Home Service 18th December 2022. Fourth Sunday in Advent.

Prayers of Approach

As we light the last candle before Christmas Day, we give thanks for the role Mary played in God’s unfolding story and pray. God of all our lives, you call each of us to play a part in your story and purposes for the world. May this flame ignite in us the courage and the humility of Mary and Joseph, that we may shine your light into the lives of others, and draw them to the Christmas stable where hope is born and all are loved. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Lord, you alone know our hearts, our histories and our hopes. You alone know our futures and our fears. Lead us on, so that whatever part we may play, our story may be shaped by your story, through Jesus, son of Mary, and given a name through Joseph. Amen.

We praise you, eternal God, for the voices you give us, for the roles you entrust to us, for the company you surround us with – angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, friends, and family, our communities, and our brothers and sisters around the world. All creation has a share in your redeeming purposes and a place in your heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you Lord. Amen.

Hymn O come, O come Immanuel (R&S 126)

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-16

Matthew 1:18-25


King Ahaz’ kingdom of Judah is threatened by enemies but Isaiah gives a prophecy of hope and reassurance. God offers to give Ahaz a sign to back up the promises but he lacks the trust to take up God’s offer. Despite this God takes the initiative – the sign is the birth of a child to a young woman. The Hebrew text describes the child’s mother as a ‘young woman’. The later translation into Greek, the Septuagint, uses the word ‘virgin’, creating the link to the story of Jesus’ birth and emphasising the mother’s status. For Isaiah, the key to the sign is more likely the name she gives the child, Immanuel – God with us – as a marker of her trust in God, contrasting with Ahaz’s doubt.

In a dream, an angel tells Joseph that Mary’s child is from the Holy Spirit. He is to take her as his wife and name the child Jesus, the Saviour. By Joseph’s adoption Jesus becomes the promised Son of David, named ‘God is with us’. Joseph is the last named in the list of Jesus’ antecedents given by Matthew at the beginning of his Gospel but, as husband to Mary, not as Jesus’ biological father. He is entirely silent throughout this and, indeed, all of the Gospels, and he fades from the scene almost immediately after the opening chapters. But his actions are a vital and significant part of God’s story.

Hymn The angel Gabriel from heaven came (R&S 139)


Today is the fourth, the last, Sunday of Advent and it’s traditionally the day on which we remember the role of Mary as the mother of God’s son. Our reading from Isaiah clearly points us towards the role that a young woman will play in God’s plan of salvation for humankind. In our Gospel reading however, contrary to our usual point of view, Mary only gets the briefest mention. But for God’s plan to succeed it is important that his son has an earthly father and a strong, faithful, loving human male role model. Perhaps we should also remember that in another model of marking the Sundays of Advent the fourth Sunday stands for ‘Love’.

Joseph does not play a prominent role in the nativity story, although in Matthew’s account his role is more prominent than that of Mary, who has much more to say and sing in Luke’s account. Joseph is told by the angel that he has to stand alongside Mary, very publicly, and acknowledge her child as his own. This demands courage and commitment in a tough situation that is not of his making. God’s strategy to redeem creation is bound up with Joseph’s agreement to support the family just as much as Mary’s brave ‘yes’. Perhaps it was because of the patriarchal nature of the community to which Matthew was addressing his Gospel, despite the fact, for obvious reasons, that it is the religion of one’s natural mother that is seen as a guarantee of Jewishness in Judaism.

According to Matthew, if nothing else, Joseph does have a good reputation and family name or pedigree, stretching back through David and beyond to Abraham. We don’t know from Scripture exactly what Mary’s family tree was. But when Joseph was told in a dream who Mary’s child would become and what he should be called, through his act of naming the child, Jesus, he formally adopted him into his family. Joseph thus gave Jesus his name, in more ways than one.

And names matter! The Gospel reading gives Jesus three names: Jesus, Emmanuel and Christ. All three have meanings that root back into the Old Testament. They tell us about who this child will be and the ways in which he will shape the lives of others for good. Jesus means ‘God saves’, Emmanuel, ‘God with us’ and Christ means ‘anointed’. In our world ‘calling someone names’ is hurtful. There are an ever-growing number of people who believe that they are ‘not good enough’, facing challenges to their well-being and mental health as a result. How can we find ways of naming people that affirm their God-given capacity for doing, and being, good?

Joseph is described as a righteous man but we could hardly describe him as one of Scripture’s winners. He does give us much to think about however. Who are the big personalities in the Christmas story? Who has the most lines to say? Who has the most dramatic impact? What part would you see yourself playing in the nativity story? What part might each of us play in accepting and including others in God’s family?

Even where we might think we have little to contribute, whether we are male or female or whatever age, and whatever the rest of society may think, just being there briefly, at the right time might be enough. We don’t necessarily need to say anything, but we do need to listen to what God wants to say to us and through us.

Hymn Come thou long expected Jesus (R&S 138)

Prayers of Intercession

O God, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate your coming to us as flesh – Emmanuel, Saviour – we ask that you would heal and guide our wounded world.

We pray for areas where choices need to be made, and for those who make these decisions. Where the wrong path has been taken, or new circumstances arisen, may minds and hearts be changed.

We pray that your light would puncture the darkness and bring hope and peace. We pray that you would give us eyes to see where we can offer help – where we can give joy and hope to others, in the coming season and beyond.

Where there is confusion, give counsel, O wise counsellor; where there is conflict, bring resolution, O prince of peace; where there are difficult circumstances, move to change them, mighty God. Everlasting Father, transform our lives and our world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hymn Hark, the herald angels sing (R&S 159)


May the God who knows where we come from and where we should be going, go with us.

May the God who knows our hopes and dreams, bless us – and others through us – more than we can possibly imagine.

May the God who was with Joseph and Mary in all that they faced, be known to us as Immanuel – God with us.


Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.

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