Monday, December 23, 2019

Advent 4A

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Three weeks ago the church greeted a new year of grace that's wide and high and inclusive. Today is the Fourth Sunday of the season of Advent—almost Christmas, the supreme festival of creation. From Latin words ad = to or toward or in the direction of AND venire = come, Advent looks toward the coming of God in our midst in Jesus of Nazareth, the baby in the Bethlehem manger. Our gospel readings this year mostly will be from Matthew, so we refer to this as Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Year A, Matthew's year.

Although today I mostly want to go "off-lectionary" and discuss more of our individual Nativity practices, treats, food, preferences, music, and memories, to round out Isaiah in Advent, we'll read the First Lection.

The First Readings (OT) for all four Advent Sundays in Matthew's year are from the first part of the book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39 often referred to as First Isaiah, though the material in them comes from at least two different writers. We've described the frightening and precarious overall political, social, religious, and economic situation Isaiah of Jerusalem addressed. Long ago, the church identified...

14"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel."

...as a Messianic text that anticipated the arrival of Emmanuel, Jesus, God-With-Us on earth. The librettist for Handel's Messiah chose this as one of his texts, as well, but Isaiah definitely did not have Christmas in mind. Most likely it's about his own soon to be born offspring. When we read scripture, out first question needs to be the historical when, where, who, why, what. But we also know scripture is a living perennial word! Every single verse in the entire bible won't apply to our here and now, but still we can ask about contextualizing (making alive in our current situation) God's Word into our own current when, where, who, why, and what.

More of our individual Nativity practices, treats, food, preferences, music, and memories. We talked about blue, the color of hope, as the main liturgical color for Advent, though churches that don't have blue paraments or vestments are welcome to continue using the more penitential purple we use during the more formally penitential season of Lent.

It's not exclusively or uniquely my opinion, but with Christmas being the church's major Trinitarian Festival of Creation (Easter of Redemption, Pentecost of Sanctification), gifts of food are especially appropriate for Christmas. Last week Charles described a fruitcake recipe he loves (some of the rest of us like fruitcake, too, but please make mine mostly cake with very little candied fruit). Not uniquely my opinion about gifts of food and homemade delicacies, because why else would home-baked cookies or a commercial close approximation be so popular this time of year? Food as gift also gives the recipient permission to indulge in unneeded calories. We talked about the ethnic Swedish delicacy lutefisk and again I forgot to mention Glögg.

We got a long playlist of secular and religious Christmas songs that included Silent Night, White Christmas, and one Steve heard only recently and instantly loved. Not quite specifically Christmas, but Phillip Phillip's Home...

The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm going to make this place your home

...always moves me. Most likely I associate it with Christmas because the first time I heard it was at a Blue Christmas service in Previous City.

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