Advent 4A
Matthew 1:18-24

A Liturgy is also available


This week we just about conclude Advent.
So how is both your ‘preparation’ and ‘anticipation’ going?
Yes, I did I say preparation?

Well storyteller John Shea has this story.
Maybe you will be able to resonate with its sentiments.

Shea was in the parking lot of the local supermarket three days before Christmas.
A woman was hoisting bags of groceries
out of the shopping trolley
into the boot of her car.

She was muttering away to herself:
I'm not going to make it.
I'm not going to make it.

As I passed her, John Shea says, I smiled and piped up:
You're going to make it.
You're going to make it.

I was proud of my double assurance of success,
countering her double prediction of defeat.

Her head came out of the car boot.
She stared at me with a 
'what-the-hell-would-you-know-mate' kind of look.

And then in a voice as adamant as a stamped foot, she said:
I'm not going to make it.

Chastened, I hurried into the supermarket, got the few items I needed
and proceeded to the checkout.
The 'under 12 items' line had 20 people in it. 
                       And I wondered if I was going to make it! 
(Shea 1993:19)

For many of us, I suspect this is our story too.
              Our ‘preparation’ during Advent is surviving pre-Christmas busyness and anxiety.
              What about our ‘anticipation’?

Listening to our Advent guest theologian, John Cobb, he suggests:
“The temperature of anticipation in many of our churches... in Advent, is low.  Many Christians expect very little.  They expect to go through some enjoyable experiences, receive some gifts, sing some carols, and then get on with their routine lives.” 
(Cobb, P&F Web site, 2008)

Advent may be a time of preparation and anticipate.
But in the ‘fair dinkum department’ how can that be for us?


Much of the gospel story this Fourth Sunday in Advent
centres on Matthew’s rather sketchy outline
surrounding the birth of Jesus.

And I am sure you will have recognised
that between Matthew’s version - which we heard today,
                 and Luke’s version - which we traditionally hear around this time of the year,
                 there is a fair degree of difference.

For they are very different.  And despite attempts to the contrary
by both the church and the many ‘Carols by Candlelight’ events,
               they can’t be harmonised into one grand, neat story.

In artistic terms, Luke’s picture is full of bright primary colours.
              A cheerful story.
              A buoyant, hopeful, joyous story.

Matthew’s picture, on the other hand, is a picture using a darker palette.
              The colours are more sombre, darker hues.
              A gothic story - disturbing, disquieting.

Actually, on second thoughts, Matthew’s story
does not actually narrate the birth of Jesus at all.
It is implied.

Meanwhile, much theological ink and energy has been wasted
on the debate surrounding the matter of virgin birth or virgin conception.
          For the record I happen to believe that,
          despite what many English translations of the Bible say:
                       Matthew did not believe in a virgin birth.
                       Neither did Paul.
                       But Luke probably did.

The Hebrew text of Isaiah which Matthew quotes clearly has nothing to do with virginity.
At most it means only that a young woman,
                  who is now a virgin, will become pregnant.
                  No ‘miracle’ is intended.

What has fuelled the debate goes back nearly 60 years or so.
When in the 1950s the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible
properly translated the Isaiah words with ‘young woman’,
“some fundamentalists were so upset that they sponsored public burnings of [it].  The official Catholic translation, the New American Bible, uses ‘virgin’ in (Isaiah) because bishops overruled the Catholic scholars and demanded that it be mistranslated.”
  (Miller 2003:95)

So where in the midst of all this, is our hope?  The ground of this Advent season?
And how can we be empowered
             to live fully,
             to love wastefully, and
             dare be all we can possibly be, as Jack Spong urges us?


We do not anticipate that Jesus will come, or come again, in any literal sense.
Our hope is shaped by a ‘progressive theological’ understanding of incarnation: g-o-d acts in the world in and through our actions.
             As we are open to g-o-d’s working within us, Jesus comes.
             As we seek to serve g-o-d, we are never alone.
             As we experience again and again, Emmanuel, god-is-with-us.

So during these closing days of Advent and in the rapidly approaching season of Christmas,
we can anticipate g-o-d’s renewing and transforming presentness, now,
               even as we remember g-o-d’s focused ‘coming’ in Jesus in the past.

And in hope we can encourage others to also recognise 'the sacred' where they are.

For our hope is directed to what g-o-d is doing.
And what we believe, with g-o-d,
we can do and will do in the days and years ahead.

This Advent and this Christmas, let us manifest that hope
in all the nooks and crannies of our various communities.

Miller, R. J. Born Divine. The Births of Jesus and Other Sons of God. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2003.
Shea, J. Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long. New York. Crossroad, 1993.