O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist
to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord.
Psalm 72.1-2, 12-13, 18-19
Give the king your judgements, O God,
and your righteousness to the son of a king.
Then shall he judge your people righteously
and your poor with justice.
For he shall deliver the poor that cry out,
the needy and those who have no helper.
He shall have pity on the weak and poor;
he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wonderful things.
And blessed be his glorious name for ever.
May all the earth be filled with his glory.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
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.
We are now just one week from our celebration of Christ’s Incarnation. As we look around us we might be forgiven if, in a distracted moment, we were tricked into believing that Christmas was already upon us. The retail sector is desperately trying to paper over the cracks opened up by this year’s financial uncertainties; there are endless calls to bedeck our lives with tinsel and lights as never before; there are interminable discussions about the ‘destruction’ of Christmas by Covid 19. But … it is not Christmas, and it will not be for another week. It is at this point in our journey towards Christmas that we need to pause and take stock of how our prayerful journey is going, particularly as so much is different this year.
From today our readings change gear. In recent days we have been considering the message of John the Baptist’s ministry. Today we turn our attention to other moments in the journey towards Christmas. John the Baptist was preparing the way for Jesus’ adult ministry, today we are going back about thirty years to consider the response of other protagonists in this great story. Today, we begin with Joseph.
We are told that Joseph was a righteous man, but we also know that he was a kind and loving man. Joseph was engaged to Mary who was suddenly confronting him with a tale of ‘unexpected pregnancy.’ Such a thing would have been a great scandal and would have resulted, according to Jewish law, in Mary being stoned to death. But Joseph did not want this to happen. Instead, he planned to dismiss her quietly. And then, in a dream, Joseph was made privy to God’s great plan.
I am sure we have all experienced one of those dreams that is so vivid that we are uncertain, if even for just a few moments, whether we have experienced fact or fantasy. It would have been so easy for Joseph to dismiss his dream as his fanciful imagination working overtime, but he didn’t! Instead, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.
Today’s reading can be mistaken as ‘padding’, a necessary literary device to explain a weak point in the gospel narrative. But, I hope and pray that, like me, you see these few verses as having a much stronger message than that. None of us knows what God is going to call us to do, we just know that his call is always there. Sometimes we are happy to say ‘Yes’ to God because we don’t feel that the challenge is too great. But what about when we are faced with a challenge as great as that which confronted Joseph? Will we follow his example or dismiss it as just a dream?
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray with confidence in the promise that what we ask in the name of our Lord Jesus will be acceptable to our heavenly Father.
Strengthen your Church in the name of Jesus, to know the power of the Saviour, of God with us. Hold us fast in the obedience and faith that enabled Joseph to perform your will in the work of salvation.
Give hope and assurance to those who bear the burden of authority in difficult times. May all who are doubtful and anxious know that the promise of salvation is made to all who will receive it.
Help us to be worthy of the name of Jesus, which we honour in our faith. Number us among those who bear the message of salvation, to be a light to those with whom we live and work.
Bring new hope and confidence to all who are in doubt and uncertainty. Give peace to the troubled minds that distrust those near to them, and bring them new strength to love.
We give thanks for those who have known and believed the message of salvation and who now rejoice in in its fulfilment. Be merciful to those who in this world were doubtful and did not find perfect trust: make them also sharers of the promise.
In humble trust we offer these prayers to Almighty God, through the Name that is above every name.
Prayer for the week
Father in heaven, the day draws near
when the glory of your Son will make radiant
the night of the waiting world.
May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy
which moves the hearts of those who seek him.
May the darkness not blind us to the vision of wisdom
which fills the minds of those who find him.
The Lord’s Prayer
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. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
and all thy day be bright’:
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my star, my sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk
till travelling days are done.
Horatius N. Bonar (1808–1889)