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Rooted Growing Branching

Dec 18, 2016

Order of Worship



Jodie Hatlem, preaching

Several years ago we watched a South African film that was later won the academy award for best foreign film. The title of the film was Tsosti, a word in a South African dialect that roughly translates into “thug.” The film begins with a very, young gangster committing several impossibly brutal crimes. His crime spree ends with the car jacking of a rich woman just as she is attempting to park her car in her gated community.

The woman is shot. The young gangster barely escapes.

When he gets to his safe spot in the slums of Johannesburg, he hears crying and turns around to find a babe strapped in its car seat. He puts it in a cardboard box. It seems at first he will leave it somewhere in the pile of trash that surrounds him.

Everything we have seen so far has led us to believe that this character is capable of nothing but naked brutality. Yet, the cries become too much for him. And he take the baby home, and slowly begins to attend to the babies vulnerability. Finding ways to change his diaper, finding ways to feed the baby, waking in the middle of night to rock and comfort the child.

This movie simply and unobtrusively asks the main question of Advent: will the baby change anything? And in the film Tsosti the discovery of the baby changes everything. The very weakness of the baby demands a response of solidarity and finally of love.

Isaiah chapter 7 and the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew are read together here on the fourth Sunday of Advent because they share a prophecy. If we are not careful we tend to imagine that Joseph’s hand is forced by signs, wonders, and miracles. We take it as a foregone conclusion that Joseph will believe Mary because he is visited by an Angelic messenger. And yet, we must remember that the Angel coming to Joseph is a much more gentle and ambiguous sign than is offered to Ahaz in Isaiah. The angel appears to Joseph in a dream. Sure Matthew’s account will crescendos with stars and entourages of foreign dignitary. But at this point in the narrative Joseph is offered a lot less visible evidence of God’s promise than WAS offered to King Ahaz. Ahaz may pick any sign on earth and heaven and refuses.

Joseph, like the patriarch, he is named after, must believe in the audacity of his own dreams. Like the patriarch, Joseph, this will result in a dangerous journey to Egypt. But, it will also set the stage for the dramatic action of God in history. Mary’s Joseph chooses very differently than Ahaz.

because of this the drama of redemption begins. And because of this the very meaning of the sign Immanuel changes. It is no longer the mockery of human beings arrogant sense that they can control time and history and that like Ahaz humans can devise plans and expect that God will simply validate them.

Immanuel becomes the sign of God’s vulnerable sojourn and journey with humanity God’s presence is made possible through real obedience and suffering. God does not overwhelm us with signs or coerce our belief.

Instead, Joseph becomes the perfect demonstration of Matthew’s understanding of Righteousness. Righteousness in Matthew goes far beyond just obeying the law. Joseph fulfill the law, but also transcends it.


HE REFUSES TO EVEN ENTERTAIN The Possibility that his plans and God’s plans aren’t the same thing. The central question is not do you believe.If I am understand the texts correctlythe central question is the same ONE posed to the young gangster in Tsosti. The baby is here. What will you do about it? It demands nothing less than everything from you.

Isaiah 7:10-16
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 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. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For 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.

Matthew 1:1-25
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. 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. 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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;  and he named him Jesus.