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Eagerly Waiting for Emmanuel, God With Us

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[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25; Romans 5:1-7. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]

The fourth Sunday in Advent is usually when we have the Christmas pageant at our church. The children and youth of the church look forward to preparing and participating in this activity each year. For them, it is the opportunity to retell and reinterpret the story of the birth of Jesus, as they give much creative thought on how they would like the story to be shared. It is as much a journey as a pageant, for all involved.

In the past, however, there has not been much focus on Joseph, as compared to some of other “players” in the Christmas story. This isn’t a huge surprise because, as we’ve seen in past pageants, the kids enjoy making a grand entrance (and exit), as does King Herod or the wise people, or climbing up to the pulpit as the Angel Gabriel, or chasing after young sheep down the sanctuary aisles as shepherds? Perhaps, that is why the birth of Jesus as told by Matthew struck a different chord with me.

Today’s passage focuses on Joseph, his unique role and perspective, in the story. Joseph is confronted with a dilemma: A “righteous” man, Joseph learns that Mary is with child and, therefore, unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace, plans to “dismiss her quietly.”  But Joseph is transformed by the announcement of the angel to take Mary as his wife and to name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” 

With great courage and deep faith, Joseph does just that. Facing possible ridicule, he goes against what he thought was right in order to do what is right. He chooses to take an unmarried pregnant woman as his wife and names the child Jesus. This story from Joseph’s perspective demonstrates that what is righteous or the right thing to do is not always obvious and indeed can be difficult to ascertain at times. 

During the Advent season and always, we are reminded to listen for the voice of God, to reflect, and to seek what we should do as we wrestle with the complexities of our lives.  There are individuals and groups who wish to divide the world today into good and evil, moral and immoral, and right and wrong.  But what we are commanded to do by the love and grace of God is not necessarily what is dictated by society’s norms. As the prophecy in Isaiah reveals, “God is with us.”  We are reminded that Emmanuel comes.  With the promise that God is always with us, God’s love is “poured into our hearts,” as it says in Romans 5:5, and God’s love is with us in whatever predicament or challenges we face. Now that’s a story for our youth to tell in preparation of the coming of Emmanuel. And perhaps a few might even vie for the role of Joseph in this year’s pageant.

Prayer:  Come, Emmanuel, Come!  Come amidst our doubts and our fears.  Come and deepen our joy, strengthen our hope, and grow our love.  For in our knowing God is with us, we need not be afraid -- and with all people can experience God's love pouring out into this world!

Evelyn Ying is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.


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