Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Each week, Moravians across the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean share a common message through their Sunday bulletins.

This month, we share insights written for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Thanks to writers past and present for their contributions to the Moravian bulletin series.

God with Us

Judith Justice, retired pastor, Winston-Salem, North Carolina • Dec. 22, 2019

As we come together on this fourth Sunday of Advent, many have already moved mentally and emotionally into full Christmas mode. After all, Christmas Eve is only two days away. Still there is time to have a last look at God’s people in the time of Isaiah and experience our connection to them. The armies of Aram and Ephraim are knocking at the gates of Jerusalem. King Ahaz, fearing for his very life, is desperate for a word of hope. Isaiah, speaking as God’s prophet, assures Ahaz that Jerusalem is not about to be destroyed; but Ahaz is not convinced.

So God speaks directly to Ahaz, telling him to ask for whatever sign he desires. Amazingly, foolish Ahaz declines; but God is not deterred and speaks the words of promise that bring us to this season: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel [God with us].” 

The people waited many years for the fulfillment of those precious words; and in the psalms written long before that, we hear the yearning for a shepherd to lead God’s people. That kind of waiting for something long desired and expected is central to Advent. While we daily live the promise fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we await his coming again. 

The Lord has done marvelous things!

Maggie Wellert, retired pastor, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania • Dec 25, 2016

Once upon a time, a few years ago, I read a story in a Bible study. A boy of about six years of age was sleeping in his bed, when suddenly there was a fierce thunderstorm. He awoke and called out to his dad because he was so afraid!

Dad came into his son’s room, offered some comfort, and said, “Don’t forget, God is with you. It will be okay.” The child replied, “Yeah, Dad, I know God is here . . . but right now I need someone with skin on!”

And the Word became flesh and lived among us. I’m partial to Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this verse in The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” God is indeed doing a new and marvelous thing. God’s home is among mortals.

Earlier in John 1, Peterson paraphrases:

What came into existence was Life,

      and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;

      the darkness couldn’t put it out.

This is what we celebrate on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day: the birth of the Messiah, the incarnation of our God, a new beginning and a new creation. This is now our life, living with the “true light, which enlightens everyone.”

Shine, sisters and brothers! God is doing a new thing, this time through you!

     

God is with us

Beth Rohn-Habhegger, pastor, Canaan Moravian Church, Davenport, N.D. • Dec. 22, 2013

Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” For God, a name was extremely important. So important, in fact, that God sent an angel to the man who would raise Messiah as his son, to reveal to Joseph the name chosen by God. God chose the name Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”

The child conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit would grow to be the man who offered us salvation through his death and resurrection. The prophet referred to him as Emmanuel, “God is with us.”

How right that prophet was! In Jesus, God dwelt with us; through Jesus, God reached into our world to bring us into God’s. We find we are a part of God’s world. We are wanted; we are fought for. God isn’t just WITH us; God is with US. God wants us enough to become one of us and to die for us. God wants US; God is with US.

As Advent transitions into Christmas, we celebrate the gift of Jesus who came to save us from our sins and remind us that God is with us—then, now, and forever. 

Receive

Chris Sobania Johnson, pastor and freelance writer, Gnadenhutten, Ohio • Dec. 19, 2010

We call it a receiving blanket, that soft square of flannel used to bundle a newborn, providing the child instantly with warmth and security. Parents have instinctively tucked their infants inside cloth cocoons for centuries, and contemporary studies indicate that swaddled babies maintain steadier heart and breathing rates, sleep more soundly, and show less irritability than babies whose limbs are left to flail. Even Jesus was enfolded in an ancient version of a receiving blanket.

But long before Jesus’ parents ever thought to pack receiving blankets for their road trip to Bethlehem, Joseph had to receive some hard-to-swallow news. He had to find out that his young girlfriend was pregnant, that he was not the father, and that he was supposed to marry her anyway because it was part of God’s plan.

What a shock! Talk about increased heart rate, sleepless nights, and the sensation of flailing. Of course, as the story goes, Joseph married the girl, raised the child, and kept in motion God’s plan for humanity’s salvation. By being receptive to the revised course of his life, Joseph demonstrated his devotion to Mary as well as his obedience to God. But he also showed resiliency, a quality that must certainly be rooted in trust—trust that God always provides the comfort and the strength needed to make it, regardless of how idyllic or how burdensome the circumstances.

How receptive are we to the situations we find ourselves in? Do we identify God’s presence with us, even when times are challenging? Do we resist, or do we allow events to unfold, confident that God will not only see us through, but keep us close?

An obvious blessing or a real hot potato? Either way, it’s time to receive.

A God Who Acts

Author unknown • Dec. 20, 1992

According to the Matthean tradition, the announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ was a supernatural event: Mary was found with child by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). The ultimate purpose of this divine act was to demonstrate to the world that God has taken the initiative to redeem lost humanity. God has not forgotten his creation. He has sent his very best into the world to bring about the divine/human reconciliation.

The coming of the Messiah, the Anointed of God, is the commencement of a new era for all human beings. The world was sending an SOS, announcing desperately a tragedy of great proportions. It was the precise moment for God to act and he acted.

When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he decided to dismiss her quietly, not realizing that God was behind his courtship and relationship. So when Joseph resolved to abandon Mary, God sent his angel to tell him in a dream, “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” (Matthew 1:20).

This divine declaration was a clear indication that God was in control of the situation. And when we permit God to take control of our sitatuon in the midst of the ordeals of life, when everything seems so gloomy and dark, the spark of hope will always appear, as Joseph experienced in his despairing moment.

The same God that Joesph served, we are serving today. God is always at our disposal, always available. He just wants us to trust him.

To Us a Child Is Born This Night

Author unknown Christmas/fourth Sunday in advent December 24, 1989

Most bible students believe that Mark was the first of the gospels to be written. How eagerly his manuscripts must have been copied and circualated among early Christians! But many readers must have had questions, such as “But when, and where, and under what circumstances was Jesus born?”

To answer these and other questions, Matthew and Luke wrote the gospels that bear their names. Today’s gospel lesson is a part of Matthew’s story. He tells us of a young woman named Mary, and of Joesph to whom she is engaged. He records the divine announcement of the effect that the child she is about to bear is “of the Holy Spirit,” and is to be named Jesus. He says that this Jesus will be a son of Abraham and David, thus linking him to the people of Israel; he tells us of the visit of the wise men from the East, thus linking him to the Gentile world. He speaks of Herod the King, thus placing him in history. He tells how God intervenes to save him from the sword of that jealous king, because he is “Emmanuel, God with us.”

And now, once more, Christ is being born into our world and for all people, for in his kingdom there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.” Just as he came long ago into the outwardly mighty, inwardly troubled world, so he comes today into our outwardly rich, inwardly poor world. He comes to you, and to me, to make us his people, so that he may save us from our sins.

All glory, worship, thanks, and praise,
That thou art come in these our days!
Thou heavenly Guest, expected long,
We hail thee with a joyful song.
(Paul Gerhardt, Hymn 55)