Year A – Advent 4 – Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18–25 – Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Summary – Joseph was a saint, not least because he accepted the word of this angel on the matter – in a dream, no less! Clearly Joseph was a man who accepted the word of God without demanding undue evidence. We don’t know much about Joseph, but he seemingly lived up to his name-sake, the Joseph of Genesis who saw visions, but endured difficult days before seeing the blessing of God. So in this case Joseph was willing to believe, in spite of the natural order. What we do know from this text about his character is that he was “a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” This was the kind of guy that believed his fiance had been unfaithful, but was still willing to give her an easy way out. By law he could have had her killed! This speaks to Joseph’s character.

Insight – Perhaps the most important word that Joseph received in this dream is, “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This clearly resonated with Joseph, who was apparently waiting for just such a Savior. Faithful Jews were waiting for their Messiah. Joseph was among them. All the world has been awaiting for Something or Someone to deal with sin. As it turned out, it was through this teen-aged pregnancy, this heart-broken fiance, this Nazarene. God accomplished His redemptive plan in an usual way. The story of God’s redemption surprises us all.

Discussion – Even if you have not talked to an angel in a dream, have you ever believed that God wanted you to do something special? What did you do?

Prayer – O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP St Joseph)

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Year A – Advent 3 – Luke 1:46b-55

Luke 1:46b-55 (Canticle)

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Summary – This well-known passage is known as “The Magnificat,” taken from the first phrase of its Latin translation, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.”  It is Mary’s song of praise following her visit to Elizabeth soon after she found out she was pregnant with Jesus.  The character of this song echoes Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, which begins, “My heart exults the Lord.”  Prayers of this sort throughout Scripture often come with certain characteristics, beyond thanksgiving and praise.  First, a recognition of God’s Sovereignty in the events of life (cf. Luke 1:51-52 and 1 Sam 2:6); and second, a enumeration of the “first becoming last, and the last first” (cf. Luke1:52 and 1 Sam 2:4).  Mary, in praising the Lord for His favor to her, recognizes God as the author and executor of her salvation, believes in His goodwill towards those who fear God with humility, and trusts in God’s covenantal promise to father Abraham.

Insight – One of the fruits of the Spirit is “patience.”  Patience is not in that list because it’s a natural human tendency, but rather because it’s tough!  It is not easy for us to be patient.  We want God to bless us now, and we tend to get frustrated if it seems like it takes a long time.  In fact, sometimes we may think God forgot about us!  But we learn from St. Mary that the Lord exalts “those of humble estate.”  Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed teaches that the seed in the good soil is like those who receive the gospel and “bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).  St. Paul agrees, saying that those who “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Rom 2:7).  Mary was not from a wealthy family.  She had no earthly prestige that made her a good candidate to be the Mother of God.  Rather it was her faith in God’s promises that made her the “favored one” (Luke 1:28).  She discerned that after generations of those who fear Him, God shows mercy.  God’s blessing and salvation does not come to us because of anything good in ourselves–not wisdom, power, or nobility–but because of His love and His faithfulness to His promises, He graciously blesses those who walk in patient faithfulness.  Let us not lose hope, though it may seem like God is taking His time making His “kingdom come” on earth as in heaven.  But this Advent season, let us recall that God kept His promises in the past by sending Christ, and He will in no-wise forget to keep His promises present and future.

Child Catechism – Who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord”?  Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Discussion – What about Mary’s experience causes generations to cause her “blessed”?  Why did God choose to bless her?  What did Mary see as her role in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant?

Prayer – Holy Father, may your name increase in this world.  We rejoice at your salvation so graciously given to us through your Son’s historic coming to earth.  You have looked on a humble and hungry people, and sent Bread from Heaven to fill them with good things.  As you have remembered your promises to Abraham, now remember your promises to us, your children.  May your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.  In the name of your Son, Amen.

Year C – The Fourth Sunday of Advent – Luke 1:39–55

Luke 1:39–45 NRSV – “In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.””

Summary – In this passage Luke explains the Annunciation, the meeting of the mother of John the Baptist, Elizabeth, with Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The two cases of Elizabeth and Mary are woven together in Luke 1. The pregnancy of Elizabeth confirms her own pregnancy and enables Mary to better grasp what God is doing and how the divine purpose is going to be fulfilled. Mary extolls the Lord in the canticle we call “The Magnificat.” – “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. . .”

Insight – Have you ever read a book or watched a film with a surprise ending? Can you think of an example of a surprise twist in the plot of a story? Some might think, that a virgin-born Savior is such a twist, but I don’t think so. The Bible prepares us for the Annunciation of a virgin birth with a series of similar cases of women who are barren, then by the power of God, give birth to a son: Hagar/Gen. 16, Sarah/Gen. 18, Hannah/1 Sam. 1-2, the wife of Manoah/Jdg. 13, Isaiah/Isa. 7, and Zechariah/Lk. 1. Even more, the whole story of exalting the lowly is also anticipated throughout the Bible. Martin Luther said, “God is the kind of Lord who does nothing but exalt those of low degree and put down the mighty from their thrones, in short break what is whole and make whole what is broken.” The words of Mary inspire actions of helping and serving the whole person. The early church carried forward Jesus’ holistic mission of truth and deeds, not as Marxists, but as “messiahs.” They sacrificed themselves, did good deeds, shared wealth, established justice, and insisted that faith works.

Catechism – How does the Magnificat begin? “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”

Discussion – Why did Christ need to be born of a virgin?

Prayer – Our Father in heaven we give you thanks and praise for sending your son to us through Mary. We rejoice with the mother of our Lord and our souls magnify you, our Savior. Grant that in this season of Advent we remember joyfully your coming in the Incarnation, so that we may be ever prepared for your final coming to judge the living and the dead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.