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Advent Week Four

Advent 2021 | First United Methodist Church of Rockwall

The Weary World Rejoices

Week Four, December 19, 2021 — What Dreams May Bring, Rev. Christina Hildebrand

Foundational Scripture: Matthew 1:18-24

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ – Matthew 1:18-24

Advent Reflection:

We first encounter Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew, wrestling as he sleeps with an incredibly difficult dilemma. His heart is in tumult, and he is overcome with fear. He is engaged to Mary, and he has discovered that she is pregnant. Joseph embodies the Jewish tradition of keeping the law as a way of faithfully being in relationship with God and in right relationship with others. The law mandated that he divorce Mary, leaving her to bear public shame and ridicule, threatened by a punishment of death. However, Joseph’s faithful love for Mary fosters mercy, and he does not want to publicly abandon her.

In the dark of night and in the dark of his conflicted heart, God’s light pierces through as an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and reaches out to this good and righteous man and says, “Do not be afraid.” And with this announcement, Joseph is invited to participate in a larger story of humanity, to surrender more fully to God, and to assist in the coming of Emmanuel, “God with us.” 

It seems that throughout the Bible, God is always trying to tell us this…“Do not be afraid.” Abraham, when I ask you to leave your homeland and to travel to a new place that will be your own, “Do not be afraid.” Moses, for I will be with you when you, a slave, speak to Pharaoh, the king of the Egyptians, “Do not be afraid of any evil.” David, for the Lord will be your shepherd no matter where you are, “Do not be afraid.” Mary, for you have found grace with God. “Do not be afraid.”

What is asked of Joseph is to not be afraid, to step beyond his understanding of the law and societal expectations and hear the angel invite him into this story of incarnation. As followers of Jesus, we too are invited to move beyond our fear and accept Jesus’ invitation into love and freedom. In these last days of Advent, may we hear faith whisper to us, “Do not be afraid.” Emmanuel is God with us: Do not be afraid.

For Further Reflection:

  1. Joseph’s heart changes as you read through this scripture. He goes from having decided to quietly divorce Mary to taking Mary home as his wife and helping to raise Jesus. As people of faith, life doesn’t always work out in the way we once thought it would. However, when we receive a message, a dream, or an invitation from God we can trust that He will be in the midst. How have you responded to an unexpected shift in your life this year? Have you gone from a situation that seems hopeless to one filled with hope? 

2. Sometimes our ego gets in the way of our growth or change. It can be hard to admit when we were wrong. Joseph shows the ability to truly listen to God and then humbly changes course. How do you stay humble and open to God’s call?  

3. Who embodies humility to you? What qualities do they possess? 

4. Faith is the opposite of certainty. And so often we want desperately to be certain. Joseph embodies faith in that he chooses to believe in God even though he has no way of knowing if things are going to work out. Discuss a time when you took a leap of faith. What happened when you let go of certainty and control? 

5. In this week’s reflection Joseph, Abraham, Moses, and David are all mentioned as believers who set forth on seemingly impossible tasks and who are told not to be afraid. Which one of these figures do you resonate with right now and why?

Spiritual Practice:

Each evening this week reflect on your “Closest to Christ” (lovely, spirit filled moments throughout your day) and your “furthest from Christ” (moments where you were unkind or felt alone, etc.). Share your answers with your family, class, or a trusted friend. As you take the time to reflect on your day, notice if any patterns emerge. If your furthest from Christ moments are the same every day this week it may be time to change course as Joseph did and try a more humble and open approach. Work on incorporating more of your “Closest to Christ” moments into your day and giving thanks when you feel one of those moments arise. 

Family Advent Moment:

Are you excited yet? Can you believe Christmas is only one week away? If you want to spread some Christmas cheer, here’s an activity for you or your entire family. Spend some time thinking about people in your life that you haven’t seen recently — maybe a distant relative or a friend. Reach out to them with a phone call, a text message, or a physical card. Wish them a “Merry Christmas!” and invite them to join you for Christmas Eve worship services. Don’t worry if they live far away — just tell them about our online worship services! By reconnecting with family members and friends, you’ll not only feel joy yourself, but you’ll share that same joy with someone else, just like the angel did for Joseph.