Sermon Advent 4A 2019                                                                                             The Rev. John M. Atkins

The Prophet Isaiah 7:10-16

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore 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. 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.”

Gospel of Matthew 1:18-25

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 with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 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.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

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Dreams have many levels.  Joseph’s dream acknowledges his anxiety over discovering that his fiancé was pregnant before he and Mary had shared any marital relations.  In 1st-century Jewish culture, an engagement was a legal, religious contract between a man and a woman.  It was binding to both parties.  This contract could only be broken by means of legal process.

1st– century couples were legally engaged for a period of one year.  They were not to live together, nor were they to consummate the marriage until after the marriage ceremony.  This was strict Jewish law.

Joseph found himself in an embarrassing predicament.  As a Jewish man, he was required to read the scriptures and know Mosaic Law and the Traditions.  We are told that Joseph was a righteous man, a man faithful to God.  But he also loved Mary.  His feels must have vacillated from disappointment to anger to forgiveness and to love.

In the dream, a messenger of God, an angel, reassured Joseph.  The angel explained that this situation was all part of a plan designed by God for the salvation of God’s people.  Somehow, the dream gave Joseph the confidence to continue in the legally binding engagement with Mary.  He made the decision to love her at all cost and provide for her and her newborn, God-child.  Joseph took a leap of faith when he had little investment.  And, because he did, the Mother and her newborn were kept in safety and their needs provided.  Thank you, Joseph!