Summary: Immanuel, God With Us. He is hope for the hopeless and help for the helpless.

BABIES CHANGE THINGS Matthew 1__18-25 Advent 4

Sun, Dec 23, 2007 Fourth S. in Advent

Year A Readings: First: Is. 7:10-17 Epistle: Rom. 1:1-7 Gospel: Matt. 1:18-25 Psalm: Psalm 24

Babies change things. Every young couple realizes that. When babies come unexpectedly, the event not only changes things, but also causes upset. Such was the case in the birth story of Jesus.

In the first century Jewish parents arranged marriages for their children.

The groom paid a bride price to compensate the bride’s family for the loss of their daughter’s services. The bride’s parents provided her with a dowry that was intended to provide for the bride in the event she became a widow. The wedding ceremony itself took place on one day, but the couple did not live together for about a year. The groom would leave after the wedding and prepare a place for his bride to live. While the groom was gone, the bride would prepare her wedding dress.

The couple is betrothed. They are husband and wife, but they have not consummated their relationship. They each live as they did before except they are both in an intense time of preparation and eager expectation.

After the groom finished building the new home, he would return for his wife. The groom, his friends, and his family would dress like royalty and come in splendor to the bride’s home. When the groom arrived, the bride and her family and friends would form a royal wedding procession to their new home. There the happy couple would preside over a celebration of their coming together that often lasted a week or more. This was probably one of the few times that the poorer members of that culture could feel special about themselves.

The Biblical wedding is a strong metaphor for the relationship between God and His people. In the Old Testament, God brought forth his people out of Egypt. God provided all their needs including both the dowry and the Bride Price. The wedding took place at Mount Sinai, but the marriage was a rocky one. The wife was constantly unfaithful and cheated on the husband. Even while the wedding ceremony was taking place, the bride was already unfaithful as she worshipped the golden calf. Yet, the wife often complained and accused the husband of being unfaithful.

God constantly sought reconciliation, but Israel constantly sought divorce until they found themselves exiled in Babylon. In spite of all this, God continued to court his wife. He constantly sought reconciliation and eventually He succeeded. This time we see Christ paying the bride price on the cross where He paid the debt of our sin and gave his church the wedding dress of His righteousness.

The wedding ceremony became complete when Christ rose from the dead and showed Himself alive to His disciples. With His ascension, He left to prepare a place for us to live with Him forever. Even now, the church is the Bride of Christ eagerly anticipating the return of her Husband to take her home with Him. The church is betrothed to Christ her Lord.

Our gospel for today tells us that Mary and Joseph also had that time of betrothal: both busy preparing for their lives together. Mary eagerly awaited that time when her husband, Joseph, would come in royal splendor and take her to their new home. All was going according to plan when Mary suddenly left to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Imagine Joseph’s shock when his wife returned and was obviously pregnant. The betrothal could not go on as planned. Joseph thought he had good reason todivorce Mary..

According to the law, Joseph had every right to have Mary stoned as an unfaithful woman. Some Mideast countries still have such brutal customs. Joseph chose not to do that. Our Gospel tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. He would divorce Mary quietly so that she would not be subject to the death penalty. He would help her all he could, but there was no way that they could continue as husband and wife. Joseph was prepared to make the biggest mistake of his life, but he didn’t know it.

The church often finds itself in Mary’s position. The church has something within her that is very good for the world. The church has the Word of God, the message of salvation, but the world takes offense. "What gives you the right to tell me that I am a sinner? I am just as good as the next guy." "How can you say that Jesus is the only way? That’s pretty intolerant."

Of course the world is not like Joseph and many Christians die for their faith. Their were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in all the previous centuries combined and the Twenty-first Century promises to be no different.

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