Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 18 2022

Posted on December 20, 2022, Pastor: Doug Johnson, Director of Youth and Family Ministries

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

December 18, 2022

Fourth Sunday of Advent 

Matthew 1:18-25
Psalm 23:1-4

Worship Service Video Sermon  Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Perhaps a very brief introduction may be helpful to begin our time together this morning. For those of you that I haven’t had a chance to meet yet, my name is Doug Johnson and I am the Director of Youth and Family Ministries here at Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church. I have served in congregations across the country in similar capacity for more than a decade. I grew up Lutheran. Went to California Lutheran University. Studied at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN. And I am very grateful to be here. I started way back in August of 2020 which both seems like six months and six years ago at the same time. Which is, perhaps, a great way to look at this text from Matthew.

In our reading from Matthew this morning, we learn about Joseph’s part in the nativity story. Although this really isn’t about Joseph, it is about who Jesus is as the messiah. So many times when we read this story of Joseph we dig into the “controversy” around the nature of Jesus birth. Here is a young woman, engaged or married (depending on the translation) to Joseph, who is still a virgin, and yet finds herself pregnant. Remember, Matthew doesn’t give Mary’s story. Immediately before this Matthew gives us Jesus’ genealogy and immediately following we get the story of the wise men. (Feel free to look in the pew bibles at both of those stories). Yet only through the divine act of a messenger sent from God to Joseph in a dream, that Joseph finds the conviction to remain with Mary and the rest of the story unfolds. This is important, 100 percent. And I will gladly discuss the importance of this with anyone that wishes to dig into the how’s and why’s but the Holy Spirit was calling me to go in a different direction, one centered on Emmanuel.

In preparation for worship this week I was reading through our hymns and I found myself really hearing the words to an old and familiar hymn, our first hymn for today, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” In reading through those words alongside our reading from Matthew I was drawn to the paradox and purpose of this Advent season.

Christ shall come, Christ has come, Christ shall come.

We are in the fourth and final week of Advent, with our days still drawing ever shorter. We light the final candle of our Advent wreath in preparation of the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas, resting in the promise of not just that day but Easter and the cross where all the hope of our salvation rests. We are in this time where we know that Christ shall come, Christ has already come, and Christ shall come to us again. And much like how Martin Luther loves to describe us as both sinner and saint at the same time, we dwell in all three of these phases of preparation for Christ at the same time. And in doing so we experience the whole messianic promise from its first offering to the promised return of Christ.

And this is where the words to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” really struck me. When I read through the hymn I went on the same journey of promise: Christ shall come, Christ has come, Christ shall come again. All the verses of the hymn add to this story of promise, but even with just the first 4 verses you receive the whole story. If you would like, you can follow along in the hymn as we go through this journey together.

Verse one reads, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.” Here is the start, the drive of our story, the reason why we need a messiah. The first verse speaks to Emmanuel coming to the exiled and captive Israel. Here is the pleading of salvation to Emmanuel, God with us. When we first look at this verse, it is easy to think that this is people of Israel speaking out to God for a messiah, the anointed one to set them free. And after just having read Isaiah 42 last week, where we hear from a captive and exiled people of Israel that have lost everything and are hoping to return home, that makes sense. But how does that connect to our own faith journey and community? Who are the captive, lonely, or exiled people now that would offer this same petition?

The more that I read this story of Matthew, promising Emmanuel, God is with us, the more I thought of those that would need to hear those words. The poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the voiceless, the grieving, and the lost. These words all describe the people of people of Israel during the time of Isaiah, but they apply to so many people today as well. To those who have lost loved ones, to those oppressed by systemic injustices, to those in the LGBTQ+ community, to those who live life with disabilities, to those battle with cancer or chronic diseases, and to those struggling with mental health, to those who life has not be fair, and so many others. This first verse is a cry out to God for Christ to come into their life. I have known this cry in my own life and perhaps you recognize this cry in your life as well…

Verse two reads, “O come, O Wisdom from on high, embracing all things far and nigh: in strength and beauty come and stay; teach us your will and guide our way.” Wisdom, with a capital “W” speaks not just to making good choice but to a very specific part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Throughout the books of Wisdom, we have Wisdom as an active character. And she is active! Wisdom is an active presence of God, normally given to the actions of the Holy Spirit. In this verse, or petition if you will, we ask Wisdom to both gather us and guide us. We see the work of Wisdom as one to show us the will of God and to be that strong and ever present guide in our life, especially when life is difficult.

When we read this with the first verse, we find ourselves asking not only for a messiah to save us, but for the Spirit to guide us along the way. Here is that promise of Emmanuel coming through once again. God is with us. God is with us to guide us along the way. God is with us to give us strength. God is with us in all things.

Verse 3 reads, “O come, O come, O Lord of might, as to your tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times you gave the law in cloud, and majesty, and awe.” Verse three may sound out of place. Verses one and two are petitions of help, as is verse four (which we will get to in a minute). This verse almost reads as a petition of thanks. But the mention of the law fits in nicely with both the Gospel of Matthew and this journey of messianic promise.

The whole of the Gospel of Matthew reflects on how Jesus fulfills the promise of messiah and the law. Matthew puts great effort into ensuring the legitimacy of Jesus as the messiah. This verse also reflects who Jesus was as the Messiah. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law of Moses (which was given on Sinai) but to fulfill it. Jesus says this himself just a few chapters later in Matthew 5. This verse shows who Jesus is as messiah, one who fulfills the law so that we may receive God’s never-ending grace.

Verse four reads, “O come, O Branch of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell your people save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.” And here is Emmanuel. God with us. The promise of Christ that we live into this day and every day. The promise of a messiah that conquers sin, death, and the devil. The Branch of Jesse, the very descendant of David that would become the messiah for all God’s people, the one who will be named Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. This is the Emmanuel that shall come to us on Christmas morning. This is the Emmanuel that has come to us on the cross to bear our sins. This is the Emmanuel that shall come once again.

So here we are, living in the promise of a messiah that has not yet been born. Waiting in anticipation as we prepare for his birth. And at the same time, we know the life of that new born king. As Christians we strive in our daily life to follow his example to love and serve our neighbors. We rest in the promise of his teaching and the sacrifice he made in giving his life to atone for our sins. And yet, still at the same time we wait for the return of Christ. For a time where everyone knows peace and suffering is no more. Somehow, on this day we live and experience all three of these realities.

And no matter where you find yourself this morning on this messianic journey, may you forever know that God is with us. That God is with you. Amen.