Sunday, December 24, 1995

Advent IV - Year A - 1995

Fourth Sunday of Advent

We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by
thy daily visitation, that when thy Son our Lord cometh he
may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the
same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
ever. Amen.

Preface of Advent

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah Isaiah 7:10-17
10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test." 13 And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17 The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah -- the king of Assyria."
The Word of the Lord.

24 Domini est terra Page 613

1 The earth is the LORD'S and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 "Who can ascend the hill of the LORD? " *
and who can stand in his holy place?"
4 "Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5 They shall receive a blessing from the LORD *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation."
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 "Who is this King of glory?" *
"The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle."
9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 "Who is he, this King of glory?"
"The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory."

A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans. Romans 1:1-7
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; 7 To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.
Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; 19 and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; 21 she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
The Gospel of the Lord.

Advent IV - Year A

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us).

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

When Ahaz heard that prophesy, that is, when he heard the words given to Isaiah by God, he believed that the young woman was his own wife (Abi), and that remains the interpretation among many who do not understand, or will not understand, the word of God in light of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Incarnate. While the prophesy was fulfilled to the Jews' satisfaction in the birth of Hezekiah, it was not Hezekiah that embodied the sign from God given them. It was THROUGH, however, Ahaz and Hezekiah (and the numerable, if not memorable, generations which their seed produced) that the sign came.

The continuation of David's line through Ahaz was important to the salvation of the world. But the virgin was not Ahaz's wife. She may, in fact, had already born a son at the time which Isaiah gave him God's Word and promised a sign. It was through Joseph, betrothed to a virgin named Mary that the prophesy was fulfilled.

The signs of the Old Testament all point to a Saviour, but Salvation could only come through the completion of the entire Old Testament, not just a part of it. The completion of the Old Testament is also the conclusion. But is not the end of God's Word, because through this sign, through the virgin who conceived a child, God's word was fulfilled and His Gracious work begun in the salvation of the world.

It is not the Salvation of a political state known as Israel that God intended, Ahaz's kingdom was destroyed. It was the Salvation of the world that God intended.

In our Psalm this morning, David asks, "Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? And who can stand in His holy place?"

And David answers, "Those who have clean hands, and a pure heart, who have not pledged themselves falsehood, nor sworn by what is fraud--they shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and a just reward from the God of their Salvation!"

But now I ask you to consider just who those people are. Name one person you know who heart is pure. Certainly not mine. And yet, WE are the ones who can stand in our Lord's holy place. Not while our hearts remain impure, but only when the have been made pure. That is, in fact, the blessing which is promised us, that we can receive a just reward from the God of our Salvation.

Prior to the Son of God becoming man, none was able to be called pure of heart, and prior to the Incarnation, all were of unclean hands. And since the coming of God in flesh, none has been pure. But the purity which we seek for our salvation has come. The Old Testament has been fulfilled, and thus it has been completed and concluded.

The message of the Old Covenant was this, God declares to us a one way agreement, not a pact and not a contract, but a declaration from on High: "I am the Lord your God, and you shall be my people." Those words are a promise, and yet those words remained unfulfilled for us until One showed us the way.

The message of the New Covenant is this: God became man so that we might become gods.

How can we be God's people unless we are like him. And how can man, also be god? This is the mystery of the Word made flesh, and it is not just the completion of the Old Covenant, but is the way of Salvation. God became one of us, not so that he would know what it is like to be one of us, but so that we could know what is like to be man and to be God. We have seen it, we have heard it, we, as Christians, proclaim it, and yet we have not attained to this ourselves. But it can be done, because it has been done.

It is through God and flesh, perfectly united, that we have hope in the promise of the Old Testament. But it is not our birth in flesh that claims our purity, but rather His. For us, our birth must be of a pure lady which is the Church, who has known no other, but is betrothed, promised to be faithful to the One true and Triune God. But that union has, obviously, not yet been consummated.

By our baptism, we have been unified with the Church who is betrothed to God, through Jesus Christ. Now, like Joseph, is the time for us to be faithful to our betrothed. We must be obedient to the faith, as Paul says, because we are called by God to belong to Jesus Christ "for the sake of his name among all nations".

Joseph questioned the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but by God's command, he remained promised to her, by his own will which he submitted in obedience to God;s command, and he remained with Mary.

Her purity, like that of the Church, is such that God found a place to enter into this world which was fit for himself. The purity of the Church, like Mary is something that we should love and honor. And, as was used in the old marriage rite, we ought to love, honor, and obey--for this is the love of the betrothed, and this is love which gives of self, and requires a response from us that manifests the "otherness" which is a requirement for any relationship. Obedience is not a dirty word when it is used to describe a relationship of giving based upon love.

Obedience of the Church is expressed, not in grudging acquiescence, but in adoring humility when facing our Creator. Verbally expressed by our Lady, when she said, "Be it unto me according to thy word." and equally obediently expressed by Joseph, when he took Mary as his wife, despite her being with child.

We cannot expect to find ourselves in adoring obedience in the way that Mary and Joseph are known to us. Most of us will probably never encounter a holy angel announcing to us our task, and making clear our way in God's sight, but we must struggle. We struggle personally, because our own salvation is at stake, and we struggle collectively as the Church, because the Salvation of the whole world is at stake, and dependant upon God's grace manifest in and through His Church to proclaim the truth to an unbelieving world.

While we may fail, as Ahaz failed personally, God does not fail, and despite Ahaz's disobedience to God, despite his worshiping false idols, and despite his ignoring most of what God spoke to him, and misunderstanding the rest--God did indeed bring through him the Salvation of the world in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

What you read of Ahaz's life in the Old Testament is quite depressing. His is the story of selfishness, pride and arrogance. His is the story of the destruction and ruin of Israel. His is the story of judgement. But Ahaz, is mentioned once in the NEW Testament: and here, the glory of the grace of God is manifest, because here, in the New Testament, Ahaz may be found in the opening verses of Matthew's Gospel as an ancestor, in the Davidic line which brought about God made flesh. In the verses immediately preceding this morning's Gospel, Ahaz is mentioned along with such greats as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, David, and Solomon. He is not listed because of the work he did, but rather the work of God done through him.

We must strive to be more than Ahaz in hopes that we can also be brought into such a list. We must strive to be WILLING participants in the work which God is doing through us, preserving the one true faith, teaching the one true faith, and proclaiming the one true faith. And when we find that we cannot LIVE the one true faith, praising God for the gift of his Son which gave us forgiveness of our sins, so that we too, having received the one true faith, may find our names listed as those which the Old Testament declared as God's People, and which the New Testament promises, shall be gods, by being made one with Him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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