17 December 2022

A sermon outline with USPG for
Advent IV, 18 December 2022

Patrick Comerford

The Fourth Sunday of Advent
18 December 2022

Matthew 1: 18-25 (NRSVA):

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Christmas is upon us, the last of the purple candles on the Advent Wreath, the one representing the Virgin Mary, is lit this week. Indeed, the Virgin Mary is likely to be the main figure in many sermons today focusing on the Gospel reading.

The readings this Sunday are about choices, about obedience to God’s plans, and about the fulfilment of God’s plans for all nations. They bring us into the last week of Advent.

So often we talk about the Virgin Mary and her obedience, about Mary’s ‘Yes’ to the birth of Christ But it means Joseph is often pushed to the side of the stage.

Joseph says ‘Yes’ too, but he says it silently; he has no scripted lines; he has no dramatic part or role; he is mute; but he is obedient.

And, like the earlier Joseph, his Biblical namesake who is named in the psalm (Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19), he too is dreamer of dreams and a doer of deeds.

Saint Matthew’s nativity story lacks the romantic imagery of Saint Luke’s account, whose heady mixture of heavenly angels with earthy shepherds is missing here. Instead, the hope of all the earth takes shape under the sign of arrangements being made for a betrothal that is apparently violated. The gifts of God’s grace and the promise of God’s reign are hidden, are to be searched for and to be found in the midst of what appears be a tawdry story.

The Virgin Mary may have been a mere teenager at the time, just 14 or 15. And, like so many other teenage brides, she turns up for her wedding – pregnant! Joseph knows he could not possibly be the father. He decides to do the right thing and take off, quietly dropping out of the arrangement.

If Joseph goes ahead, then this child is going to be known in his family, among his neighbours, perhaps by everyone who needs to know, as illegitimate for the rest of his life. His critics indelicately remind him of this in Saint John’s Gospel: ‘You are indeed doing what your father does.’ They said to him, ‘We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself’ (John 8: 41). The original Greek is more direct, crude and blunt: they taunt him that they were not conceived through illicit intercourse.

These fears and sneers, those social judgments and wagging fingers, must have been confronting Joseph like a nightmare. Yet the angel of Joseph’s dream makes a startling suggestion. He tells him to marry Mary, and then he is to name the child. To take on naming the child means becoming his father. And this is suggested not as a nice thing to do, a courteous thing to do, a gallant or gentlemanly sort of thing to do. Joseph is told why: ‘You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (verse 21).

It is not a promise of immediate reward. Joseph is not promised that if he does this he is going to earn points towards the forgiveness of his own sins; that God will see him as a nice guy; or even that if he lives long enough, this child may grow up, be apprenticed to him, take over the family business, and act as a future pension plan.

If Joseph is not the father of the Child Jesus, he must have wondered what the angel meant by ‘his people’ and ‘their sins.’

But the forgiveness here is spoken of in apocalyptic terms. It is the declaration of a new future. To be forgiven is to receive a future. Forgiveness breaks the simple link between cause and effect, action and reaction, failure and disaster, rebellion and recrimination.

Advent is a time of, repentance, forgiveness and expectation. It is a time of preparation, anticipation and hope. It is a time for dreaming dreams, and putting behind us all our nightmares.

Joseph dreams something wonderful. God would enter the world; God would be born to his new, young wife, Mary. But to believe this, Joseph had to trust not only his dream, but to trust Mary, to trust the future child, to trust God.

Do you love the people you trust and trust the people you love?

To trust the Virgin Mary, Joseph must have truly loved her. But trust in this predicament must have gone beyond trust. Joseph must have truly glimpsed what it is to trust God, to have hope in God, to love God, to have faith in God.

Joseph dreams a dream not of his own salvation, but of the salvation of the world.

Sometimes, like Joseph, we are supposed to trust God and then get out of the way. Do you trust that God is working through the people you love? Do you trust that God is working through people you find it difficult not to love but merely to like … working through God’s people for their salvation?

Too often we forget about poor Joseph. Every year, we tend to focus on the story of the Virgin Mary. But this year, Year A, the Lectionary asks us to focus on Saint Joseph. The annunciation occurs not just to Mary, but to Joseph too. And they both say ‘Yes.’

And Joseph says a second ‘Yes’ too later in this Gospel, when he agrees to the angel’s prompting to flee with Mary and the Christ Child to Egypt.

Joseph listens, God sends a messenger again, Joseph dreams again, and he remains true to God, he answers God’s call.

Joseph has no speaking part; he just has a walk-on part in this drama. But his actions, his obedience to God’s call, speak louder than words.

Yes, God appears over and over again, to men, women, to ‘all sorts and conditions of people.’

Joseph’s ‘Yes’ is not only a ‘Yes’ to the Christ Child but a ‘Yes’ to all children who seem unwanted and who are easily pushed to one side. Joseph’s ‘Yes’ is not only a ‘Yes’ to the Christ Child but a ‘Yes’ to the promises the Coming Christ brings to all who are marginalised and in danger today, for because of his ‘Yes’ God is among us.

We have an opportunity to echo that yes this Advent.

As a sign, as a symbol, of how we can join in that ‘Yes,’ USPG and the Church of North India says ‘Yes’ to the people who are being helped through this year’s Advent and Christmas appeal.

The people who cross borders, who face a dangerous ‘No’ along the way, who face violence and the dangers of human trafficking, are hearing an alternative response, an unexpected ‘Yes’ in the words and actions of those who are working in this project through the Diocese of Durgapur and USPG.

This is one way we can say ‘Yes’ to the coming Christ and the coming Christmas this Advent. In saying ‘Yes’ to this work, we became signs of our faith, or hope, in the promises of the coming kingdom and the promises of Christ’s coming in Advent.

This sermon outline for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 18 December 2022, was prepared for USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the ‘Journey to Freedom’ appeal in Advent 2022

Praying in Advent with Lichfield Cathedral
and USPG: Saturday 17 December 2022

‘An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah’ (Matthew 1: 1) … the Jesse Tree in a window by Clayton and Bell in the North Transept in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/Lichfield Gazette)

Patrick Comerford

The countdown to Christmas has gathered pace, the traditional counting of the ‘O Antiphons’ begins today with ‘O Sapientia.’ There are just eight days to go to Christmas Day.

The phrase O Sapientia appears in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer without explanation. Today, 17 December marks the start of the week before the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Christ, and at evensong, the great Song of Mary, Magnificat, has a refrain or antiphon attached to it proclaiming the ascriptions or ‘names’ given to God through the Old Testament.

Each name develops into a prophecy of the forthcoming and eagerly-anticipated Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God.

O Sapientia, or ‘O Wisdom’, is the first of these days, followed tomorrow (18 December) by ‘O Adonai’, then ‘O Root of Jesse’, ‘O Key of David’, ‘O Dayspring’’, O King of the Nations’ and finally on 23 December ‘O Emmanuel’.

In the Sarum rite, these were sung one day earlier, beginning on 16 December, requiring another ascription for 23 December, this being ‘O Virgin of Virgins’. Since this was clearly apposite to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and not a ‘title’ of God, it was not adopted much beyond Sarum and, with the revision of the Calendar, Anglicans have adopted the more widely-used formulæ and dating.

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today also recalls Eglantyne Jebb, Social Reformer, Founder of Save The Children, 1928.

Eglantyne Jebb (1876-1928) was born in Ellesmere, Shropshire. After studying at Oxford, she became a teacher for a few years until ill-health led to her resignation. She then devoted her energies to charitable works and in 1913 went to Macedonia to help refugees in the Balkan wars. After World War I, she and her Quaker sister Dorothy Buxton founded the Save the Children Fund, which aimed to help children who were suffering in the post-war famine in Europe, a charity that is now global in its scope. Eglantyne fought for the rights of children to be recognised, the League of Nations passing her Children’s Charter in 1924. She inspired many by her personal spirituality and was greatly mourned on her death in Geneva on this day in 1928.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

During Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, The reading suggested in the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced by Lichfield Cathedral this year;

2, praying with the Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Matthew 1: 1-17 (NRSVA):

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

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

17 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.

17 December: O Sapientia ... an image from Cochem Castle, Germany

The Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar:

As we read the family tree of Jesus, full of odd characters, people with glaring faults and imperfections, offer to God your own family history; give thanks for the gift of life; where there has been hurt, loss or disappointment, ask for healing and thankfulness – that out of the tangle and trouble of life God works his purpose.


O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

We give you thanks, O Lord, for these heavenly gifts;
kindle in us the fire of your Spirit
that when your Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns now and for ever.

Additional Collect:

God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of Advent 4:

God our redeemer,
who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son:
grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour,
so we may be ready to greet him
when he comes again as our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week has been ‘Walking Together.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Right Revd Maria Grace Tazu Sasamori, who became Bishop of Hokkaido in Japan in April 2022. She shared her reflections on this year’s Lambeth Conference with Archbishop Justin Welby.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us give thanks for the diversity of humanity. May we be mindful of any who are othered and always seek to include.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

At evensong each day for a week, the canticle Magnificat has a refrain or antiphon proclaiming the ascriptions or ‘names’ given to God throughout the Old Testament

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org