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Sign

December 16, 2022 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills

virginADVENT 4/A (12/18/2022): Ps. 24; Isa. 7:10-17; Rom. 1:1-7; Mt. 1:18-25

Sign, [T]he LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not …” Therefore, the LORD himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel …” (vv. 10, 11, 12a, 14).

Why does the Church celebrate four Sundays in preparation for the birth of Christ? The Nativity, of course, merits a period of reflective repentance; but what is it that specifically orients our hearts and minds in Advent; simply that we are not meant to be ignorant of the God’s revelation in the Christ child; that in him God’s purposes are made known to men.

Advent reveals and prepares: a) Jesus’ coming crucifixion is God’s glorious triumph (Mt. 21:1-11); b) JB’s preaching clears the way for Jesus’ mission (3:1-12); c) that John receives Jesus, as exclusive inSpirited purveyor of God’s word; d) and today, on this final Advent Sunday we receive Jesus as the sign of Immanuel with Joseph for a new righteousness (1:18-25).

Sin has consequences, not the least is our ignorance of God and his will. With Scripture, our celebration of the Nativity receives God’s full revelation, by the incarnate flesh of Mary, come on Christmas night.

Apart from the revelation of Jesus, we are dumb as dirt; we misunderstand Scripture and fail to comprehend God’s will and reign for our peace between God and man. Advent therefore calls us to repentance, a turning from ignorance as preparation for “Immanuel’s” coming.

Matthew calls Joseph “a righteous man” (v.19), which is to say, he was an observant Jew; well perhaps not so much, Joseph’s heart broke for love of Mary. Joseph on learning of her pregnancy certainly had grounds for divorce, could retain her dowery of recover her bridal price; but more her apparent infidelity demanded Mary at some point be stoned as a purging from the people adultery’s evil (Dt. 22:23, 24; 5:18).

Still, Joseph is called “righteous”, not for wooden obedience to legalities or even considering an extra-legal “quiet divorce”; rather for his compassionate and trust at God’s angelic word requiring him to hold two apparent contrary notions; that his wife was pregnant yet remained virgin. This was the sign rejected by king Ahaz but today at the angelic word of God was received by Joseph in faith (Mt. 1:21).

The prophesy of Immanuel, God in Christ by virgin birth is “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven”, believed by Joseph to a new righteousness. The planting of Jesus in Mary’s womb of the HS is the Christmas mystery’s depth and height requiring sinful man’s preparation to the incarnate Word who is Immanuel of Mary’s flesh.

Today’s psalmody (Ps. 24:8, 9) identifies Jesus, “king of glory, strong and mighty … in battle”; a Babe out of heaven entering the citadels of our rebellion; commanding our ancient doors be lifted for the king’s business, converting hearts or judgment on those who reject God’s grace and ways (cf. Ps. 2).

Absent Divine revelation, fallen reason stumbles in the dark; as sinners we are not equipped for heaven’s Truth from the One for whom all things are possible (Mt. 19:26). Joseph needed enlightenment about his wife; so, the angel disclosed, “do not be afraid to take into your home Mary, your wife, for the child that has been begotten in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 1:20b).

King Ahaz refused God’s proffered sign, seeking human resolution to Judah’s dilemma; but Joseph by the same sign of the virgin bearing a Child, set aside the strictures of law for “compassion” and belief being accounted for righteousness.

It remains a few nights from now, for “those with whom [God] is pleased” (Lk. 2:14b), those who believe the sign of Immanuel, awaiting God’s Light for joy in heaven’s song, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”.

It was necessary that Moses veil his face when preaching to God’s people unable bear the sight of reflected holiness of Truth and Spirit. Jesus’ nativity unfolds revelation of Jesus’ holiness by lineage, prophecy, naming, and titles. The unveiling of “God with us” begins, establishing the Child’s name, “son of David”, “Jesus”, and “Immanuel”. But on his birth, Jesus is received in one excellent title after another that joins him to his church, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6c); in these the Church possesses unveiled Light.

Out of Galilee’s darkness we travel with Jesus to his place of exultation and final naming, as the “Coming One” who is “Crucified Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). On the Last Day we stand before the Lamb either having trivialized the Child or made for him a place in our hearts as “king of glory” within the “ancient doors” of our rebellion (Ps. 24:7). Amen.

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