Give More: Advent Conspiracy Week #3

Below is the text of the message from yesterday as well as the discussion questions that followed the message.

For the last 2 weeks we have been walking through our theme of Advent Conspiracy, with the hope of bringing the subversive nature of Advent back into reality. And with the hope that Advent becomes more than just a time of running around like crazy, spending money that we don’t have, to give people gifts that have everything. That it becomes about 4 main tenants.

When we launched this series two weeks ago we talked about the tenant of worship fully. We started Advent at the right place. We didn’t start advent where most people seem to start Advent, on Black Friday, at the church of the mall, and worshipping the god of stuff (and deals). We started Advent with worshipping the Christ child born in an out of the way, corner of the Empire, born to bring the Kingdom of God that would liberate people, and not enslave them. Whether being liberated from sin or liberated from consumerism, Jesus still liberates today.

Last week we talked about spending less. We talked about the fact that every year American’s spend a total of 450 billion dollars on Christmas. In comparison it would take 5-10 billion to give clean water to everyone in the world who doesn’t have access to it. So we look at which yoke were we going to live under. The yoke of Christmas (ie Consumerism) or the yoke of Christ, who would free us to not buy happiness, but spend less on ourselves.

This week our theme seems to be almost in contradiction to last week. The theme is Give More. We are going to unpack together what I mean when I say Give More. We are called to give more Presence this advent season than Presents. And our model for giving presence is Jesus, the center of our Advent Season.

So today we’ll be looking at Matthew 1:18-25 and taking time to focus specifically on one part of this passage. But before we get to that one part, let’s look at the Scripture together. Matthew 1:18-25 is the first of two narratives of the birth of Jesus in the gospels. The other is in Luke (which we’ll look at next week). Matthew 1:18-25 says, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

In the story we find out that Mary is found to be pregnant with Jesus, and has shared that information with Joseph. I am sure that all kinds of thoughts went through his mind before he went to bed that faithful night. Thoughts like, “I thought I knew her. Who was the guy she was fooling around with behind my back? What will my family and friends think or say?” And so before he hit the sack for the night, he had made up his mind to divorce her quietly. Now this is odd in our day, because at this point Mary and Joseph aren’t yet “officially married”, even though it does say in the text “Joseph her husband.” We need to take a look at the Jewish understanding of marriage and betrothal to understand this statement. In the 1st Century Jewish world engagement was as legally binding as marriage is in our day. The only way to break the engagement (or betrothal) was to get a divorce. But along with that divorce came all kinds of possible issues, mostly for the woman, who would be ostracized, condemned, and probably would never marry. And so Joseph had a lot to think about regarding his next steps. But in the Scriptures we see that Joseph is called a righteous man. And because of his righteousness, he was going to divorce her quietly. He was kind, tender and merciful. He was so attached to Mary, that he was not willing that she should be exposed to the public shame, so he sought to secretly dissolve the connection and to restore her to her friends without the punishment that was commonly inflicted on those who committed “adultery.” So he heads off to sleep with his decision made, until he has a dream in which an angel appears to him, and changes everything. The Angel verifies the fact that Mary hadn’t been running around on Joseph. But what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. Not only did the angel verify the fact of where the baby came from, but also let Joseph in on what the name of the child should be. The name Jesus, which means the Lord saves. And so even the given name of Jesus, points to the next thing that the angel says, “that he will save his people from their sins.”

But the next part of the text is where I want to spend most of our time on this morning, as I believe it gets at our theme Giving More in a very real way. Verse 22-23 says this, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[ (which means “God with us”).” This part of the story points back to the Old Testament and a prophecy that would be ultimately fulfilled by Jesus. The Old Testament text that the author of Matthew is quoting is Isaiah 7:14. Jesus, in his birth, was fulfilling a 700 year old prophecy.

And so Jesus, here is referred to as Immanuel, which we see means God with Us. Jesus was not only the first and greatest Present, but the first present he gave to mankind, and continues to give is his Presence. That God is with us. But there is more to this term Immanuel than just that God is with us. I believe there are 3 more parts to his presence, than just God with us.

Look at the screen and you’ll see that Giving More in terms of Immanuel means 4 things.

First, that God is for us. All too often in our world people think God is against them, but if we read John 3:16-17 it shows all of us, that God is really for us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” That is really really good news. But God being for us isn’t really enough. That is where we move to a big part of God giving more.

Not only is he for us, he is with us. God is with us all throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, and especially in the person of Jesus. He is God with Us. Immanuel. But that also is just the beginning.

It is good that God is for us, and it is good that God is with us. But probably even better is that God is One of Us. There was a song a few years back with that title, If God was One of us by Joan Osborne. And the answer to that question is that God was one of us in the person of Jesus. Colossians 2:9 puts it this way, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” and John 1:14 (in the message) says, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

Jesus moved into our neighborhood. Jesus lives as One of us, loves as one of us, even likes us while he is one of us. That is what theologians call the mystery of the Incarnation, that God becomes one of us, through Jesus.

And lastly, when we understand the implications of God being for, with and one of us, that often compels us to invite Jesus to be in us. That that changes everything. God himself passes the DNA of Jesus into our very lives, which empowers us to live as Jesus here on earth.

These four things (For, With, One of, and In) is all about our theme this morning, Give More. In Jesus, God gives more presence. In the Incarnation God displays that he is For, With, One of, and In. We are talking about the incarnation this morning because I believe it suggests, in very real terms, what it means to give ourselves to one another. I believe that the incarnation is full of giving. Or as one of my favorite authors says about the incarnation, “Jesus exploded into the life of ancient Israel – the life of the whole world, in fact – not as a teacher of timeless truths, nor as a great moral example, but as the one through whose life, death, and resurrection God’s rescue operation was put into effect, and the cosmos turned its great corner at last.”

So but what does all of this have to do with us living 2,000 years after Jesus walked this earth? What does it mean to us and our life that God is for, with, one of, and In? And what do those 4 things mean for how we live our lives and how we are to Give More in this advent season? It is to those questions that we turn to now to unpack, and to put it where the rubber hits the road in terms of our everyday life and existence, living in the USA in the 21st century.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message? 2. What does it mean to you that God is for us, with us, one of us and in us? 3. How do these four realities tie into our theme of Giving More? 4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?