Come Unto Me

December 22, 2013
Matthew 1:18-25

On this the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of joy and we begin the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Since the weather prevented us from being able to sing the Messiah together at the beginning of this month we will, in part, celebrate by singing several selections from that great work together this morning as part of the sermon.  I invite you now to move into groupings of vocal parts for singing together.

As I said, this is the beginning of a celebration, a celebration of the mystery and wonder of the story of the birth of a precious child.  A story that actually starts with distress, doubt, and hesitation.  Matthew’s telling of the birth of Jesus is focused on the experience of Joseph and Joseph’s tale is one of skepticism and doubt.  It is a tale of fear and hesitation in the presence of God’s grand plans.  Poor Joseph is a man who seeks after God’s heart in his living and yet finds himself in a quandary – here he is engaged to a young woman found to be with child, a child he knows is not his – if he stays with her he projects a sort of lie to the community and yet if he leaves her publicly she will be disgraced.  Neither path is exactly appealing and yet some step forward will be required of this man.  He is in a moment of distress, a distress that we can often relate to.  We are not so unlike Joseph, we are people who want to seek God in our living and yet part of that journey is to live in the reality of our fears and doubts and in our feelings of aloneness in navigating this human condition.  Yet true to the nature of our God, if we are open to seeing God’s presence around us we will find that we are not alone in this condition, just as Joseph was not left alone, an angel of the Lord brought him words of assurance: Do not be afraid…you are living with a gift from the Holy Spirit.  Our God is a God of presence and comfort who knows that we live in the midst of struggles and who chooses to respond with words and signs of assurance.

Comfort Ye

Solo – Isaiah 40:1-3
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Matthew 1:20-21

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 

And the Glory the Glory of the Lord

Chorus — Isaiah 40:5
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.  What is this glory of which the mouth of the Lord hath spoken?  Hope, life, a future – all wrapped up in the promise and blessing of new life in a baby.  This is a recurring image of God’s hope for God’s people in moments of challenge and uncertainty.  New life is the word Isaiah offered as a sign of God’s presence to King Ahaz in Judah when he was lacking in faith and struggling against the political powers of warring neighbors: Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel – God is with us.  And here it is again in Matthew – another promise that God is with us. As Barbara Lundblad, Associate Professor of Preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York puts it: generations later “Matthew [finds] Jesus in Isaiah, even though Jesus’ name isn’t in the text…and it was not wrong for Matthew to hear Isaiah’s prophecy pointing to Jesus as “Immanuel, that is God-with-us.” The stories of God’s movement in history invite each generation to enter the story…[and] every generation enters the pages of scripture with longing and need, expectation and hope.”  Joseph was in need of a sign when these words reached him in his dream and the words were enough to allow him to see that the child Mary carried was part of a bigger plan.  Joseph, by claiming Mary and the baby as his own, received a gift in the birth and life of that little one and we too can claim the gift that life offers – an Immanuel life, a life of God with us. For unto us all this child was born.

For Unto Us a Child is Born

Chorus — Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

God is with us in the child that was born and if I have learned anything about living with a newborn child in the last three weeks it is that presence is a powerful antidote to fear and distress.  For our son Simon, the presence of loving arms holding him close and gently rocking him sweep away his frantic moments of distress (at least some of the time!). For Becky and myself, when moments of tiredness and fear creep in and we find ourselves overwhelmed, the presence of community has stepped in, reassuring us that we too are being held close by the loving arms of the Creator.  Presence is not always easy, at times it requires and drains us of energy and in other moments it can energize us, yet in any of these moments, if we open ourselves and come into the presence of God, we can move through each moment in peace.  In our fears and our doubts, God is with us.  In our loneliness and our relationships, God is with us.  In our hope and our joy, God is with us.

In this season that celebrates the presence of God with us, and as we hear one more piece from the Messiah, I invite you to come and receive the oil of anointing as a sign of Immanuel, of God’s presence with you in all things.  Come full of faith or full of doubt, whether in sadness and suffering, or in joy and contentment.

He Shall Feed His Flock/Come Unto Me

Solo – Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 11:28, 29
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; and he shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Come unto Him, all ye that labour, that are heavy laden, and He shall give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of Him; for he is meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.