18 December 2016
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Advent 4A (RCL)
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
While Luke has angels appearing to Mary and to the shepherds, Matthew has angels appearing to Joseph in a dreams. Joseph dreams three times; the first time the angel tells him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; the second time, the angel tells him to flee to Egypt; and the third time, tells him to return from Egypt. The first Joseph also had three dreams (well two of his own and then interprets Pharaoh’s dreams). Joseph’s first two dreams (about his brothers bowing down to him) lands him in Egypt as a slave. Pharaoh’s dreams in Joseph’s interpretation makes it possible for him to save his people (after enslaving the Egyptians to Pharaoh, of course).
Matthew is clearly making reference to Joseph the patriarch. This Joseph is recapitulating the history of the first one. Jesus is recapitulating Israel’s history. Jesus’ salvation of his people, however, is going to look very different from the expectations of the Davidic Messiah. Jesus will look more like the suffering servant of Isaiah than the triumphant Messiah.
This would make a great deal of sense to Matthew’s community. They were a persecuted community. They would understand the story of the vindication of the suffering righteous one (the Joseph story), and could see themselves in it. But Matthew’s Gospel is making remarkable claims for this community. Matthew tells us that Immanuel means God with us (adding this to the Isaiah passage). The Gospel will end with Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on the mountain top, and the instructions to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity, and the promise that “I will be with you always even to the end of the ages.” The community becomes christophoroi, and the vehicle of God’s presence with us. Matthew’s community becomes the instrument of God’s salvation of the all the nations.
Paul likewise announces to the community at Rome (to whom he is not yet known personally) that he has been granted grace and apostleship to bring about faithful obedience among all the Gentiles. Paul sees the Christian community as the down payment on God’s salvation for the whole world. For Paul, the Christian message isn’t just for those who are adopted as God’s children. The children of God play the same role as the people of Israel in the first covenant, bringing God’s blessing to the whole world.
It’s a bold claim to make for a ragged, little persecuted community, but we need to hear that promise today.