O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
In your tender compassion
the dawn from on high is breaking upon us
to dispel the lingering shadows of night.
As we look for your coming among us this day,
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will,
that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever.
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.
I am fortunate to have a very active wedding ministry. It is not uncommon for me to conduct between twenty and thirty weddings across my benefice and deanery each year. As a part of this ministry I take very seriously meeting with each couple and helping them to come to an understanding of what being ‘married’ means. As I meet each couple I often find myself reflecting upon the complete turn around that has been forced upon them by society in so very few years. The great majority of the couples I journey alongside have known each other for a long time, they have bought houses together and, sometimes, they already have children who they hope will be able to play a significant role in their marriage ceremony. This is all so different from the circumstances we find in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus.
We read of Mary being engaged to Joseph. As was the custom of the time, and for many centuries to come, this was probably a marriage arranged by the two families, with only a minimal involvement of the couple to be married. From the moment the betrothal had taken place the couple would have been seen as inextricably linked. For the woman to become pregnant during this time would have been viewed as the greatest act of betrayal, and would have left her open to the ultimate punishment of being stoned to death. It is in this context that we see just how kind and gracious Joseph was, because as we read: being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, [he] planned to dismiss her quietly. This act of kindness, we should note, came before an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, we cannot compare the birth of Jesus with anyone else’s situation at any point in the history of humanity. Yes, we do read of miraculous births in the Old Testament, but none of those refer to God coming into this world, to fully share in the human condition.
In the antiphon for today (O Adonai) we hear these words: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. In our reading today we hear of that moment. Despite all that could have gone wrong, we hear of the moment when God overcame the taboos of society and was born to humble parents, in a situation that others would have found scandalous.
Today we are called to rejoice that a new life came into this world, and that that life was to bring redemption for us all. We are called to celebrate with the earthly parents of that new-born boy, and to share in their wonder at all God has done since the moment of creation. We are called to take the Good News of that birth into our hearts and then to share it far and wide in order that others might come to know the depth of our joy today, and for the rest of time.
Watchful at all times, let us pray for strength to stand with confidence before our Maker and Redeemer.
That God may bring in his kingdom with justice and mercy, let us pray to the Lord.
That God may establish among the nations his sceptre of righteousness, let us pray to the Lord.
That we may seek Christ in the scriptures and recognize him in the breaking of the bread, let us pray to the Lord.
That God may bind up the broken hearted, restore the sick and raise up all who have fallen, let us pray to the Lord.
That the light of God’s coming may dawn on all who live in darkness and the shadow of death, let us pray to the Lord.
That, with all the saints in light, we may shine forth as lights for the world, let us pray to the Lord.
Let us commend the world, which Christ will judge, to the mercy and protection of God.
as your kingdom dawns,
turn us from the darkness of sin to the
light of holiness,
that we may be ready to meet you
in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Uniting our prayers with the whole company of heaven,
let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon us,
scatter the darkness from before our path,
and make us ready to meet him when he comes in glory;
and may the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among us and remain with us always.
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