December 1, 2013 – First Sunday of Advent

Advent 1   Dec 1, 2013  Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 1:1-17*, Luke 1:5-25   Ready or Not

* this reading below

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Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

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Most editors really don’t recommend starting your book with a forty-something-generations-long-genealogy. But here’s St Matthew, best-selling author, starting the first book of the New Testament with a long list of fathers – from Abraham to King David to Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus, the Messiah.

Why this long list of fathers of fathers of fathers we may ask?  Since Matthew’s going to be telling us soon – Joseph isn’t really the father of Jesus anyway?

Maybe this is the gospel writer’s way of helping us get ready… for the unexpected side of our long-expected Jesus…

And if we think Matthew’s genealogy’s long – check out First Chronicles – where the first nine chapters are nearly all one long genealogy. And when we compare Chronicles and Matthew we notice – lots more family of Jesus named in Chronicles than in Matthew’s shorter version. Bible commentaries tell us genealogies weren’t about telling everything, they were about letting us know the main points of who we are and where we’re coming from. Often using highly symbolic patterns.

Matthew’s genealogy’s divided into three sections of fourteen generations each. Fourteen is twice seven, the biblical number of completion (God completed creation in seven days.) Repeating fourteen three times helps us recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Matthew names Jesus as son of David, Israel’s best-loved king – and son of Abraham, Israel’s first ancestor, whose children, God promises, will be more numerous than the stars in the sky – and all the families of earth will be blessed through Abraham and his descendants.

There are also, we notice, five women in the genealogy of the Messiah. All the men named here had wives and mothers, who could also all have been mentioned. But only five are named.

First Tamar, a Canaanite, foreigner, outsider to the people of Israel  – daughter-in-law of Judah, son of Israel – Tamar who impersonates a prostitute to get Judah’s attention, a longer story that ends with Judah fathering twins by Tamar, and becoming first man in the bible to publically admit he was wrong. (Review their story in Genesis 38.)

Then there’s Rahab, another Canaanite-foreigner-outsider, an actual prostitute, who saves the lives of Israel’s spies scouting the city of Jericho. (Joshua chapters 2 and 6 tell her story.)

Then comes Ruth, the Moabite, yet another foreigner and outsider, who we know from the book that carries her name. Ruth follows her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi back to Bethlehem, and becomes great-grandmother of King David.

Then Bathsheba, (we’re not sure but) probably also a Gentile-foreigner, whom King David steals from her husband, Uriah the Hittite, whom David orders murdered. Bathsheba is the mother of King Solomon who builds the temple. Finally Mary, who we’ll be spending more time with over the next few weeks. Five women of faith who act boldly, in faith, each joining the story of Israel in progress – the story of the family of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

And, if we are ready to hear it…

Here we are already in Advent…(ready or not)… Waiting in expectation… for further fulfillment of God’s promises… Doing our best to be ready… for the unexpected…that’s to be expected… in this season of waiting for the long-expected Jesus… (and…)

I’ve been remembering a story told by Mary Ann Lawliss, organist with St Joseph’s Catholic church in Dannemora NY  (where I used to serve the Methodist church). Mary Ann told some of us once… How in winter she would enter the sanctuary in darkness on choir rehearsal nights… finding her way across the church in the dark…walking slowly, silently, touching the wall, till she got to the organ, and sat down to wait in silence and darkness for the choir to arrive for evening practice. She could always come in by another door and use the lights, but preferred her routine of entering in darkness and silence for her time of waiting. When she got to the organ and got seated, she told us, she’d always say, “Good evening, God.”

One evening she followed her routine as usual, carefully walking to the organ, sitting down, and saying, “Good evening, God.”

“Good evening, Mary Ann,” the voice answered.

She jumped out of her seat….

A choir member had arrived earlier than usual that evening…

And we never know what to expect… in the house of God… and the story of God…

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(We do know…) It was a rare privilege, in days of old, to be chosen to light the incense in the temple’s inner sanctuary. Names were chosen by lot from among several dozen bands-of-priests, who shared responsibility for temple services. This was usually a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The hand of God was believed to be guiding the selection process. So probably Zechariah was on edge… maybe even sleepless… from taking extra care to be prepared… for his time in the sanctuary.

And when an angel of God shows up unexpectedly, suddenly – Well – I’d be scared too. Never mind the angel’s saying ‘don’t be afraid” – most of us are still going be shocked out of our socks, I’d expect.

And no matter how faithful we are in our prayer lives – I’m not sure most us would be better than Zechariah at believing an angel’s promise of a child coming to us late in life…

We probably remember fertility struggles as a theme from the get-go, in Genesis, first book of the bible – angels telling Abraham and Sarah they’ll have a child, even though they’re nearing 90 and 100 years of age. And we may remember also, how first Abraham, then Sarah laugh at the promise.

But the child arrives right on time. And next generation, their son Isaac and wife Rebecca have a hard time conceiving for twenty long years… but finally they have a famous set of twins. And in the third generation, Jacob and wife Rachel again have a hard time with fertility. Though it happens, eventually, in God’s time… Believing in God’s promises is often pretty challenging…

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So here we are in Advent… in training… to expect our long-expected Jesus… and further fulfillment of God’s promises…Including Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom promise… And Jesus’ promise that we pray for every day – “ thy kingdom come on earth… as it is in heaven….”

Our District Superintendent, Rev Seok Hwan Hong, showed a video at our recent Charge Conference – where a woman sits down, and starts to pray the Lord’s Prayer – only to be interrupted by God, asking, “do you really mean that?”

And her first response is, “Will you please be quiet! I’m saying my prayers!”

God says, “I know. You said ‘Our Father who art in heaven…’ so I said, ‘here I am, what can I do for you?’”

And it takes a bunch of back-and-forth conversation like this, before the woman’s really starting to listen…

At first God’s voice sounds rather annoying to her… because God’s messing with her comfortable, familiar prayer routine… Messing with her mind, asking if she really means what she’s asking in her prayers…

And we laughed and appreciated the video. And in the video it takes about five minutes for the woman to get it, and be really listening well, now, for God.

Whereas in real life it takes priest Zechariah nine months of silence… while his wife Elizabeth’s pregnant with baby John the Baptist…for him to really get to the place where he can do good listening… And he’s a whole lot quicker study than most of us…I know it took me a lot longer than that… and I still need plenty of reminding…

And ever since Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph…

Advent is a time when we come again into old, often familiar routines of worship…

We say familiar prayers we’ve often said before.

Sing beautiful seasonal songs we’ve sung before…

Read familiar holy scriptures we’ve read many times before… that tell the holy story of the holy birth of our Savior.

As we pray again for Jesus to be born in us…

And of course… there’s always reminders… deeply embedded in the story itself…

That whenever we’re in God’s story…we better expect the unexpected….

Because by now we know… that we never know… when, where, and how the Holy Spirit will surprise us…

What we do know… is simply to pray – listen – worship – serve – and help each other be ready as we can…

Always expecting  the unexpected – as we tell the story…and live the Jesus story, together….Ready or not… getting readier than we are…

And as we make ready, let’s sing…

(Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus – #196)

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Matthew 1:1-17

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.