4th Sunday of Advent – Vicar Ferguson
The Gospel text for today begins with, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way” but there surprisingly little about the birth of our Lord in this text. There are no swaddling clothes, or mangers. This Gospel is more concerned with the events leading up to the Nativity than the event itself. Which makes sense for we are not celebrating the Nativity today, but we will be doing that in a week’s time. We are still in Advent, after all.
Throughout Advent one thing that sticks out among the Gospel readings is a preponderance of Identifying features of Christ. In the First Sunday of Advent, we read about the Second Coming of Jesus. We read, in essence, that He will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead. In the Second Sunday of Advent, we read about the preaching of St. John the Baptist. In that text we see him preparing the way of the Lord by preaching about changing your mind. And after he does that, he does the “But wait there’s more” thing and announce to his audience that there is one coming after him who is mightier than he is. And St. John the Baptist tells them that this coming one (where we get the name Advent) will baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire, and will separate the wheat from the chaff, saving the wheat and burning the chaff. Last Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent we saw Jesus tell the crowds, “All the things that John the Baptist preached, they were about me.” Jesus fulfills St. John the Baptist’s work by telling the crowds that John the Baptist was preaching about me. Then in today’s reading we see the birth of our Lord, which when you read has very little to do with the actual birth of our Lord.
If you wanted to hear about the birth of our Lord, come back next week. Or go home today and open up your Bibles to Luke 2 and have fun. But instead of discussing the method of our Lord’s Birth, our Gospel today discusses an event leading up to the birth. Today we heard about Joseph realizing that his fiancéé is pregnant and deciding that for the sake dignity that he won’t keep her. No one would disagree with his ability to do that; in fact, this is the only exception where divorce was grudgingly permitted. For Joseph thought that there must have been something going on and that the blessed lady was guilty of infidelity. Now when he came to this conclusion and decided to put her away quietly, because he was a nice guy, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream who corrected his perspective on the matter. “Joseph, Son of David, don’t be afraid to take Marry as you wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit, she will give birth to a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph at this moment hears something beyond his reasoning. In his planning for what to do this did not enter his mind, or if it did, he doubted that this could be true.
Joseph changes his mind on this and he proceeds to keep Marry in his household. St. Matthew the Evangelist brings up the prophecy of Isaiah, the one we head in the Old Testament reading, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” Joseph then awoke from his sleep and did as he was told. And he, that is Joseph, called the boy’s name Jesus. Joseph did not reject the angel’s word but believed the word.
In the midst of all of these events we are bombarded with various characteristics of Christ, the Messiah. The obvious ones are Jesus, for he will save his people, and Immanuel, God with us. Throughout history there have been people who deny the Divinity of Jesus, such as the Arians. Now remember that the Arians are followers of Arius, a 4th century heretic who believed that Jesus the Christ is not God like the God the Father is God. When you think of Arian heretics today think of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But here in this text that perspective is dashed into pieces. For Jesus is God with us. He is God and he is with us. Jesus is “very God of very God” that is, he is truly God. Alongside the “Immanuel Prophecy” from Isaiah, we also get the virgin birth. “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” Throughout history there have been those who deny that God and Man are united in the Godman Jesus, such as the Nestorians. Nestorians believe that the Divinity and the Humanity of Jesus are not united but remain unmixed, like two pieces of wood glued together. But this division is done away with when we think about the son of Marry being God. Mary is a human, and thus her child is human, but he is also True God. He is God of God and Light of Light, and he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Marry. We also see that he will save his people from their sins. The only-begotten Son of God, “was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the Third day he rose again according to the scriptures…” Today’s Gospel reading is a treasure trove of creedal Ideas. Although, it would be better said that our creeds are abounding in scriptural concepts.
Today’s Gospel reading epitomizes the season of Advent in its rich discussion about the Coming Christ. The hymn of the day, likewise is an expansive treatment on the nature of Christ. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a 7-stanza meditation on Jesus, and who he is. That is the question of the season. Who is this coming one? At Christmas we will see his birth and the events surrounding it, but that is only a small part of the story. We would be compelled to ask, “Who is this Child in the manger and why is he significant?” Looking back through this season we can see that this Child in the manger is the one who will come at the last day and judge the living and the dead. We know that he is mightier than all the prophets of the Old Testament, even than St. John the Baptist and he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire. We also know that he is the coming anointed one whom John the Baptist prepared for. And today we know that he is true God of true God, he was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin.
Advent is the time in which we meditate upon the coming Messiah. He came once in humility on that fateful day some 2,000 years ago. He will come again in Glory, when the time of his visitation has come. And he comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. He comes today to strengthen our feeble knees on the highway of our God. He comes to us by bread and wine, in his very body and blood, which hung upon the cross. The Godman, The Virgin-born, Immanuel, Jesus comes to us.