“And they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
Friday, Week of Advent 3, Feria
Matthew 1: 18-25
All Saints Chapel
December 19, 2009
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love,
Therefore don’t turn me from your door,
But hearken all, both rich and poor.1
So here we are. It is a time of beginnings and endings. Yesterday was the beginning of the Great O Antiphons, those beautiful names for Emmanuel (God-with-us) which we sing as the hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. It is a time of beginnings: of the Church Year, the first half of which takes us through the story of our salvation from Advent to Pentecost; of the anticipation of our celebrations of Jesus’ birth. And it is a time of endings: the end of the semester, the end of the frenetic shopping marathon, almost the end of the year 2009, the end of the third week of Advent, and our, perhaps fearful, ponderings of the End when Christ will come again. Advent means “to come to”--God to us--and us to God. We feel caught between the times in what one commentator has called “the anxiety of Advent”.
Our lessons speak of beginnings, endings and the anxiety of Advent. It is the end of the long search for a savior--someone to redeem us from sin and death--though it would be some
time before the whole story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection would play out. But we often miss the very beginning of the story, and here our lectionary could be of more help. Unless you are fortunate to attend a service of Lessons and Carols (come to St. Mark’s this Sunday at 4:30 p.m.) or the Great Vigil of Easter, the whole sweeping story of salvation history is never presented. But wait! Though sacred Scripture is the primary--but not the only place-- to find this story. Almost every Christmas carol we know (and some Easter carols besides) begin at the very beginning, with the creation and the Fall and go on to tell the story of the coming of Jesus to redeem us, and look to his coming again. How I would love to sing them all! But I will let the English carol “The Truth From Above” suffice for now. The next verses tell the beginning of the story:
The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I’ll tell,
Woman was made with man to dwell.
Then after this was God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain from evil free
Except if they ate from such a tree.
We live in a world suffering from the effects of the Fall. Torn by wars abroad and violence at home, where there is sickness, evil and death, poverty and pollution all around us. Our world is literally melting away before our eyes, and every day people suffer and die for lack of daily necessities and health care. In many ways, we are like those who, for thousands of years, hoped for a savior. Indeed, St. Paul cries out that:
the whole creation has been groaning
in labor pains until now; and not only
the creation, but we ourselves...groan
inwardly while we wait for adoption,
the redemption of our bodies... (Romans 8: 22)
OK, we have permission to groan, at least inwardly! But our groaning is not without hope. In fact, we (and the whole creation) are groaning for what we already have! St. Paul goes on “For in hope we were saved”. Back to our carol:
And they did eat, which was a sin,
And thus their ruin did begin;
Ruined themselves, both you and me
And all of our posterity.
The anxiety of Advent becomes much more specific in St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, which emphasizes Joseph’s experience. Here we see Joseph’s questions about the past and
anxiety about the future: what to do about Mary, already pregnant and not yet married. Fortunately, Joseph’s response to his anxiety is not to despair, but to be attentive to his dreams and willing to change his course of action by following the angel’s instructions. Hear another verse from our carol:
Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Til God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That he would redeem us by his Son.
So what do we do about the anxiety of Advent? How do we live in the already and the not yet? In this last week, do we try to escape the anxiety of Advent in frantic shopping? Do we just give in and hole up in despair? Or can we put aside the rush and the temptation to despair and, in the present moments of the next week, walk the prayerful path that will lead us to the manger? We can do this by doing as Joseph did: commending the events of the past that had brought him to this holy birth to God, and commending the future to God by accepting that the Child to be born would somehow play the ultimate part in God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world. And we can do as St. Paul tells us: to join the whole creation’s groan for redemption of our bodies, for the coming of God’s reign.
I would close with the last two verses of our English carol:
And at this season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear;
He here did live and here did preach.
And many thousands he did teach.
Thus he in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved.
And if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what he did say.