Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
The readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent help me put my feelings about Christmas in perspective. It’s almost a cliché to say that the “most wonderful time of the year” is anything but for some of us. Ho hum, you may say. What makes your disenchantment with Christmas special? So what if there’s a yawning gap between the Hallmark Channel and your emotional life. Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed? Have some eggnog and relax. It will be over soon.
What I found was that the readings for the fourth Sunday are very serious. There is urgency expressed in the readings. The readings tell us to pay attention, get ready, stand on our faith, and persevere.
Isaiah 7:10-16 introduces Ahaz, king of Judah, in a panic. His neighbors are coming for him. They want to tear up his kingdom and divide it among themselves. Isaiah doesn’t exactly promise rescue, but he promises God-with-us, Immanuel: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).
I’m not in a predicament as dire as the one Ahaz faced, but I’m more interested in God-with-us, Immanuel, than meeting all the obligations manufactured for us at Christmas.
The next reading, in Psalm 80, contains this petition in verse 3, verse 8 and verse 19: Restore us, O God. Make your face shine on us that we may be saved.
These beautiful words calm me and remind me of what I really want for Christmas. I want to be restored. I want to be saved.
All over our world there are people who desperately need physical salvation from war, hunger, disease, and injustice. There are many more that need spiritual healing. Do we need to distract ourselves from those who have eaten the “bread of tears” mentioned in the psalm? Let us pray for all of us to be restored.
The salutation to the saints at the beginning of the letter to the Romans reminds us of God’s promise, “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Centuries after the letter to the Romans was written there is still a sense of urgency to the words. The gospel is serious. The promise of God-with-us is of life-filling importance.
Instead of achieving some sort of perfect celebration, what I really want for Christmas is to be reminded that I’m called to be part of God’s holy people. That won’t fit into my Christmas stocking but it will fit into my heart and soul.
The gospel reading in Matthew contains the story of the angel coming to Joseph in a dream and reassuring him that he can take Mary to be his wife. The gospel writer concludes this vignette with a reminder of the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).
My Christmas wish for all who read this is that you will experience God-with-us at some point in the Christmas season. Grace and peace to all!