Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Isaiah 7: 10 – 16
Isaiah Gives Ahaz the Sign of Immanuel
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah* said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman* is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.* 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
Romans 1: 1 – 7
1Paul, a servant* of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit* of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 1: 18 – 25
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
18 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. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But 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. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil 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.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.
I’ve often thought that it must have been a very long walk for Joseph as he took Mary and their little donkey all the way from Nazareth (in Galilee) through Samaria, beyond Jerusalem, and finally to Bethlehem.
There is this idea in our faith that we walk with God.
Adam and Eve are busy hiding from God who is walking in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 3:8)
A few chapters later we read 24Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him. (Genesis 5:21-24)
Abraham is known as God’s friend and we read in chapter 17 that the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty;* walk before me, and be blameless. (Genesis 17:1-2)
The image of walking describes “living in the presence of” but it is not a static image. It implies going along with and co-operating with – in other words – working together.
I love seeing people walking together. A week or so ago someone knocked on the vicarage door one night asking for prayer and food. While I was praying for her a very strong picture came into my mind of this woman and Jesus walking hand in hand down the road toward Milford. She looked so happy, so fulfilled.
On Sunday 4th December I looked up from the altar just before Communion and saw Ralph and Kirsten walking up the aisle together to deposit the offering at the foot of the altar. They were both smiling broadly. They were going for a walk – a short walk admittedly – but a walk nonetheless. It was great!
Walking can be great fun. As a child I loved walks with my parents. Because we lived on a farm I was always amazed that my Dad happily came along on these walks. I remember thinking that surely he would have had enough of walking, but he loved them. Of course I had no idea it was the companionship of his family that he loved.
But walking with God is a little different from a family walk on your own property as a child, where you have no responsibility whatsoever other than physical safety.
Here is a truism: walking with God requires a great deal of humility. Just imagine yourself walking around Palestine with Jesus. You would be playing second fiddle for 24 hours out of 24. There is no room for pride when you walk with Jesus.
Joseph is a man who walked humbly with God. He is engaged to a lovely young girl called Mary, who no doubt came to him with what sounded like a fanciful story about how she fell pregnant and it was all to do with God, not another man.
Well, he clearly did not believe her (who would?) and we read Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
He decided not to expose her to disgrace and possible dire punishment, so he decides to just let her go and leave it at that.
Then we read 20But 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.
Humble pie on the menu, Joseph! Think of the conversation:
Joseph: Mary dear, May I speak to you please?
Mary: O, it’s ‘Mary dear’, is it? Why would you want to speak to me? You have no idea what you have put me though!
Joseph: I know. I’m so sorry, Mary.
Mary: Sorry! Sorry doesn’t cover it. Anyway, you don’t believe me. What could you possibly have to say to me?
And you can imagine the rest of the conversation: Joseph confessing his original lack of trust in Mary and by implication his lack of trust in God.
Now imagine the kind of conversation Joseph would have with his young friends!
Friends: Hey, Joseph! What’s this we hear about you not breaking your engagement with Mary?
Friends: What do you mean, Yes?
Joseph: We’re betrothed. We will marry.
Friends: Are you out of your mind? You mean to say you believe that story of hers?
And you can imagine the rest of the conversation: Joseph confessing his trust in Mary and his friends convinced of how misguided, if not naive, he is.
Then there’s the abstinence, the long trip to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the birth with no community around them to assist, the strange happenings with shepherds, visiting magi and finally a flight as refugees to Egypt to escape death at the hands of King Herod.
Walking with God can be pretty demanding at times!
He must have been really pleased when at Jesus’ circumcision Simeon says to Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2)
Eventually Joseph heads back to the dusty backblocks of Nazareth to eke out a living as a carpenter. By the time Jesus is 30 yrs old it seems Joseph has already died. Not a glamorous business, walking with God.
But like I said, it probably wasn’t a glamorous business for my Dad, going for a walk on the land he farmed. You don’t visit the office for relaxation.
But he did it because he wanted to be with us and he loved us. God loves us too, and while we might want to rush off and ignore him at times, he loves nothing better than to walk with us.
I learnt at an early age that co-operating with my Dad was a lot better than trying to oppose him. I think that when we learn that about God, we will be happy campers.
Enjoy your walk with God as we approach the wonderful time of Christmas. The arrival of a baby is always joyful. The arrival of this one is especially so.
God bless you.