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Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5 You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
--- 17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. 18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.
The scholars that chose the readings for today selected Hebrew scripture believed by some to point toward the prophecy of Jesus’ birth.
Our Psalm repeats in two verses the words, “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” We did not read the Isaiah portion, but one verse of it is embedded in the Matthew text.
It is written in the Gospel of Matthew, “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” This is taken from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 7, verse 14. “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
Let’s pause here. Isaiah’s text says young woman. Matthew’s says virgin.
Of our four canonical gospels, the virgin birth narrative is found only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of John portrays the cosmic birth narrative. In the beginning was the Word… The Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the four, chose, consciously or not, to not address the matter of Jesus’ conception or birth. Jesus arrives on the scene fully grown in Mark’s gospel.
When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, Isaiah’s young woman became a virgin, thus Matthew and Luke’s gospels proclaim the miraculous conception through the Holy Spirit.
The Greek translators took the word in the Book of Isaiah,‘almah, meaning a young woman, married or unmarried, and translated it as virgin.
Matthew carefully structured his writing in order to place Jesus’ conception and birth and physical whereabouts within the realm of Isaiah’s prophecy for Israel. It was important to Matthew that the person of Jesus, who lived among the poor and marginalized and died on a cross as a criminal, be exalted above all others. Matthew used Isaiah’s prophecies for Israel as a foreshadowing of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.
We know the virgin birth was important to the authors of the Gospel of Matthew. Is it important to us how Mary came to be the mother of Jesus? Is it important who the father was? Who the family was?
Or is it more important to recognize that the Holy Spirit was at work in a world that cried out for change? Matthew and his contemporaries were imagining another explanation, another way. A new way of seeing the world that they lived in.
What might this scripture from the gospel of Matthew help us to see and understand in our own lives? What if we ask ourselves some of the same questions Joseph must have been asking himself before he was visited by an angel of the Lord?
What should I do about this unfortunate circumstance I am aware of?
What does the law demand?
What does my heart tell me?
What if we treated those around us the way Joseph treated Mary in this gospel passage?
What if we treated our intimate partners and family with compassion in challenging situations, even and especially situations that cause us, or them, emotional harm, potential embarrassment, or potential danger?
What if we had compassion for anyone struggling with the unexpected, the unlikely, the unorthodox situations they find themselves in, whether strangers or friends or family?
What if we even had compassion for ourselves?
What if we listened to the angels of the Lord, the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, and acted in ways that pleased God rather than ways that fit social convention? Sometimes the faithful thing to do and the faithful way to be are at odds with societal norms and laws.
What does the law require?
What do our hearts tell us?
As Joseph did, we can learn to accept the unexpected as a sign of God’s presence working among us doing something new.
We spent the first three weeks of Advent contemplating hope, peace, and joy – awaiting the arrival of love. God comes to us as a baby, a child, a young man. Love made manifest in a human, a peace and justice activist come to show us the way.
Throughout the season of Advent, we wait to celebrate, again, the birth of baby Jesus. God in the flesh, God-with-us, Immanuel. We are waiting for that which is already here and for that which is still to come.
Rev. TJ Mack – December 18, 2022