Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

December 18, 2022

Isaiah 7:10-16                     Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18                         Romans 1:107                    Matthew 1:18-25

        From Isaiah we just heard: “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. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”  Then from Matthew we heard: “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, “God is with us.”

        Isaiah is a prophet often quoted during Advent because our gospel writers draw on his prophesies to show that Jesus IS the one.  Last week John the Baptist sent a messenger to Jesus asking if he is the one.  Jesus tells the messenger to report what he has heard and witnessed because Jesus is fulfilling a prophecy of Isaiah about the ONE will God will send to the people.  Jesus is healing and proclaiming good news to the poor.  And in today’s reading from Isaiah, we heard in this prophecy that who is to come “knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”  He is to call Immanuel.  “Emmanuel” is one of the many names we use for Jesus.  For, as Matthew says, it means, “God is with us.”

         The presence of Jesus here and now means that God is with us in this holy place and will remain with us when we leave today.  This past week I heard people talking about being in the presence of angels unawares.  They did so in reference to people who had helped them or someone else.  Being in the presence of angels unawares, is a loose reference to a verse from Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

        In witnessing acts of kindness, I’ve also heard people say that they have seen Christ.  Whether when we see someone perform a sacrificial act, we say that we have seen an angel or Jesus; we do see and know in that moment that God is with us and our hearts are moved.  Kindness is contagious.  Last week one of our members told of finding a woman on side a road and giving her a ride to her uncles near Cave Springs and back.  He said he started not to, but didn’t feel right about leaving her to walk along the road at that time in the evening.

On Friday I was driving to Camp Mitchell for a meeting when I saw a man using a walker to walk along the side of the highway.  I drove past, then saw an old truck alongside the road.  I drove a little bit further and then thought about the act of kindness I had just heard about a few days earlier.  So, I turned around to check on him. His truck had broken down and he did not have a cell phone.  I gave him a ride back into town.  I believe it was Christ acting within our member that compelled him to stop – and having witnessed it in him, I, too, was compelled to help someone.

Christmas Eve is just six days away and we will gather in this space to celebrate the arrival of the Christ Child.  The arrival of a child can bring out the best in us.  The arrival of Jesus is what Christmas is about – and it is what we are anticipating this fourth Sunday in Advent.  We will celebrate the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy.  The kingdom of God is coming – and when we witness generous and kind acts by others, we are given a glimpse into God’s kingdom.  We experience joy and peace and hope.  We respond to God’s love with love for others. 

        Joy, peace, and hope – this is what Jesus offers us.  This however, is still Advent – and will be for six more shopping days.  Or, better yet, it will be six more days for us to prepare for Christ’s coming. 

        I must confess I have a love/hate relationship with Advent & Christmas.  It is one of my favorite times of the church year and it is one of the most distracting times of the year.  I am reminded I am OF this world as I purchase gifts and decorate.  Fortunately, I am also reminded that the coming of Christ is our invitation into God’s kingdom.  Our worship guides us into this realization repeatedly.  And, I pray that we may all use the remaining days of Advent to anticipate God’s invitation to join us in the celebration of Christ’s birth. 

Let us pray.

        Loving God, help us, we pray, to keep our focus on your Son’s coming to live among us.  Help us draw our strength from you.  Open our eyes that we might see your angels and feel the presence of Jesus in our lives.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.