christmas Eve here, we will go to Bethlehem with Luke and hear the angels, watch the shepherds, and see the Holy Family in the manger.

Saint Mark skips the whole manger scene, starts thirty years later with the preaching of John the Baptist. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth aren’t important to John. Jesus baptism and the announcement by God the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Son of God – that is what is important. Forget the angels and shepherds and manager and get on with the main thing. Mark has a point, I think. But I do love the story Luke tells at this time of year.

Saint John is similar to Luke but John begins with that powerful hymn and creedal statement we read here on Christmas Day: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” And then John mentions John the Baptist in passing, moving straight into Jesus work on earth.

Matthew does it with this remarkable story of the birth of the baby that is the annunciation on the lips of an angel in a dream to Joseph. Before that is a long genealogy of about father to son, son to son to son, all the way back to Father Abraham. It is interesting to note that Saint Matthew also mentions four women who are mothers of this lineage: Tamar the Canaanite woman who bore Jesus’ ancestor Perez by the father of her dead husband; Rahab the harlot, mother of Boaz; who married Ruth, another foreigner, a Moabite, who was the great grandmother of King David, and Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, by whom David fathered king Solomon. Jesus might not get into the Colonial Dames or DAR with such an interesting set of ancestresses.

This genealogy goes to Joseph, except that Matthew like Saint Luke) tells us that Joseph is not really the father of this new baby Jesus, the one we celebrate at Christmas. This would really lead to disapproval from the Sons of the American Revolution.

When I was a young boy, a man named Perry Smith farmed alongside our lower farm. He was childless but loved children. It was always a pleasure for me to sneak over to Mr. Perry’s house where he would regale me with stories and his wife would fill me with sweets. But I had to sneak because, you see, Mr. Perry Smith had been born out of wedlock and his mother never named the father. My parents, who never missed a Sunday in church, would say that Mr. Perry Smith turned out to be not so bad, considering…. Neither did Jesus, when you think about it. But I wasn’t to visit. So I sneaked, and I’m glad I did.

The next thing to notice in Matthew’s story is that the whole message, the annunciation, is given to Joseph at night in a dream when he was asleep. In this dream the angel came and said to him, "Do not be afraid, for the child in her is from the Holy Spirit." What a dream, with an angel, a messenger of God, one sent from heaven to earth, and with an earth shaking, possibly soul shattering, message. So one of the main things to notice about this as we move in these last days to Christmas is that the expectation of Jesus, according to Matthew, is outside all of our normal categories.

The second thing to notice in this story from Matthew is that the baby has no father; and in this family, like every family, it is a scandal when a baby has no father. And Joseph was at the edge of scandal, but that is not the point. The accent, rather, is that the baby is from the Holy Spirit.

We need not explain this text any more than this. Our need is to be dazzled at Christmastime that something is happening beyond all of human calculations. This is a baby and a wonder and a gift that is designed to move us beyond ourselves and beyond the beginnings of the scandal of particularity in which the earthly Jesus was wrapped. And we can set aside all of the silly speculation that has gone on about biological transactions and notice rather that this newness comes because God's Spirit stirs among us. - In the very beginning it is God's Spirit, God’s wind, God’s breath, that moves over the face of the deep and creates a new world, a new heaven and a new earth. - From the bondage of the chosen people in Egypt, it is God's Spirit, God's wind, God’s breath that blows the waters back at the Red See and lets his people go free. - Throughout our salvation history it is God's Spirit that calls prophets and apostles and martyrs and ordinary people to do extraordinary things. - In the beginning of the church, it is God's Spirit that came upon the disciples and created a community of faith and mission. - And in our time, it is God's Spirit that begins something new when the world is exhausted, when our imagination fails, and when our task seems difficult and even impossible.

That is what Matthew is telling us, that God's Spirit has stirred and caused something utterly new in the world. God has caused this new baby who will change everything among us. That’s why we read it this last Sunday in Advent.

The last thing to notice is that the angel gives Joseph two names for the baby. Names are very important in that ancient world. And can be in our own time, if the several instances I know of parents and grandparents making an issue over what a grandchild is named or called. First, the angel says, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people." The Hebrew name Jesus – Yeshua --comes from the Hebrew root verb for save. Hence Savior. Imagine on Christmas a baby named Savior. Many babies in the Old Testament are named Savior. It is the word for Joshua, for Isaiah, and for Hosea. Each of them saved Israel, and now Jesus will save us.

- Jesus will save us from sin and guilt. - Jesus will save us from death and destruction. - Jesus will save us from despair and hopelessness. Advent is being ready for the saving one who will come when we cannot save ourselves.

The second name that the angel gives for the baby is Emmanuel, God is with us. In Jesus God was present in the world and made everything new. Whenever he showed up where people were in need, he saved them – the tax collectors, the thief on the Cross who believed, the lepers, the deaf, the blind, the lame, the hungry, the unclean, even the dead. His very presence makes new life possible, and the church – the Body of Christ himself -- consists of all the people who have been dazzled by the reality of God who has come to be with us in this season of need and of joy, all through this miraculous baby.

Saint Matthew’s Gospel brings us right to the edge of Christmas. He gives us an angel's message in a dream that is beyond our control or expectation. The message is that something new and different and powerful is coming into the world now, a child named Savior and God is with us, God himself. So we are to be ready to have our lives and our world contradicted and challenged and changed by this gift of God from God himself. (1)

The last Sunday in Advent, the season of the coming of the Christ child. Are we ready for what is to come – are we ready for all of it?


1. Adapted from The Protestant Hour, A New World Birthed", The Revd Dr. Walter Brueggemann, December 19, 2004, at for Advent 4A 2004. See also The Anchor Bible Dictionary entries on Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.