Summary: Ahaz faces the choice, — God’s plan or his own.

Advent 4

The reason we celebrate Christmas is because God will save his people from their sins, and that God came to dwell with us. Emmanuel. This message is communicated in our Readings today by 3 annunciations or divine invitations. Joseph's annunciation was by angel in a dream. Mary's was by the archangel Gabriel. King Ahaz was by the Prophet Isaiah.

1). Ahaz faces the choice, — God’s plan or his own. Ahaz does an inversion of the annunciation or a refusal of a divine invitation to trust so he ends up selling off the northern Kingdom of Israel in order to stop the potential aggression of the Assyrians. He stuck to what he knew and ignored the prophecy that God would be with him, Emmanuel.

Reminds me of W.E. Sangster story about when he was invited to a party to celebrate a wedding. He arrived late and knew nobody there except the friend who invited him. He subsequently played the role of a mere spectator to the evening’s festivities.

Everyone, he noted, seemed to be in high spirits. They danced and shouted and sang and laughed and played games and indulged in all sorts of entertainment. They flung streamers across the hall, pranced around in party hats, had much to eat and drink and generally seemed to have a great time. As the evening progressed, however, Sangster noticed a young lady sitting in a corner alone. She seemed very happy, and smiled very pleasantly when he caught her eye, but she seemed a bit neglected. No one seemed to be paying her any attention. Sangster whispered to his friend, "Who's the young lady in the corner?" His replied, somewhat startled, "Don't you know? I must introduce you. That is the bride."

Can you imagine being left alone and unnoticed at your own party, particularly at your own wedding? That is how Jesus must feel at Christmas if we let the celebration of his birth be obscured by the lights, the gift-giving, the parties, etc.

2). Next is Joseph’s annunciation—“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.”

That’s how the song goes. For many, Christmas is about making dreams come true. But when Jesus discovers that Mary is pregnant before their final wedding, and he knows that he is not the father, he chooses a middle course between a public trial and not doing anything so he decides to divorce her quietly. But, the angel directs him in a dream to accept Mary and he obeys. It shows us that our lives can take turns and we can have surprises or sudden dilemmas or problems and that we will have fall back on our faith that God loves us and we get us through as God with us, Emmanuel.

Christmas Dreaming Joseph Style is about what happens when God’s dreams for your life interrupt your dreams for your life.

This was a dream he could not have dreamed but in surrendering to God’s plan for his life, Joseph lived a better dream.

4). Mary’s annunciation was by the Angel Gabriel who announced that Mary would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit—

It helps us in our sometimes dark way of faith when we are on a path almost completely devoid of signposts or trails left by others.

Reminds me of an advertising slogan for a shoe company says, “No great story starts, “it was cold, so I stayed in.”

In classical Greek and Roman mythology every hero’s story really begins when he leaves “home.” Of course, you don’t have to physically leave home, rather the message is don’t be afraid of the cold. Take risks. Great things can happen when you step out of your preconceived plans and be open to God’s will.

I read about a priest who is doing academic research for a PhD by studying the effect of Christian contemplative practice on recovery from addictive behavior. He analyzed the journal entries and interviews of some of the participants in his intervention-study. The method of contemplation that he used is called ‘Jesus Prayer’ – it originated among the desert fathers and mothers in the 4th century Egypt, and is still very popular in the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. It simply consists of repeating the prayer from the gospels: “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner” (Mt 20:30; Mk 10:47; Lk 18:38). Prayer beads can be used, and the repetition of the sentence can be combined with breathing. The priest found a pattern in the interviews with the participants. There is a triple movement happening to those who contemplate: there is a journey towards God as He becomes more real to them; there is a journey inward to the self in terms of awareness and humility; and there is a journey towards others often desiring to forgive and reach out in compassion. What is amazing is that this deep awareness happens spontaneously without any sermon or theologizing. It is transformative.

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