198: Advent 4A (Dec. 18, 2016)


198: Advent 4A (Dec. 18, 2016)

Voice in the Wilderness: Romans 1:1-7 with Jeff Nelson

Featured Musician - Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker, “Lo How a Rose Eer Blooming” from the album “The Hymns of Christmas.”

Episode 198 4th Sunday of Advent, Year A - (December 18, 2016)
Hello and welcome to the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, the lectionary podcast for preachers, seekers and Bible geeks. This is episode 198 Sunday December 18, 2016, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A.

Introduction and Check-in

  • Time person of the year...3 years ago it was Pope Francis...now it is Trump
  • The problem with Santa - responses

    • Shauna - I'll also respond to the Santa question. Our children are grown now, but when they were little I tried to preserve a bit of the fun and magic of Santa without claiming he was real. We certainly downplayed Santa in favor of the story of Jesus' birth, but if the children asked about Santa, my position was that "it's fun to imagine that Santa is real." So I might make a few comments about Santa coming, but tried to do so in a way that they knew I was playing and inviting them to play along.
    • Anonymous - I will respond to the Santa question. I look at it this way. I want my children to be honest with me. As such, I must be honest with them. My child gets inundated with Santa based activities at school, which just plays into the commercialization of the season. I want my children to grow up with a focus on giving rather than receiving. I want my children to grow up with faith in what is real. You see, when children find out you lied about one thing, they start to question what else you lied about. That's my $0.02.
    • Lori - Hi guys. Thanks so much for your dedication to producing the show. I appreciate your podcast for assistance in my sermon preparation.

I just had to respond about dealing with Santa.
We have never focused on Santa. Most of the things my girls know about him is from school. Whenever they bring up the subject of Santa, I remind them that Christmas is really about the celebration of Jesus and his coming.
We spend a lot of time on Advent preparations. We use the Perfect Advent calendar, http://theperfectadventcalendar.com/, we set up the nativity scene with figures from the story all around the house that move closer as we approach Christmas. We also have an advent wreath.
We’ve talked a little as questions come up but I talk about the spirit of Santa Claus. They also know that I dislike “Santa Claus is coming to town” because it goes against the Christmas message of being loved and cared for by God even when we don’t deserve it.
Now that they are older (7 & 9), I’m noticing less and less focus on Santa and more and more focus on doing the advent activities and bible readings (and chocolate of course).
But I can’t say that I did this on my own. My own parents gave us stockings and never told me anything much about Santa. I knew that Christmas was really about Jesus. I don’t remember ever really believing in the movie version of Santa Claus but I remember early believing in the unconditional love that Santa represented. It served me well and I hope it will serve my children well too.

  • Rob R. - Santa represents something that the miracle of Jesus's birth is too abstract to be understood by kiddos. Magic. There is something magical, mysterious, joyous and wonderful about Christmas. Sam is a PK, so he'll forever have a peek behind the veil, but most kids don't grow up with an insider's view of the holiday. Santa is the magic the mystery and the joy. Yes, little baby Jesus is wonderful, but that does not excite kids because the reason baby Jesus is magical, mysterious and joyful is beyond them at first. Santa imbues Christmas with a warm, happy feeling that they would likely miss otherwise.

Ok, truth be told, some annoying kid with an older sibling will blow the whole Santa thing in first or second grade. But still, then you have the opportunity to let the little one in on the BIG SECRET: it's way more fun to give gifts! Now that they are older, they get to join in giving, not just receiving. And because Christmas is really about giving, let's talk about how God loves us soooooo much that he gave us his only son to live with us! What an awesome gift!
I agree using Santa as a bribe is silly. My kids wrote Santa letters, we left him cookies, I left them thank you notes, Ethan always worried about the reindeer, so he'd leave a big bowl of water every year while my wife and I fought back tears at seeing his tender heart at work. When the time came to give them the "Santa talk" in 4th grade, they already knew, and were excited about getting us gifts that year. I got a model lighthouse from the local Dollar Store. It's still on my dresser today.
I guess there is no right answer, but I wanted to say a little something in defense of ole Santa.

Voice in the Wilderness: Romans 1:1-7 with Jeff Nelson

Featured Musician - Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker, “Lo How a Rose Eer Blooming” from the album “The Hymns of Christmas.”

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Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:18-25 Joseph informed of coming baby.
Initial Thoughts

  • Genealogy- a worthwhile sermon on God’s love:

    • Jesus had a very flawed family line:

      1. Tamar (raped by her father-in-law who then tried to burn her alive)
      2. “Wife of Uriah” (downfall of David)
      3. Uzziah (struck down by God for his arrogance)
      4. Mannasah - restored idol worship and worship of Bhaal
    • This is the family whom God chose to save the world and become incarnate within

      1. If God can save the world with this family- imagine what God can do with you

Bible Study

  • Birth narrative in Matthew is barely a narrative.

    • There’s no manger or shepherds or angels or trip to Bethlehem.
    • 1:1-17 is genealogy
    • 18-24 is about Joseph
    • Jesus is born in a period in the middle of verse 25

      • “But he didn't have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son.  Joseph called him Jesus.”
  • Joseph’s Choice

    • Joseph has a choice!

      • Hard Choice - stay with potentially unfaithful fiance
      • Easy Choice - quietly break off the engagement
    • Deuteronomy 22:22-27

“If a young woman who is a virgin is engaged to one man and another man meets up with her in a town and has sex with her, you must bring both of them to the city gates there and stone them until they die—the young woman because she didn’t call for help in the city, and the man because of the fact that he humiliated his neighbor’s wife. Remove such evil from your community!
But if the man met up with the engaged woman in a field, grabbing her and having sex with her there, only the man will die. Don’t do anything whatsoever to the young woman. She hasn’t committed any capital crime—rather, this situation is exactly like the one where someone attacks his neighbor and kills him. Since the man met up with her in a field, the engaged woman may well have called out for help, but there was no one to rescue her.
If a man meets up with a young woman who is a virgin and not engaged, grabs her and has sex with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who had sex with her must give fifty silver shekels to the young woman’s father.  She will also become his wife because he has humiliated her.  He is never allowed to divorce her.”

  • Joseph Disregards the Deuteronomic Law, and yet he is considered a “Righteous man” because of this kindness.

    • He is stuck between following the Law, and following his heart. His choice is to follow his heart.
    • Standing in tension that Jesus grows up to teach about time and again: “You have heard it said..., but I say to you…”
  • Joseph does not investigate whether Mary conceived in a field or not.  And he chooses not to search for the man either.
  • Also note that the adultery law only applies if the woman is married.  It says nothing about a married man having sex with a woman that is unmarried.  

    • Marriage was a property exchange, and a way to determine the handing down of goods from Father to Son.  
    • Sex with a married woman throws into question the validity of the husband’s property line.
    • Also, marriage is required if a man rapes an unengaged woman, and the reparations are paid to the father.
  • Ultimately, this is about God’s action in the child that is coming.  

    • This birth is “of God.”  
    • The child will fall into the line of David.  
    • Neither Mary nor Joseph have any words in this narrative.  The only words are from the angel.  The only “action” is obedience.
  • Two names of the child tells us about the nature of God:

    • Jesus, meaning “God saves”

      • Jesus is the Latin translation of Joshua!

        • Jesus is presented as both the new Moses who will bring people out of the bondage of sin and the new Joshua who will bring them into the Promised Land- the Kingdom of God
      • Matthew makes it clear that Joseph named Jesus.  This is the ultimate act of him claiming the boy as his own, thus adopting him into the line of David. (Eugene Boring, The New Interpreters Bible v. viii Matthew, p. 136)
      • “Many Christians are uncomfortable with the expression ‘Jesus son of Joseph,’ because it sounds to them like a denial of the virgin birth.  For Matthew, it was essential that Jesus be recognized as truly the son of Joseph, because only so was he an authentic descendant of David” (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew p. 11)
    • Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”

      • The meaning of the “virgin birth” is not to make great theological interpretations about things like original sin, or biological theories about DNA.  It is about simply “God is with us.”
      • The great mystery of Immanuel is that God is with us, and that is enough.

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • How often do we choose the easy choice because it is “right” within the bylaws or laws instead of the hard choice which may lead to persecution but embraces the love of God?
  • We often focus on Mary and what it was like to be a teenage mother- what about Joseph the teenage father of a child who isn’t his, yet adopts him anyway. In what ways are we like Joseph?

Psalm Nugget: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Second Reading:  Isaiah 7:10-16 The young woman’s child
Initial Thoughts

  • There are so many layers to this text, especially in this time of year, it is hard to sort it all out.
  • Controversy over “young woman” or “virgin,” is not that cut-and-dry, and probably mattered little to original writer and readers of the text.

    • Popular ‘liberal’ reading: Hebrew almah always meant young woman, and Matthew was quoting the Greek Septuagint, which used word parthenos, which could mean either young woman or virgin.
    • Then Matthew extrapolated virginity out of a misunderstanding of Isaiah text, and early English translators went with “virgin” instead of “young woman,” but it could have gone either way.
    • “In my now older increased scholarly humility—well, somewhat increased humility—I know that that entire linguistic discussion is rather more complex. 'almah could in fact mean virgin, though Hebrew does have another word that usually does mean that, bethulah. Thus, I do not any longer excoriate those who try to prove Jesus' miraculous birth simply by quoting these texts. What Isaiah "meant" and what Matthew "meant" may finally be beyond our ability to recover, given the two millennia and more that have passed since their writing.” (John Holbert, Patheos. Holbert has a PhD in Hebrew Bible and was the Fred Craddock Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology).

Bible Study

  • Literary/Historical Context

    • Read Isaiah 7:1-9

      • 7:1 “In the days of Ahaz, Aram’s King Rezin and Israel’s King Pekkah came up to attack Jerusalem, but they couldn’t overpower it.
      • Then Aram and Ephraim became allies as well, “and the hearts of their people shook as trees against a forest shake when there is a wind.”
      • God to Isaiah: “Go tell Ahaz ‘Be careful and stay calm. Don’t fear, and don’t lose heart over these two pieces of smoking torches.” (7:4)
    • Within this framework of geo-political suspense is this exchange, which come after God already told Ahaz “Do not fear.”
  • The message of this prophecy is simple: “Trust God.” Ahaz was fearful of enemies amassing on his border. Isaiah told Ahaz, “Don’t fear.” Ahaz was fearful. God said, “Ask for a sign” (which is pretty magnanimous of God, who isn’t keen on doing parlor tricks for the unfaithful). Ahaz says, “no thanks.” So God gets annoyed and says, “Here’s your sign: See that pregnant woman over there, by the time her kid is ‘of age,’ both of these kings you’re afraid of will be no more.”
  • “Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?”

    • These are Isaiah’s words. Apparently Ahaz’s god and Isaiah’s God are different.

      • Ahaz, if he were honest about wanting a sign, probably would have wanted something bigger. A child is not a particularly comforting sign against an army.
      • “A child. Immanuel. O my people, are you still waiting for the Warrior God -- and now you are terrified that the gods of Syria are greater than I am? Must I be like you, only bigger? Must I be vengeful in a world obsessed with getting even? I myself will give you a sign: “a young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall call him Immanuel.” (Barbara Lundblad, Working Preacher)
    • God weary?

      • Terry Fretheim points to three other cases where God is described as weary - Jeremiah 15:6, Ezekiel 24:12, Malachi 2:17.
      • “How are we to understand such passages, especially in view of the fact that God is expressly said to be the one who ‘does not faint and does not grow weary’ (Isaiah 40:28)? The latter context, with its reference to the weariness of human beings suggests that the primary reference is to physical stamina. With God the Creator there is no limit in this regard. The idea of ‘tiredness,’ whether of the physical, mental, or emotional kind, does not seem to be the focus of these more general references to the expending of the divine life. God’s life is in some sense being spent….  The divine restraint in the face of the suffering of the people stood for an intensification of God’s suffering, a build-up of internal forces, finally bursting forth in the travail of creative activity.” (The Suffering of God, Terrence Fretheim, p 142)
  • Lectionary Context

    • Mary’s virginity is extremely important to some people, but it has nothing to do with the original reading of this text. There is nothing miraculous about the pregnant woman and her child. In fact, its very ordinary-ness is part of the point. This is just a normal child with a normal mom, and it will grow up normally - despite what Ahaz fears.

Sermon Thoughts and Questions

  • “The sign of the child is a sign to Ahaz and Judah that YHWH is still watching over the fearful and fretful people of God's choice. And there is the meaning of the birth of the child we celebrate each year. He is a sign to us, fearful and fretful people, that God is with us still offering to us strength and love, assuring us that we are not finally alone no matter the size and force of the enemies we face.” (John Holbert, Patheos)
  • “It is hardly possible for a Christian congregation to hear the Immanuel prophecy without thinking of the birth of Jesus. What, then, are we to do with the tension between the ancient and Christian meanings? It is difficult, but essential, to sustain the tension, to refuse to resolve it quickly by choosing the one while rejecting the other.” (Gene Tucker, New Interpreter's Bible, volume VI, p. 113) We should still be asking the question - “What kind of a sign is a baby?” What was it to the people of Jerusalem? What was it to those who witnessed Jesus’ birth? What is it to us today?

Tasty Wafer of the Week:

Thank you listeners

  • Pulpitfiction.us

    • Anna - As someone with a (mental) disability, texts which mention healing can be very fraught. Our society medicalizes any kind of difference from "normal." If you are not normal, that is bad, and you become not a person but a cripple/sicko to be "cured" (by which they mean, "made normal"). The emphasis is not on healing or wholeness or what is best for the person, but on a medical "fix" to the "problem." But in many cases, what's needed isn't a fix, but rather acceptance into the community. Blindness and deafness are a good example of this: if you lose your eyesight or your hearing, it can be devastating (especially if it happens after you're too old to learn other ways to do things). But if you're born blind or deaf, it's not devastating, it's normal for you. And you don't necessarily need or want to be fixed; it's part of who God made you to be, and there are rich deaf and blind cultures across the world that aren't deficient or crippled or bad, they're just different. You can't tell from the outside whether someone's disability is something to be cured, or just a part of who they are that is different from "normal." Only the person with the disability can tell you that.

I have three diagnosed conditions, autism, anxiety, and prosopagnosia, and while I'd gladly take a cure for the anxiety and prosopagnosia, I would never want to be "cured" of my autism...My autism isn't a problem; my problem is the people who can't accept someone who is different, and so don't like me any time I am myself. There are many people in the world who need healing. There are times I need it myself--for other things than my autism. But when some Christians learn I'm autistic, the first thing they do is say they'll pray for Jesus to heal me from my autism. My response is, why would Jesus heal something that's mostly a problem because of the way other people see me? Wouldn't Jesus be more likely to "heal" their attitudes, instead?
The problem is, most preachers only really know disability from hospital visits. There are disabled people in our congregations, but a lack of accommodations for various disabilities often keeps them on the fringes or excluded altogether...There are people whose disability or disease or injury or condition needs to be healed. But there are also people whose disability is not something to be healed, but rather something to be accepted and accommodated. And those people regularly get left out in the cold by the church.
I've never figured out a good way to preach passages that touch on healing--especially the ones like this week, where it's a brief mention in a passage focused on something else. But it is definitely something that I hope more preachers will learn to think about.

Featured Musician - Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker, “Lo How a Rose Eer Blooming” from the album “The Hymns of Christmas.”

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com, @pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”, "Real Ride" and “Summertime”) and The Steel Wheels for our transition music(“Nola’s First Dance” from their album Lay Down, Lay Low) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).