Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 1:18-25: Joseph, the Good Man

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today’s Advent reading is often thought of as part of the Christmas story, but it’s all about Joseph’s perspective. Mary is engaged to Joseph, but before they marry, he learns she’s pregnant. He is a good man and thinks he’ll divorce her quietly.

I think this shows that Joseph is a righteous sort of man, but also a kind one. He isn’t going to make a fuss about it, though other men of his time might have made a big deal about finding their fiancée was in a family way.

However, he gets a visit from an angel in a dream. The angel tells him not to be afraid to marry Mary and assures him the baby is from the Holy Spirit. He is told to name him Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.”

The passage goes on to say this was all prophesied–that a virgin would give birth a son and name him Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”

When Joseph awakes, he does just as he was told. He marries Mary and doesn’t sleep with her until the child is born. Then he names him Jesus.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the Lord’s angel told him to do. He married Mary. But Joseph did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And he names him Jesus.

So not only is Joseph righteous and kind, but he has great faith and a willingness to listen to God. He is strong and faithful to go ahead and marry someone whom he might have shamed and put aside. I think such a man must have been a great husband and father.

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 11:2-11: John the Messenger

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

John the Baptist is in prison, where he is hearing a lot about Jesus, so he sends some followers to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah he has been expecting.

Jesus responds to tell John what they know: that the blind can see, the crippled walk, people are healed, and the deaf hear. The dead are brought back to life and the good news is brought to the poor. The answer is apparently obvious.

Then after John’s followers left, Jesus talks to the people about John, asking why they went out in the desert to see John. Obviously, they didn’t go out to see a fancy man in fine clothes or someone weak and inept. They went to see a prophet in John, but someone more than a prophet–a messenger who was preparing the way.

Then he says, “The truth is that John the Baptizer is greater than anyone who has ever come into this world. But even the least important person in God’s kingdom is greater than John.” (Matthew 2:11, Easy-to-Read Version).

So Jesus is responding to a question from John, his messenger. He is a messenger, but one who is still questioning his own message and seeking reassurance. We also come into Advent with questions about the coming of Christ. We are preparing for Christmas, we are awaiting his coming, but still, we need reassurance. The reassurance comes in the form of love and healing–good news for the poor, healing and restoration. The response from us is to carry that love forward and bring it to the world. And again Jesus reminds us that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. What the world values should not be what we value. Love comes first and we must serve and love those who would never be first.

Second Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 3:1-12: Preparing the Way

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The gospel lesson this week is all about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus—preparing for the coming of Christ, just as we prepare for the coming of Christ during Advent.

John is a cousin to Jesus whose birth is mentioned in an earlier story in the Bible—his mother was pregnant at the same time Mary was and he jumped in the womb when his mother came near pregnant Mary—fun story. Anyway, in this story he is out in the desert preaching to people, telling them to change their ways because God’s kingdom was near. John the Baptist was quite a character, dressing in clothes made from camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. Camel’s hair is still used for coats today, even fancy designer ones, but John was not wearing the designer variety. He seemed to be living pretty rough and made his own clothes (and presumably caught his own bugs and scored his own honey for meals. He was a far cry from the preachers who draw huge crowds today. He did draw major crowds in his time, though. People came from all over and confessed their sins and then John baptized them in the Jordan River.

The Pharisees and Sadducees (we’ve talked about them for other lessons—religious and sometimes political leaders of the day) came out to see what the fuss was about and John didn’t respond happily. He called them snakes and told them to repent. I’ll quote this part from the Easy-to-Read version for this week. He says, “I know what you are thinking. You want to say, ‘but Abraham is our father!’ That means nothing. I tell you, God could make children for Abraham from these rocks. The ax is now ready to cut down the trees. Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Yowza, dude did not mince words.

Then he predicts the coming (the Advent!) of Jesus. He says he baptizes with water to show repentance from sins, but that someone is coming who will do more—the one who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Again, I just have to quote this part, no way to paraphrase: “He will come ready to clean the grain. He will separate the good grain from the straw, and he will put the good part into his barn. Then he will burn the useless part with a fire that cannot be stopped.” Yikes, more fire!

So much of this time of year is how we prepare for Christmas, which is a fun time of buying or making presents and wrapping them, decorating, baking, making travel plans. But we often prepare in life for much harder things–like hurricanes, snowstorms, or even rainy days. But how do we prepare for Jesus coming? How do we prepare for Christmas and the coming King? Sure, we prepare for Christmas in all sorts of practical ways, but we can also prepare our hearts. We can take any quiet moments we can get and pray and confess to God any wrong things we’ve done, ask forgiveness, and seek to make things better if we did something to hurt someone else. We can use our time to help others and be kind to others. It is better to have our hearts prepared than just our houses prepared.

First Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 24:36-44: Be Ready

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The scripture readings in advent can be frightening, but they are all reminders that even when terrible things are happening, God is in charge. We need to follow him and be faithful, sharing the love and light of God to a broken and hurting world.

In today’s passage, Jesus is speaking about the signs of distress that are going on his time in Israel and it all sounds dark and painful. He talks about how it looks as though things are falling apart but promises that soon the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus) will arrive and then God’s power will win. He reminds his followers that when they see the signs of disruption they can know that God is very near (as God always is, but perhaps even more so when we are in distress). He reminds us to be alert so we can be ready on that day. 

When things are dark, we are to be light, as Jesus is a light to the world.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C: Luke 1:39-45, (46-55): Hope and Trust

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Mary travels to another town to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth feels her unborn baby leap up inside her at Mary’s voice and she is filled with the Holy Spirit.

She proclaims to Mary that she is blessed more than any other woman and that God has blessed her baby. She tells Mary that her baby jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. She says, “Great blessings are yours because you believed what the Lord said to you! You believed this would happen.”

This is Mary’s response–her Magnificat (song of praise.

“I praise the Lord with all my heart.
    I am very happy because God is my Savior.
I am not important,
    but he has shown his care for me, his lowly servant.
From now until the end of time,
    people will remember how much God blessed me.
Yes, the Powerful One has done great things for me.
    His name is very holy.
He always gives mercy
    to those who worship him.
He reached out his arm and showed his power.
    He scattered those who are proud and think great things about themselves.
He brought down rulers from their thrones
    and raised up the humble people.
He filled the hungry with good things,
    but he sent the rich away with nothing.
God has helped Israel—the people he chose to serve him.
    He did not forget his promise to give us his mercy.
He has done what he promised to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.”

Luke 1:46-55 (Easy-to-read version)

Mary has obviously come to terms with the big news the angel Gabriel brought her. She is young and inexperienced; she has every reason to be terrified, but she is full of hope and trust that God knows what he is doing. She knows she is blessed and she celebrates the blessing and the hope that comes with it.

Third Sunday of Advent, Year C: Luke 3:7-18: Change of Heart

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

John is baptizing huge crowds at the river. He speaks harshly to them, calling them snakes and telling them to change their hearts and lives. They ask him what they should do.

He tells them if they have two shirts, they should share with someone who has none and to share food, too.

Tax collectors come and ask what to do and he tells them not to take more taxes than they are supposed to collect. Soldiers ask what to do and he tells them not to extort people for money by force.

People begin to speculate that John was the Messiah, but he tells them he baptizes in water but someone is coming who can do much more.

I am not good enough to be the slave who unties his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Luke 3:16 (Easy-to-read version)

He continues to preach and baptize, calling on people to change and telling them the Good News.

This week of advent we see the importance of John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus, as we prepare our hearts for his arrival at Christmas. John emphasized repentance, a changing of the heart, and its evidence was in our behavior and good works. We are to share what we have and not use our privilege for evil. The emphasis is on love and caring as opposed to grasping and greed. Go and do likewise.

Second Sunday of Advent, Year C: Luke 3:1-6: Preparing for his Coming

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Today’s passage starts with establishing a time frame–the 15th year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar–and lists the rulers under Caesar and says that Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. Luke is carefully delineating where we are in history.

John the Baptist is beginning his ministry (though he’s not called that here–he’s called John, the son of Zechariah). He is living in the desert and receives a message from God, so he travels the area around the Jordan River to share God’s message. He calls on people to be baptized as a symbol of changing themselves and turning from sins so that their sins may be forgiven. 

Then Luke quotes Isaiah: 

“There is someone shouting in the desert:
‘Prepare the way for the Lord.
    Make the road straight for him.
Every valley will be filled,
    and every mountain and hill will be made flat.
Crooked roads will be made straight,
    and rough roads will be made smooth.
Then everyone will see
    how God will save his people!’”

from Isaiah 20:3-5 and Luke 3:4-6

Luke is specifically calling out this ancient prophecy and connecting it to the new prophet of John the Baptist. John is the one shouting in the desert and preparing a way for the Lord Jesus. This second week of Advent is also a time of preparation for us. We are preparing for the coming of Christ both in the form of the celebration of Christmas and preparing for the eventual Second Coming. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

First Sunday of Advent, Year C: Luke 21:25-36: Be Ready

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

This blog has really helped me to have more of an appreciation for the lectionary–how the passages on a single Sunday relate to each other, how the story follows the life of Christ over the course of the year, and how the same week from different years can relate. For instance, last year’s First Sunday of Advent was a sort of apocalyptic passage with a theme of being ready at all times for the coming of Christ. And here as Advent and the new church year begins, we have the same theme. Amazing things and frightening things will happen, but don’t be afraid. Just pray and be ready. God’s kingdom is near. 

You can read the passage here.