22 December 2013

It seems almost trite and superfluous to say that the incarnation is the greatest statement, the greatest manifestation of love ever – but that doesn’t make it untrue. The name Immanuel – God with us – is a profound and powerful statement of God’s desire to be in intimate communion with human beings. The challenge for us is to recognise God’s presence in all situations and circumstances. We can doubt God’s love in times of grief, pain and trauma, but we find comfort, healing and strength when we are able to experience God’s “with-us-ness” even in such times. And, when we are able to help others to recognise and experience God’s presence and love in their lives – whatever they may be going through – then we have truly become Advent people.

May our worship overflow with proclamation and experience of God’s ever-present love this week.

READINGS:
Isaiah 7:10-16: God promises a sign for King Ahaz, who is looking to Assyria for assistance with the threats of neighbouring Damascus and Samaria, that a virgin will give birth and call the child “Immanuel”, and that the enemy nations will be desolate before the child knows good from evil.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19: A prayer for God to forgive and restore God’s people, and to send and empower the One God raises up to keep God’s people from turning away from God.

Romans 1:1-7: Paul celebrates Christ who is of both human and divine descent and who has called the apostles – and all of God’s people – to belong to Jesus and to spread the Good News.

Matthew 1:18-25: Mary discovers herself to be pregnant while betrothed to Joseph, but Joseph is informed in a dream that the Child is of God, and must be named Jesus. These events are proclaimed to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin who conceives and gives birth to Immanuel.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The final Advent week before the Christmas celebration turns our attention to the significance of the name given in Isaiah’s prophecy, and ascribed to Jesus by Matthew – Immanuel. The idea that God is with us may seem commonplace to us now, since we’ve heard it so many times, but for the ancient hearers of the Gospel, it must have sounded radical, or even scandalous. Yet, it reflects the intense longing within God for intimate union with humanity. It is a testament to God’s unfailing, unconditional love, and is reinforced by all the readings this week. Isaiah speaks a prophecy which offers a sign of God’s care and willingness to protect God’s people to a king who has largely ignored God’s law. The Psalm offers a prayer in faith and expectation that God cares for God’s people and will send one who will lead and deliver them. Paul celebrates the Good News of God’s kindness and the belonging we find in God through Christ. And, in a rather moving narrative, Matthew describes Joseph’s love and care for Mary, which becomes something of a metaphor (whether intentional or not on Matthew’s part) for the love of the God who is about to step physically into human affairs and experience.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: On the scale of global issues, love may seem to be completely irrelevant. When governments negotiate, when corporations strategise, when soldiers march, or when the weak and poor struggle to survive, what place is there for love? Yet, God must know something about love that we don’t since love is the only command we have been given as followers of Christ. In truth, if love was the driving force behind our voting, our business dealings and our consumption, our dealings with friend and enemy, and our awareness and care of the most vulnerable, the world would be a far more whole place. How could a policy of love actually work out practically in the world, though? Perhaps if followers of Christ in places of influence began to embrace dialogue, collaboration and the quest to listen and understand, that would be a powerful first step. Secondly, if all followers of Christ chose to operate from love in whatever capacity we may engage in social and political structures – whether voting, volunteering, contributing, lobbying, petitioning, negotiating or communicating with leaders, this could have a transforming impact on the systems that operate in our world. Such a policy of love would inevitably impact economic realities (poverty and the gap between rich and poor) climate change, conflict, health care, immigration and xenophobia concerns, crime, exploitation and human trafficking in positive ways, because we could no longer remain uninvolved in the struggles of our world, and we could no longer choose the methods of expediency, dominance and self-service in our responses to our world’s need. The Advent challenge this week is for us to follow Christ in becoming – individually and together – Immanuel in our broken world. The incarnation continues through Christians if we take Christ’s call seriously!

LOCAL APPLICATION:  It’s not hard to discern, in our churches and communities, how the call to be agents of God’s presence and love should be worked out. Within our own groups, it’s the simple acts of service, inclusion and grace that easily manifest God’s love. In this Advent season, a particular awareness of, and care for, those who have significant need is a visible reflection of God’s care. Food parcels, invitations to be part of small groups and special community building events all open us, and those in need, to God’s presence and love. Beyond the walls of the church, simple neighbourliness can be a very effective reflection of God’s care. Setting aside time to volunteer in a shelter or caring ministry, or welcoming needy or lonely people into our celebrations – making them part of our family – also offers tremendous healing and transformation. Whatever the actual actions we may choose to do, the key to experiencing Immanuel again this Advent, is to offer ourselves to be “little Immanuels” in practical ways in our own world. If we can lay aside any possible benefit we may receive – whether church growth or personal satisfaction – so much the better!

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
God With Us
Come Again
Where Is The Love?
Love In Action

Hymn Suggestions:
It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
Love Came Down At Christmas
Let Earth And Heaven Combine
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
What Child Is This?
God With Us (Link to YouTube video)
Jesus Messiah (Link to YouTube video)
Born That We May Have Life
Joy Has Dawned
Light Of the World

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for Advent & Christmas
A Liturgy for the Sacrament

Video Suggestions
:
Advent: Love
God With Us
Four Words
Christ Is Coming

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