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Year A, Advent 4, 2016 – Here’s Your Sign

December 16, 2016 / D2 / Advent

Welcome back! This is it – the last Sunday in Advent! It seems like we just started this journey a month ago, and here we are! The passages selected for this week have also circled back around to the beginning. In Isaiah, we go back towards the start of his ministry in Judah as he confronts King Ahaz about a shaky political alliance and suggests that God has a different plan for the country – if Ahaz will only ask about it. “Look,” Isaiah says, “God has a sign all ready for you to seek and find guidance.” Ahaz refuses to accept the sign, because he has put his trust in King Sennacherib, not YHWH. In Romans, Paul introduces himself to a Christian community that does not know him by pointing to his credentials as a slave of Jesus, their common Lord. In order for his ministry to be given a hearing by a flock not his own, Paul points to Jesus’ resurrection as the sign of his authority to call apostles. “That’s me!” says Paul.  And in Matthew, Joseph has come to an unpleasant conclusion about his pregnant fiancee when an angel of God comes to him in a dream and reminds him about a sign given to an ancient king – who did NOT pay attention. Joseph is more righteous than Ahaz and takes a massive step in faith by accepting Mary and her child into his home and heart. God continues to give us the signs of Immanuel; hopefully, we are not speeding by so quickly on our rush to Christmas that we miss them.

 

This week’s texts are:

Isaiah 7:10-17 [02:00]  – As leaders of God’s flocks, haven’t we all prayed at one time or another “O God, give me a sign!” Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a prophet come into our office one day and say, “Hey! Here’s your sign!” “That would be wonderful,” we say! “How on earth could King Ahaz have turned that down?” we say. All he had to do was trust God completely – and wait. Ah, yes. Issues facing leaders tend to be quite pressing and sitting still long enough for a woman to give birth and wean her child seems madness – a decision must be made. In Word and Math smart, we consider the choice before the king and the logic of trusting God. In his commentary at Working Preacher, Fred Gaiser remarks that God’s coming presence is both cause for rejoicing and a warning. We have an idea to make this visible with an Eye smart special effect. Since God’s promise is to be with us, we encourage reaching out to one another in Body smart.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [04:06] –
    • {MWD}  Math –  Math smart is more than numbers and charts and formulas – it also involves reason, logic, and ordering information. In this passage, King Ahaz needed to make a decision and chose to limit information available to him. Isaiah did his best to offer more but Ahaz was not taking it. Was Ahaz operating out of a confirmation bias or had he already made up his mind? Either way, using Math smart to explore the king’s decision is a solid first step for interpretation. 
    •  {D2}  People – I chose People smart as the primary here because of the dynamics between the prophet and the king. It’s a very dramatic scene of “truth speaking to power,” with Isaiah almost begging Ahaz to trust God. When the king disingenuously declines in false piety, the prophet responds with a warning wrapped in a promise. The layers of interaction are deep, and I think, energizing to the People smart mind. 
  • Smarts – Word & Math [05:17], Eye [06:45], Body [08:27]
  • Isaiah 7 worksheet   

 

Romans 1:1-7 [10:10] – It’s been a while since I’ve had to introduce myself to a new congregation, but I remember clearly the amount of energy it took to do so. I had to repeat some information regularly, was surprised by what information was retained, and have had to desperately search my memory files for information about others on the spot, hoping I would not get a “404” error message. In these first verses, Paul is pulling out all the stops to introduce himself to the Christian community in Rome. He explicitly makes the case that he is an apostle called by the risen Christ and entirely devoted to that ministry. It is the resurrection that makes all the difference, says Paul, and we have a special effect in Eye smart that shows that. In People and Self smart, we suggest ways of using descriptive titles to make our own ministries known.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [12:07] –
    • {MWD}  Word – Since Paul was so verbose introducing himself in these verses, it seemed to me that Word smart was the most obvious way to delve into this passage. He uses the label apostle, describes where that office comes from, the purpose of it (proclaiming the Gospel), and who the office points to at all times. The NRSV translates the Greek word doulous as “servant,” but “slave” also works here. I realize the second word is a loaded social construct in the United States, which is very likely why the word “servant” appears here instead. Yet, Paul’s devotion to Jesus was total; he did not go home at night and take off his uniform and have any “me” time. All of his time was given to Jesus. 
    • {D2}  Self – Paul’s introduction is undoubtedly the result of vast amounts of time spent coming to an understanding of his own relationship to Christ, to himself, and to the churches he formed and served. The sense of call that radically changed his life is also the basis of his invitation to others to give themselves into the keeping of Christ. Such an invitation given by such a changed man pushes one to self-reflection. So Paul’s own internal work and his invitation to his readers to the same leads me to conclude the passage is primarily Self smart.
  • Smarts – Eye [12:48], People [14:37], Self [16:59]
  • Romans 1 worksheet   

 

Matthew 1:18-25 [17:54] – The obvious connection between this passage and the Isaiah one is the prophecy about a young woman about to give birth. But, there is another connection where a man presented with a “lesser of two evils” problem has made a choice, which is then challenged by God. Unlike the ancient king, Joseph considers the information given to him and changes his mind, following after the sign. In Eye smart, we illustrate the difficulty of making a choice using traffic jams and suggest getting out Google maps for a special effect. We offer a song and a poem to illustrate Joseph’s decision in Music smart and suggest writing haikus as a special effect. Joseph’s decision to listen to God’s advice has had significant consequences for the world; in People smart we encourage you and your congregation to discuss that choice and its continual impact. For Self smart, we take this discussion into the personal realm.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [19:00] –
    • {MWD}  Math – Once again, a decision that will have huge implications for the rest of the world must be made. Already, Joseph has tweaked the rules a bit by hoping to call things off with Mary in a way that does not result in her ostracism or death, as prescribed by law. He is getting ready to live into that decision when God arrives in an angel and informs him that God is also going outside the lines and wants Joseph to trust him and follow. Logic and reason are the touchstone for Math smart – this passage turns all of that on its ear and reveals that God’s illogic is logical. 
    • {D2}  Self – Again, we are presented with a man in deep introspection. Joseph must come to terms with Mary’s pregnancy, whether or not he believes her story, whether or not he will press charges against her, and whether or not he can get out of the mess with his own reputation intact. That is a lot to sort out! Because he is righteous (not self-righteous or moralistic, but seeking right relationships), he looks for a course that will bring the least harm to everyone. When God shows him a path that will lead not to least harm but greatest good for everyone, Joseph must again evaluate his options. Thanks, Joseph, for doing the hard Self smart work!
  • Smarts – Eye [19:29], Music [22:13], People [23:09], Self [25:00]
  • Matthew 1 worksheet   

 

Links

… in Isaiah 

 

… in Romans

 

… in Matthew

 

A template for opening your epistle (Based on Romans 1):

1. What spiritual gifts do you have?
2. What works of ministry do you find yourself doing?
3. What works of ministry do you find most fulfilling?
4. What sorts of people do you most enjoy serving?
5. What do you know about Jesus that relates to your giftedness?
a. (for example, if your gift/ministry is in teaching, that Jesus also was a teacher of Good News)
6. What titles or attributes of Christ are related to your ministry?
a. (for example, if you do hospitality, “Jesus, who welcomes us into the eternal realms” or
“Jesus, who taught us to welcome strangers” or “Jesus, who ate with outcasts and sinners”)

(Your name:) ________________________,

a servant of Jesus Christ, who (6) _____________________________________________,

equipped by the Holy Spirit with (1) _________________________________ and

called by God to (2) _______________________________ and (3) ____________________________

among the (4) ________________________________,

just as Jesus (5) _______________________________________________________,

to the saints at (your church or others you wish to address) _________________________________________________:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

 

 

 

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