By now, hopefully your stockings are hung by the chimney with care, your halls have been decked (with boughs of holly or your decoration of choice), and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go!
But we’re not there yet. The season of waiting and anticipation continues. What will be synonymous with the birth of Christ for you this year? Are you anticipating seeing loved ones who live far away? Are you waiting to sing beloved Christmas music that you’ve been abstaining from for 11 months? Perhaps you’re waiting to see whether the church budget will pass and what your compensation will be for the coming year. Or maybe you’re awaiting the results of a medical test. Anticipation can take many forms.
What has your community been anticipating? Are you waiting for the furnace to be fixed, or for someone to come remove a fallen tree from the driveway? Are your people waiting for news on a new pastor to serve them, once your interim time is up? Perhaps your congregation is anticipating an annual meeting at which the proposed budget includes a significant growth in spending for outreach ministry. How will that go over?
As we move towards the arrival of the baby Jesus, we remain in this space of anticipation. We know that Jesus has already been born and lived the course of his earthly life. But the celebration of his birth hasn’t yet arrived. Will the story change this year? Highly unlikely. But will we learn something new from the retelling of the story? Hopefully, faithfully, yes.
This week’s Revised Common Lectionary lessons offer many options for preaching. Matthew 1 actually gives us the entirety of the Christmas story in the second half of verse 25! What comes before that is incredibly important. Joseph chooses to keep Mary and her son as part of his family. The law would have allowed him to dismiss them, but he listened to the Spirit rather than the law. Joseph’s adoption of Jesus is what includes him in the family tree of David. I love that this passage makes clear that chosen family bonds are at least as strong as blood. Without Joseph’s acceptance, that whole genealogy would have been irrelevant, but on behalf of all his ancestors, Joseph adopts (grafts?) Jesus into the family tree. Because of Joseph’s adoption of Jesus, Paul is able to write that he was “descended from David according to the flesh” in Romans 1. What a testament to the family of faith!
It is tempting to interpret the reading from Isaiah as nothing more than a prediction of the birth of Jesus. Please remember that passages from the Hebrew Bible both originally had and continue to have meaning apart from interpretation by the Gospel writers. King Ahaz refused to ask God for a sign, but God insisted on giving one anyway. The sign that God promised was a baby born to a young woman. By the time that baby would be weaned, the enemies of Ahaz would be defeated. How does God’s promise speak to us today? What are we praying for that could happen by the time a baby is weaned? What do we think of a God who uses a child as a sign of divine power? WorkingPreacher has good commentaries on this passage from this and prior years.
Wherever you are in your sermon prep, worship planning, or gift wrapping, welcome to the conversation! Please share your ideas and questions below. Advent blessings to you!
Katya Ouchakof is a chaplain and paddlesports professional in Madison, WI. She is almost done with Christmas shopping, with lots of wrapping left to do. This Christmas she will be able to worship with her family in the pews, for a change.
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