Fourth Sunday of Advent – morning
Sunday 22nd December 2019
Advent 4 and Baptism – morning
Isaiah 7. 10-16
Matthew 1. 18-25
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Today we are marking this fourth Sunday of Advent with the baptism of Albie. And it is lovely to have a little baby boy to remind us all of the significance of this time of year. Christmas has come to have so much ‘stuff’ associated with it, that sometimes we are in danger of forgetting that at the heart of all our celebrations is the miracle of new life and the reality of two ordinary parents; Mary and Joseph. A couple from the back of beyond, humble artisan folk – forced to undertake a long and arduous journey just to answer the whim of the government of their day.
And they had already shown themselves to be so brave, so singular, and so willing to listen to God’s messengers.
Today we celebrate particularly the place of Mary in the story. This young girl – probably only a teenager, who had to come to terms with the danger of bearing a child out of wedlock – which was a very risky and scandalous thing to do then.
But also the bravery of Joseph, who put his pride and his concern for his reputation in his community by standing by his pregnant fiancée. He could so easily have condemned her to be stoned – or even just set her aside and refused to honour his promise to marry her. But he didn’t. Instead he was prepared to believe the instructions that came to him in a dream. He stood by Mary and her child – raising him as though he were his real father.
No doubt the hardships they had to go through on that first journey to Bethlehem together, and the experience of being with Mary as she gave birth to her firstborn son, acted as powerful bonding for the two of them. And he agreed to the name that Mary told him the child was to be called – Jesus or Yeshua meaning God Saves. God had already saved Mary from total disgrace. He was saving Joseph from missing out on the joy of being a husband and father. He had saved the child and would go on saving this small family from all the many dangers that surrounded them – natural and man-made.
Whenever a child comes into the world I think the parents become suddenly and acutely aware of all the dangers that surround us in the first few weeks and years of life. Today we are much more knowledgeable about germ theory and our homes are polished and cleaned with all sorts of cleaners that would have amazed Mary and Joseph. Their child may have been Emmanuel, God with us, but I doubt she even had much in the way of boiled water in which to wash him.
Not, I am sure, the sort of conditions that young Albie has enjoyed during the first few months of his life! So what is in a name? Well, since we like to think about the meaning of Jesus and Emmanuel, I thought it appropriate to do a little investigating of the names of Albie (or Albert) and John. The origins of Albie seem to indicate that he is noble and bright – shining out like the candle flame we will shortly be giving him – like the star that lights the way to the Crib for the Wise Men. And John is an ancient biblical name – Yochannan – meaning God is gracious. In the New Testament we think especially of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist who’s wonderful words we shall be hearing this evening and at our Midnight Mass –“ In the beginning was the Word”.
So Albie has some great figures to guide and inspire him if he chooses to investigate his names as he grows up. But he will also have the love and guidance and prayers of his godparents – Cody and Daniel as well as his parents Hayley and James, not forgetting big brother Jonah of course!
We talk a lot about the Good News of Christmas – the news that God was finally fulfilling his promises – like those that the prophet Isaiah talks of, that God had made to his chosen people through the centuries. That he would send a Saviour to them. But a Saviour who would be not only for them but for all people and through all times. Which means that this Christmas is just as much Good News for you and me and Albie and Jonah and all our other children as it was that first Christmas, all those years ago.
God saves and is with us. God is gracious to us – and so may we all prove to be noble and bright in his honour now and for always. Amen.