Sermon for Advent 4, Year A, December 22, 2019

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

          “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,” Isaiah tells the people.  “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” we hear in the gospel of Martha.  Emmanuel, the angel says, means, “God is with us.” 

          Talk about scriptures full of anticipation – these scriptures hold the promise of, not only, a new life with the birth of a baby, but of a closer relationship with God.  That’s the thing about this time of year.  We anxiously await Christmas, like many of us who have anxiously awaited the birth of our own child, a grandchild, a sibling, a cousin, a niece or nephew, a close friend’s baby, or any other new life – our hearts are filled with excitement (mixed with a bit of fear). 

          How will this new life affect us?  How will our lives change?  We know our lives are about to change, but we are uncertain as to how.   Change is not always something we welcome.  Change can be hard, and it is not always for the better.  Sometimes things do not work out as we would like – so it is natural for us to be anxious. 

          We do have the luxury during advent of knowing what happens next – as far as the gospel story goes, but how it affects us is still being worked out.  The change in us that Christ has begun is never complete.  It is hindered, at times, by our inattention to Emanuel, God who is with us. 

          Ironically, it is especially easy to loss our focus on God at this time of year when we are preparing to celebrate God coming to us in the flesh to live among us, to be WITH us.  Christmas may be just be one of the most stressful times of the year.  Why is that? Many of us have filled this time of year with such great expectations for family and others, for presents and parties, that we are too distracted to remember the reason Christians began celebrating Christmas. 

          Bringing families and people together is wonderful – when it is possible and when it filled with joy.  It is a stressor when it isn’t possible for everyone we love to be there.  It is a stressor when those who do come, come out of a sense of obligation rather than a desire to be together.  It is a stressor when we cannot meet the expectations of others. 

          As a priest who lives three and a half hours away and whose family wants to gather for lunch on Christmas day after a very long and late Christmas Eve . . . it has to be a very late lunch if we are to be a part of it – especially when we are bringing food that must be heated after we arrive!  It is difficult to meet the expectations of others whose schedules allow them to arrive early, but who are expected elsewhere for dinner or who must work Christmas night or early the next day.

Juggling schedules and travel can be extremely difficult and stressful.  It is no wonder we get distracted and forgot that Christmas is about celebrating God entering the world to live among us and to share our human experience.  God enters the world in Christ Jesus to teach us to focus on that which gives us life – God’s love for us. 

“Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved,” the psalmist writes.  The psalm today speaks to our time, a time of derision among neighbors and ridicule from our enemies.  Our nation and our world are divided, neighbors do not agree on what needs to be done and our political parties scorn one another.  We need the light of God’s countenance; we need the love of God to save us.  We need Emmanuel!  

In just two days, on the Eve of Christmas, we will gather to remember that God did come to live among us.  God did come and is with us now.  We do not have to wait to experience God’s presence.  Christ is with us and, I dare say, needs our help.  Christmas is not about the presents, the food, who is or is  not with us, unless that is all we see. Christmas can be about seeing Christ is others and being Christ to others. 

Over the next couple days, I pray that you will take a moment, just a moment, each day to remember that Christ IS with you – then do what you need to do and be Christ to others.

Let us pray.

          Loving and gracious God, help us, we pray, to remember that you are with us.  And, as the psalmist says, “Stir up your strength and come to help us,” that we will not only be aware of your calm and loving presence, but that we may reflect your loving presence to others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.