St. Matthew's Episcopal

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Posted on: December 20th, 2016 by Robin Jarrell


For the Fourth Sunday in Advent, I continue my practice of summarizing the sermon because in these turbulent times, it is important to keep the Good News ever before us.

Anyone who knows me understands that I have a passionate devotion to Mary, the mother of our Lord.  For me, she is no “Mary meek and mild.”  She is a brave, fierce, and devoted servant of God.  Right before the birth of Jesus, the Roman legions descended on the village of Nazareth’s closest neighbor, Sepphoris, to stop the Jewish uprising that opposed the Roman occupation.  Thousands of “rebels” were crucified along the road between the two towns and young women in Sepphoris, Nazareth and Cana were attacked by marauding soldiers.

It was at this time we learn from Luke’s gospel that the angel Gabriel visited Mary of Nazareth and asked her to take the risk of becoming the Mother of God. Despite the tremendous negative cultural consequences of becoming an unwed pregnant woman (and especially in light of the attack of Sepphoris), Mary faithfully said “yes” to God.

Today in Matthew’s gospel we read another account of the annunciation, but told from the prospective of Mary’s intended husband, Joseph.  The gospel tells us that Joseph was a “righteous” man, which means that he was attentive to the laws, customs and norms of his faith.  When it came to be known that his bride-to-be was “with child,” he did what any respectable man of his time would do (he could have publicly shamed her), but instead he decided to “dismiss her quietly.”

And then we read that “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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

In many ways, the faith and bravery of Joseph was equal to that of Mary.  He faced enormous cultural disapprobation and the loss of that pillar of 1st Century Palestine – the all-important family honor – for his actions. But he didn’t listen to the culture.  He didn’t even listen to his religious tradition which told him that the “righteous” thing to do would be to “put Mary away.”  And I’m sure that he didn’t listen to his own misgivings about raising a son who was biologically not his own.  Despite all these tremendous pressures, Joseph chose to be faithful to God.

God chooses the most unlikely of people, events, and circumstances to bring salvation into the world.  I believe that in a strange way, God is dependent on US for the telling of the story of redemption, salvation, and holiness.  And sometimes, oftentimes (I should say ALWAYS), God calls us to put our faith before our cultural (and yes, even our “religious” norms) in order to do the work God has given us to do.

In these dangerous and troubling times, let us renew our vow to live the Gospel by showing the love of Christ with such Holy Obedience.

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