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Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

This Advent, Melanie arranged a very interesting discussion group based on the book by the Theologian Paula Gooder called “Journey to the Manger”. There were four sessions and I am rather embarrassed that I only managed to attend one. But luckily, the one I did attend focussed on the reading today, on the prophecy of the birth of Jesus.

One thing that I had not ever really focussed on before was the way that the prophecy in St Matthew’s gospel is quite different from that in St Luke’s. In Matthew, the angel appears to Joseph, in Luke, he appears to Mary. In the Matthew text which we are looking at today, God was expecting an awful lot from Joseph. And he expected even more from Mary. It was a very different World to the one we live in today. In a small rural society, everyone knew everyone else and everyone else’s business. They lived by a very strict moral code. People got betrothed and married much younger than we might consider proper and there was certainly no hanky panky before marriage.

Joseph was probably a bit older than Mary and must have been staggered when he found out that she was pregnant. He must have been deeply shocked and hurt, but also, fond of her as he was unwilling to put her to public disgrace. Then this Angel turns up and tells him it is all okay and that a miracle has happened to Mary. Joseph was brave. He took Mary as his wife and accepted what the Angel had said. But can you imagine the risk this might have implied in society locally? He was a local businessman, a craftsman. Would people still trade with him and if he used the story of the Angel would they laugh at him and think he was bonkers? Would they continue to value his work? Had an Angel appeared to me, I might have wondered what I had been on! But Joseph trusted in God and went ahead with the wedding plans.

In Luke, the Angel appears to Mary. In our culture we tend to think about Mary as being probably in her twenties, but the reality is that it is much more likely that she would have been in her early to mid teens. She shows a high level of intelligence and maturity when the Angel appears to her. She was of a priestly family, as we know from her connection with Elizabeth and Zechariah. And Mary was clearly a devout woman, realising the service of God was much more important than the risk of what society would make of her, the risk that perhaps Joseph might walk out on her. She accepted the commission she

received from God, calmly and maturely. She had no doubt been chosen by God because of her amazing personality and he did not get it wrong. He never does. And with those he had chosen, God was always there to sustain and support her.

So these two very strong and devout personalities took on an amazing task from God that could cause them ridicule and rejection, but actually earned them places of honour, love and adulation in the history of the World. God chooses people. We live in a World that increasingly does not care about Jesus or the message of love and salvation that he brings. Just this week I read that the University of Brighton had issued a directive that Christmas should not be referred to on the campus as it was too Christian centric and might cause offence to non-Christians. I make no comment other than to say this makes me very sad.

So in this less friendly World, God has chosen us to be his people, to be the body of the church. This is not an easy role in the modern World. People often think of us as a little strange. But we should not be embarrassed or ashamed of our faith. We should be shouting it from the rooftops, especially at this small window of the year when people like stories about shepherds and angels and babies in mangers. We just need to think of the bravery of Mary and Joseph and the risks and uncertainties they were prepared to face in the service of God. They trusted as we need to trust. They served God as we too need to serve him.

We are now a week away from this most special day. I will not be with you at Christmas as I will be elsewhere, but I would like to wish you all a very blessed and Christ centred Christmas. May we all worship him and bear witness to him in the way he would wish us to do.

Merry Christmas. Hallelujah!

Richard Austen


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