Bible Readings: Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20
Free Resource: Thanksgiving for Baptism & Christmas Litany (Cross+Gen Worship)
Advent Theme (December 2 – December 23): Faith in God’s Promises
We have been waiting a lot throughout Advent, for justice, for deliverance, and for the one who will bring them. The people of Israel were given promises by God, as have we. We have had to live with faith in God’s promises. But now we have reached the end of Advent and our waiting (or at least some of it) is over. God fulfills God’s promises. However, the fulfillment is often a surprise.
Matthew’s version of the nativity, which will be read on the fourth Sunday of Advent, focuses on the character of Joseph. Joseph was a good man, a pious worshipper of God. I imagine that he was happily engaged to Mary and waiting eagerly for their wedding day. He was in for some surprises. First, he discovered that his supposedly-virgin fiancée is pregnant, and he knows for certain that the baby isn’t his. Surprise!
He was shocked and hurt, but he demonstrated his character when he decided to break things off in a way that Mary would be harmed the least, instead of striking out in anger. It’s when he makes this decision that he gets his second surprise. A messenger of God shows up in a dream and announces that Mary had not been unfaithful, but the child was miraculously conceived through God’s Spirit. Not only was Joseph to go through with his wedding, but he was going to be the father who raises the Messiah. Surprise!
In Luke’s version of the nativity, the most famous version which is read on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we don’t hear the story from either Mary’s or Joseph’s points of view. Instead, Luke focuses on a bunch of unnamed shepherds. Odd choice. Here, it is these shepherds who are in for a big surprise. They are just doing their thing, when the angel of the Lord appeared before them like a flashbulb going off, along with a whole heavenly choir. Surprise!
While I’m sure their hearts are beating way too fast from the startling angelic appearance, the biggest surprise is in the message they hear. The Messiah has come! The One we have been waiting for so long has finally shown up! And, he’s not one of “them” who lives up in their big, fancy houses, but he’s one of “us,” a poor boy born among farm animals. Surprise!
Surprised by God
The whole people of Israel had expectations for God’s work in and through the promised Messiah. Most (if not all) were surprised by who the Messiah was and what he would do to fulfill God’s promises. Since the days of the Messiah, God had been subverting our expectations and turning our world upside down.
Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds all had a vision of what their lives would be like and knew what to expect. But God had something different in mind. Their lives would be forever changed by their encounters with God.
Like Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds, we have a vision of what life should be like for us. We know what to expect. Occasionally life happens the way we expect it to. But sometimes we get surprised, either pleasantly or tragically, in the events of our lives. Other times, the surprise comes from following God. Our priorities might change, we might have conflicts where there wasn’t before (even within ourselves), we might find peace where before there was unrest (even within ourselves). Regardless, Emmanuel, God-with-us, accompanies us the whole way.
Cross+Gen Worship Resources
This week, we are providing two liturgy components as our free resources, both from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship product (individual worship guides can also be purchased). For Advent 4 (12/23/2018), we have a Thanksgiving for Baptism, and for Christmas (12/25/2018), we have a Litany with both a participatory and sung response! Both are available in the same free download, “The Messiah Is Born.”
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
Advent is nearing its end, but it’s not too late to order faith formation resources! If you had ordered Fall Living the Word resources or are interested in just getting started, order your Winter resources now, which start on the first Sunday of Advent and go to Transfiguration Sunday. As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Winter (and Spring) quarters immediately and start using them!
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!