Monday, December 26, 2022

Sermon for Advent 4, Year A: A Good Man

 I'm trying something a little different. Usually, when post a sermon I'm posting the transcript. This time I thought I would add something different and post the audio of the sermon itself. I can come back and add the transcript, but I wanted to try this. It is going to require you to download it to listen. Let me know what you think.

Sermon for Advent 4, Year A, December 18, 2022: listen here.

For those not inclined to listen, the transcript is below:

Most of you have heard at one point or another, sometimes when I'm preparing for a sermon, a song comes to me This time it was not a song, it was a poem from my childhood. And I don't know how many of you, probably most of you, are aware that in addition to the stories of Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne wrote a number of wonderful poems for children. And as I was preparing for the sermon, this came to me.

King John was not a good man. He had his little ways,

and sometimes no one spoke to him for days and days and days.

And when men came across him when walking in the town,

gave him a supercilious stare.

or passed with noses in the air.

and bad King John stood dumbly there, 

blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man, and no good friends had he,

he stayed in every afternoon, but no one came to tea.

And roundabout December, the cards upon his shelf,

which wished him lots of Christmas cheer.

and fortune in the coming year.

were never from his near and dear, 

but only from himself.

Those are the opening stanzas of "King John's Christmas" by Milne.

We were talking about the lessons, my wife and I, and noting that this is that one kind of odd Fourth Advent. In Fourth Advent, we begin to turn to talking about the Incarnation. And in the second year of a three year cycle, Year B, and in the third year, Year C, we're in Luke. It's either the Annunciation to the blessed virgin or it's the Visitation. But Matthew does have his stories of the Incarnation. And so inYear A we get Matthew, and we get the story of Joseph. 

My wife had run across a meme on Twitter saying, “Of all the people talking about Christian manhood, I wonder how different it would be if they had really taken their model from Joseph.” So this kicked me back to a Milne’s poem, “King John was not a good man,” because King Ahaz was not a good man. 

We  get a piece of Ahaz’s story today, but not the be most important piece. And in fact, this is one of those where it would make a whole lot more sense if they'd given you more verses upfront. Isaiah has a reason that he goes to talk to Ahaz, and it is this, (this is from earlier in chapter seven of Isaiah).

“In the days of Ahaz, son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Arum and King Pika, son of Remeliah of Israel, went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz, and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind. Then the Lord said to Isaiah, go and meet Ahaz.” 

And that's what he goes to see Ahaz about. And that is why he says to Ahaz, “It shall not stand. It shall not come to pass.” And it’s that reason that he said, “Look, Ahaz, trust God. Ask a sign. Ask a sign that is as high as the top of heaven, is as low as the pit of hell. Ask a sign.” And Ahaz said, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I I can't test the Lord.”

There's a problem with this. See, we think on the first hand that this is a wonderfully pious and humble moment. It's not. If you wanna get the rest of the story of Ahaz, you gotta go to the 16th chapter of Second Kings. And what you find out in the 16th chapter of Second Kings is why he didn't want to hear from Isaiah. See, Ahaz already had a plan. He had his own plan.

Broader context: the reason that Pika and Rezin had gone to war was that they wanted to rebel or at least put up a buffer against the Assyrians. And they wanted Judah to join them, or to be unable to come at them from behind; one way or another. So they wanted to take Judah first, put up their own, um, put up their own puppet king so that they could add Judas armies to their own, or at least not have a potential enemy at their back when they go up against Assyria. This is why Isaiah goes to Ahaz. 

But Ahaz had his own plan, and his own plan is laid out in the 16th chapter of Second Kings, “Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Arum and from the hand of the king of Israel who are attacking me.”

That puts a whole different light on it. Ahaz had a plan and it had nothing to do with trusting God. It was perhaps expedient militarily, politically: ask the great power and say, “Listen, they're coming against you, but I'm not against you. When you come against them, come and save me from them.” And he said, “I will be your vassal.” And what did he do to demonstrate that he would be the vassal? “Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the House of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria.” Worse, 

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet with King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. King Ahaz sent to the priest of Uriah, a model of the altar and its pattern exact in all its details. Uriah built the altar in accordance with all the king Ahaz had sent from Damascus. When the king came from Damascus, the king drew near to that altar, went up on it, offered his burnt offering and his grain offering, poured out his drink offering and dashed the blood of his offerings of wellbeing against that altar. The bronze altar that was before the Lord he removed from the front of the house, from the place between his altar and the house of the Lord and put it on the north side of his altar. 

Ahaz did not want to hear from Isaiah because he had a plan, and his plan had nothing to do with trusting in the Lord. And in fact, having executed his plan, he did what was again, politically and militarily expedient. He appeased Assyria’s gods; which is why he is remembered as one of the worst kings in the Books of kings, in the Books of Chronicles, one of those who did not do as the Lord had commanded,He did not want to hear from Isaiah. 

And then Isaiah does this. He said, “Doesn't matter, you can pretend to be pious. I see through it and you are about to have a sign. Anyway, there is a young woman there. She is pregnant, she is going to have a child, and she is going to bring peace. That child is going to bring peace to Israel. And before that child is eating solid food and able to taste well, and is able to understand, if not respond to the word no, (I mean, we all know how two year olds are about the word no.) these kings that you're so afraid of, they'll be gone.” 

Now it's interesting that, this child was out there. We don't have a concrete identification of who this child is, but this child is going to demonstrate despite Ahaz, despite Ahaz as apostasy, that God can be, will be with Israel, Emmanuel. And it is interesting that, the next child born in the Royal House, the child of Ahaz’s Queen Abi, was Hezekiah. And Hezekiah in the 17th chapter of Second Kings is hailed as one of the great kings of Israel who restores the temple, who restores the worship of the Lord, who moves that abomination of an altar out and cleans up the temple and remembers what God called for, and had peace in his reign. His wasn't a perfect reign. He sinned some and he had to do some penitent things. But in his reign, God was with Israel and there was peace. 

But Ahaz: Ahaz was not a good man, which is why I am so struck at the direct relation that Matthew puts between Ahaz and Joseph. He actually creates it in a couple of different ways. First, before we get to the Christmas story in Matthew, in Matthew we get the genealogy, the genealogy that demonstrates that Joseph is of the house of David. And so Jesus will be understood to be of the House of David, even though Jesus' father is through the Holy Spirit. And guess who is in the lineage of David, whether we like him or not, but Ahaz. So there is that connection of Joseph to Ahaz. 

There is another that we will come to. It is this reference to Emmanuel and who this new child will be. 

But we know that Joseph is a good man. First of all, Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, but beyond being a righteous man, because righteousness can have some overtones that are not always that pleasant… 

You know, I used to meet with people and, and I would say, how are you doing? And they would give a very common response: “I’m upright and taking nourishment.” We've all heard that. And I would stand there in my clericals and say, “I never say upright. In my business that has connotations I haven't always lived up to.” 

But Joseph was a righteous man. Beyond that, by our standards, we would say Joseph was a good man, because he's engaged, he's betrothed, and Mary's pregnant. The obvious thought is that she has been unfaithful and she is pregnant by some man she is not married to. And Joseph would have every right to publicly disgrace her, to bring community shame upon her. But Joseph is a good man, unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planning to send her home quietly, break the marriage contract, but not put Mary through more. Joseph is a good man. 

And here is the piece that both connects and discriminates Joseph from Ahaz: because as he's about to do this, God comes to Joseph in a dream. But pretty much as God had sent Isaiah to Ahaz who said, “No,” in the dream Joseph hears, “This is of God. Trust in God. This child will be again God with us and will be for the salvation of Israel. To which point you will name him Joshua, Yeshua, ‘The Lord is salvation.’” And Joseph was a good man, and he believed. 

Ahaz was not a good man, and he did not want to believe; he had his own plan. Joseph was a good man. We knew he was righteous, and we knew he was kind. And now we know he is faithful because he bought into God's plan, and he took for his own this child. And although we don't have a lot about Joseph in the rest of the Gospels, what we do have is that he raised a good boy. He was a faithful father to this child that was not his. Joseph was a good man. 

Now, I won't go through the rest of the poem of King John's Christmas. It's actually a little long for this setting.I will encourage you to read it because not only does this person who's not a good man actually end up having Christmas, it is entirely by grace. And so it is that Ahaz not willing to trust in grace was not a good man. And Joseph willing to trust in grace showed himself a good man. And in this time, when we look again to recognize God with us, let us remember not only the Blessed Mother, but also Joseph and what that kind of goodness can mean in a world so torn.