Dec. 11, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that hinders our faith, that eagerly we may receive your promises, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Isaiah 7:10-16

10The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore 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. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For 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, 17-19

Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved. (Ps. 80:7)

1Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph | like a flock;
  shine forth, you that are enthroned up- | on the cherubim.
2In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, | and Manasseh,
  stir up your strength and | come to help us.
3Restore | us, O God;
  let your face shine upon us, and we | shall be saved.
4O Lord| God of hosts,
  how long will your anger fume when your | people pray? 
5You have fed them with the | bread of tears;
  you have given them bowls of | tears to drink.
6You have made us the derision | of our neighbors,
  and our enemies laugh | us to scorn.
7Restore us, O | God of hosts;
  let your face shine upon us, and we | shall be saved.
17Let your hand be upon the one at | your right hand,
  the one you have made so strong | for yourself.
18And so will we never turn a- | way from you;
  give us life, that we may call up- | on your name.
19Restore us, O Lord| God of hosts;
  let your face shine upon us, and we | shall be saved.

Romans 1:1-7

1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7To 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.

Matthew 1:18-25

18Now 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 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.”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.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

This was a challenging week for me. I have memories of being down in Arizona two years ago with my mom and half-brother Steve, my dad’s hospitalization and move to hospice. All of that was set alongside what felt like a wave of hospitalizations/critical medical tests/scheduled surgeries for Trinity members and friends. It did not feel like Advent—the season of hope, peace, and joy. 

In addition, early in the week I had some conversations and watched a movie that reminded me that this season can be very stressful for many of you—finding perfect gifts, decorating the perfect house, preparing to cook the perfect meal. I think this pressure shifts up and down as you go through different stages of life, but for some of you (or those you love) it may be very real this year.

And we put all of this side-by-side the story of Jesus’ birth. The story has these moments of awe and wonder and even perfection—in particular the visits from the angels and the star guiding the magi. We may get lulled into thinking that the God we worship only works in those magnificent and perfect ways. We may get lulled into believing that God then has no time for our challenging and messy lives. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is peace and joy mixed up with all kinds of scandal in the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Remember that long genealogy at the beginning of the story? Sometimes it’s referred as the begats—Harry begat John who began Steven and on and on. There are of course standouts in that list—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Solomon.  

But there are also people we’d call “outsiders.”  Tamar was the Canaanite wife of Judah’s son; after her husband died, Tamar tricked Judah into fathering her a son.  Boaz’s wife Ruth started out as a Moabite, another foreigner.  

The text even makes this note; David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife. That’s right, the story of King David and his affair with Bathsheba is right there in the genealogy. So, it’s quite a way to begin the Gospel.   Finally, it ends, “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”

Joseph wanted peace, comfort, and joy. He was engaged after all. But then his world came crashing down. Mary is found to be with child. Since Joseph does not know the cause of her pregnancy, he fears she has been unfaithful.  Betrothal was equivalent to marriage in that time and place—not like engagements today.  Infidelity counted as adultery. The marriage was completed when the groom took his betrothed to his own home. In the interval she remained in her father’s house.

Joseph is described as a righteous man. This means he must divorce his unfaithful wife. The law does not allow him to “forgive and forget.” His righteousness, however, is more than legal. He does not want to humiliate Mary with a public divorce proclaiming her adultery. He plans to divorce her quietly. He refused to act according to the law. Instead, he chose to act in a manner that Jesus himself would later embody by his attitude toward known sinners. 

However, before Joseph carries out this plan, he has a dream in which an angel explains to him that Mary’s pregnancy is of divine origin.  The angel addresses him as “son of David.”  And in this we are reminded of another problem with the whole Christmas narrative.  

That whole genealogy at the beginning of the gospel intends to show that Jesus is the son of David, Israel’s greatest king. But we never read “and Joseph fathered Jesus.” Even God, it turns out has snags: The ministry of Jesus as Son of David will focus on his quest to heal, gather, and restore the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus will reveal his identity as Son of God in manifestations of divine power over sea and storm, for example, but ultimately and definitively in his conquest of death, which had implications not only for Israel and the nations, but for all of creation. There is, however this snag, which God the Father had to resolve if these two identifications are to run together throughout the Gospel: if Jesus is God’s son, not Joseph’s, how can he also be a son of David? 

The only way for that lineage to work is for Joseph to adopt Jesus. He does this completely, even taking on the fatherly job of naming the child—Jesus, which means, the Lord saves.  Only in this way is Jesus is incorporated into David’s genealogy.  

And I take great comfort in the mix of characters in that long genealogy and the fact that a human act like adoption helps Jesus’ remain both Son of David and Son of God. It all serves as a reminder that God wants all sorts of people to be part of the reign of God and that God always finds ways to work through hardships and messiness. It takes all kinds to bring peace and joy and comfort to this earth.  It takes out of the ordinary actions like adoption. And all of that messiness leaves room for you and me.     

Let’s look at Jesus’ parents just a bit more. Joseph also shows us a profound trust. God does not appear to Joseph when he is wide awake and at prayer. There is no assurance of a burning bush or parting clouds on the mountaintop. There is only a dream. But I have to think that Joseph was open to the dream. 

We do not have the dialogue between the angel and Mary in Matthew’s gospel, but that does not lessen Mary’s importance. Without Mary’s obedience and without Mary’s willingness to receive the Holy Spirit, our salvation and healing would be in doubt. As one scholar wrote, “Just as Abraham obeyed God’s call for him to leave his familiar land to journey to a foreign destination, so Mary through her willingness to become the very Mother of God is the beginning of the church. She is also our connection to the people of Israel, for Jesus is born to a Jewish mother. His flesh is Jewish flesh.”

The upside down, backwards, craziness of this morning’s texts is precisely why we can also trust and obey God.  Again and again God’s people have turned their back on God. They have done everything except trust God. Yet God promises to never leave them. In Isaiah, God promises Emmanuel, God with us. Could God be any clearer on the fact that God is not going anywhere?

Consider again that genealogy—the outsiders, tricksters, sinners. God made it work; God did better than make it work. If God can use that messy group of people, God can work through us too. We also can be instruments of the Kingdom of heaven. We do not need to be perfect. We do not need to shy away from heartache and difficult moments. God is with us – Emmanuel. 

There seems to be no way for the story of Joseph and Mary to have a good ending—the righteous man, the pregnancy out of wedlock, the young couple alone in the world. But Joseph pays attention to the dream, listens to the angel of the Lord, and trusts. Mary obeys and is open to the Holy Spirit. Joseph adopts Jesus into that genealogy and sets the stage for a new kind of reign of God. 

Prayers of Intercession

As we prepare for the fullness of Christ’s presence, let us pray for a world that yearns for new hope.

A brief silence.

God our shepherd, let your Spirit move with power throughout the church. Give discernment and wisdom to our bishops, pastors, deacons, and lay leaders. Take away our fear, so that we serve and love, confident that you are guiding us. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God our source, awaken us to the beauty of the earth and the marvelous variety of life. Unite humankind in repairing and caring for your creation. Protect creatures and habitats in peril due to rising seas and warming temperatures. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God our vision, raise up leaders in every nation who dream of freedom and justice for all people. We pray for the work of international organizations that promote peace and human rights, especially Amnesty International (others may be named). God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God our helper, come to the aid of all who cry out to you. Shelter migrants, refugees, and those fleeing war and famine. Bring relief to individuals and families experiencing hunger, homelessness, or impoverishment. Comfort any who are isolated or lonely. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God our Emmanuel, you are with us in our life together. We give you thanks for gathering us in worship and fellowship, and we remember those who cannot be present. Watch over those who travel. Heal the sick and speed their recovery (especially). God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

God our hope, you bring life out of death, and you promise to be our God forever. Shine upon the faithful who now rest in the fulfillment of your promise and bring us also into your blessed reign of peace. God, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

God of our longing, you know our deepest needs. By your Spirit, gather our prayers and join them with the prayers of all your children. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

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