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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Advent 4 Year A, Colour = Purple

Advent candle 4Introduction

There was a great deal of controversy a while ago over a display of the Nativity at Madame Tussaud's. Various politicians and media celebrities were shown as the shepherds and wise men, Kylie Minogue was an angel. What seems to have really upset folks was that David and Victoria Beckham were portrayed as Joseph and Mary. Hopefully not too many people were really offended and perhaps all the fuss has made people consider the nativity and what it really does mean. Over the centuries people have dressed up and acted out the story. They were ordinary people, some of them great and good people and some of them just ordinary people with no claim to either greatness or goodness.

Perhaps that is was the nativity really is all about. The Gospels tell us that it was ordinary scruffy folk like the shepherds, as well as celebrities like the Magi, who went to see Jesus. Mary was only a poor young girl and Joseph a carpenter, a small town builder. So perhaps the Madame Tussauds 'episode' will serve to remind us that the birth of Jesus is something to which we are all invited. There are no one's who are too good or too bad to play the parts, it is for everybody. The star shone brightly that night over Bethlehem, because it was something for the whole world to see, sadly only a few came. However we are all called to come and share in the miracle of that night. That includes David and Victoria Beckham, it also includes you and me. But, Jesus doesn't want wax work models of you and me, he wants us to show up in person. So this Christmas will you be sharing in the nativity? Why not visit a church near you and see if you can discover the real meaning of Christmas? 

Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 80:7

Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

God our redeemer, who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of  the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory; bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

First Bible Reading Isaiah Chapter 7:10-16

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. NRSV

Second Reading  Romans Chapter 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Christ we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. NRSV 

Gospel Reading Matthew Chapter 1:18-25

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. NRSV

Post Communion Prayer

Heavenly Father, who chose the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of the promised saviour: fill us your servants with your grace, that in all things we may embrace your holy will and with her rejoice in your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW


The Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, we lloked at this a few weeks ago in the Jesse Tree. It is not really a genealogy in the sense that we know today when somebody does their family tree. It is not accurate in that sense, it is more of a theological statement. If we look at it carefully we see that Matthew lists 42 generations, which is six blocks of seven names. Numbers were so important, the 7th "age"--the one of completion and wholeness--is about to begin.

The list of names in Matthew's geneaology is important, it includes the names of five women. Matthew likes to do things in "fives." There are five sections of Matthew's gospel, for example, symbolic of the five books of Moses. In Matthew's Christmas story, there are five Old Testament citations, five dreams, five scriptural fulfillments, and five uses of the word "Messiah." Matthew likes "fives" because he is presenting Jesus as the "new Moses, and of course Moses had five books in the Pentateuch, Genesis to Deuteronomy.
Including women in a geneaology was unusual. Yet, Matthew's list includes Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, "the wife of Uriah" (Bathsheba), and Mary. It is a checkered list indeed. Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes, Ruth a seductress, Bathsheba an adulteress. Rahab and Ruth were also foreigners. Mary herself would be accused of sexual impropriety.
In our reading today the first line translated literally is "The genesis of Jesus Christ was this." Matthew is drawing on the name of Moses' first book, drawing a link between the "genesis" of the creation, and the "genesis" of Christ, the new creation. It isn’t just thrown together this Gospel is it!
Mary and Joseph were engaged, it was like marriage but they were not yet living together. Then Mary
turns up pregnant. Of course everybody asks who is the father? Why does Matthew tell us this at all? Luke tells his entire Christmas story without mentioning the questionable paternity of Jesus. Was Matthew dealing with an early rumor, one that asserted Mary was raped by a Roman soldier? The Roman writer, Celsus, later asserted this c. AD 150, and used Matthew's gospel a source. Roman soldiers had likely swept through Nazareth upon the death of Herod in 4 BC. When Herod died, there were uprisings all through the land of Israel. Rome had to bring three Legions from Syria to suppress all the revolts. This would have involved about 20,000 soldiers. (The soldiers were stationed in Syria to counter a major empire to the east, Parthia.) One of the revolts was in Sepphoris, only a few miles from Nazareth. The Roman Army destroyed the city.
Matthew presents Joseph as a "just" man who did not want to expose Mary to public ridicule and decided to release her secretly. It seems unlikely that such a thing could be done secretly in a small town. In any case, the sense of the text seems to be that Joseph was trying to handle the situation with minimal damage to anyone's reputation--his, and Mary's as well. Technically speaking, Mary could have been stoned to death, as could the father of the child, if known. Strict adherence to the law was, in some peoples' minds, the very definition of "justice." Strictly speaking, under the law, Mary dies. But Joseph is portrayed as elevating compassion--concern about disgrace for Mary--above strict adherence to the law. This pre-figures the "new justice"--compassion over "religion"--that will be taught by Jesus himself later in Matthew. Jesus will quote Hosea twice in Matthew, both times the same citation: "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice" (9:13, 12:7). I desire compassion, in other words, and not the religious act.
As Joseph is struggling with all of this an angel addresses him as Joseph "Son of David." This is the sixth mention of "David" in Matthew's gospel, and we've only gone 20 verses! David was the "messiah" figure par excellance. He was the great king who had defeated Israel's enemies, and ushered in a great "golden age." For Matthew, not only is Jesus the "new Moses." He is also the "new David."
The angel encourages Joseph not to be afraid. Mary will bear a son. The root of the word ‘bear’ means to bring forth fruit from a seed. The idea of "bearing fruit" is of major importance throughout Matthew's gospel. "Beware of false prophets," Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (7: 16). How will you know if they are a false prophet? "By their fruits"--by what they do, by what they bring forth. Here, Mary brings forth the fruit of Jesus.
The angels tells Joseph that the child is to be named "Jesus"--"Yeshua" actually, which is "Joshua," which means "he will save." The name recalls the great leader, Joshua, who had led the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land. This new Joshua will save "his people" from their sins.
A major theme of Matthew is the problem of unbelief in Israel, the main subject, in fact, of Matthew's third major section of his gospel. Nevertheless, despite their sins, Jesus will save "his people." Matthew follows with the first of five Old Testament citations:
But all this had come to be so that what had been spoken of the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Behold, a virgin will be with child and will bring forth a son and they will call his name Emmanuel," which, translated, is, "God with us." Matthew must have been using the Septuagint--the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. (The Septuagint version of Isaiah 7: 14 uses "virgin," but the original Hebrew does not.) Isaiah was referring to a "young woman" who was already pregnant during the reign of King Ahaz, who was, at the time, dealing with a twin threat from Aram and Remaliah.
"Behold, the young woman is with child," says Isaiah. By the time this child is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, Isaiah continues, the land in front of the two enemies of Ahaz will be deserted. Isaiah was not predicting the future, in other words, but speaking to the immediate situation facing King Ahaz in the 8th century BC. Isaiah was not actually foretelling the future at all.
In verse 23, Jesus is given another title "Emmanuel" is added to "Joshua." The latter will be the child's personal name, and the former might be thought of as his ruling title: "God with us." When the book of Matthew closes, Jesus will say, "I am with you always" (28:20).
We are told that Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and he took his wife, and he did not know her until of her was brought forth a son and he called his name Jesus.
This then is the first of five dreams in Matthew's Christmas story. In the case of Joseph, it also recalls that earlier dreamer, Joseph, son of Jacob, who interpreted dreams for Pharoah in Egypt. Joseph, the "just" man, does as he was told, married Mary, and named the new baby Jesus. In those days, it was the father's prerogative to name the child. In naming Jesus, Joseph is "owning" the child and accepting responsibility for him.


When Mary discovered that she was pregnant she was betrothed to Joseph. This was not full marriage but it meant much more than our casual form of engagement, and it lasted about a year. Betrothal was similar to marriage except for lack of sexual rights. Mary had entered into a contract before witnesses which gave the man legal rights over a girl. This could only be broken by death or a formal process of divorce, perhaps if the girl was guilty of adultery. Mary would most probably have been 12 or 13 years old, and we should expect that her parents and the parents of Josephs would have arranged the marriage, perhaps some years previously.

It was during this engagement period that Mary became pregnant, we are told ’by the Holy Spirit.’ Joseph is shown to be a remarkable man. Even before he is visited by an angel, he does not seek justice and rightful punishment. Instead he decides to divorce Mary quietly so that he might not cause her unnecessary pain. So the Gospel of Matthew starts with an act of kindness and forgiveness, it is a new era of grace! It was after he had decided upon his actions that 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." This is the first of three occasions in which an angel appears to Joseph in a dream (see also 2:13, 19). In each instance, the angel calls Joseph to action and Joseph obeys.

The words which the angel uses are all important. The angel calls Joseph, ‘son of David.’ This is important, for it shows Joseph as being of the house and line of David. Joseph is also told that Mary will give birth to a son and he is to be named, Jesus. Mary's role is to bear a son, and Joseph's role is to name him. By naming him, Joseph will make Jesus his son and bring him into the house of David. The angel declares that the name is important because it points to the role of Jesus in salvation and forgiveness, ‘for he will save his people from their sins.’ The name, Jesus, is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehosua, which means 'YHWH is salvation.' It is worth remembering that this was not necessarily what the people wanted. What they wanted was a Messiah who would kick Roman oppressors out of Israel. They wanted a mighty warrior, they needed forgiveness from sin. This forgiveness will be important throughout the gospel of Matthew, Jesus will even be shown to forgive those who kill him. (Luke 23:34).

We are told that this all took place to fulfil a prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.
"Look, the virgin (Greek: he parthenos) shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Immanuel," which means, "God is with us."

It is helpful to understand what was going on in the passage which Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:1-17. Isaiah was speaking to King Ahaz of the southern kingdom of Judah in the eight century BC. The original passage was written at a time when Judah was threatened with military invasion. Isaiah tells King Ahaz God will give him a sign, a young woman, already pregnant will give her child the symbolic name Immanuel. Immanuel is a phrase meaning ‘God with us.’ Isaiah then tells King Ahaz that before the child is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, the crisis will be over. The passage therefore promises deliverance to Ahaz and Judah, all will be well. Matthew takes this passage and he bestows upon it a new meaning in relation to the birth of Jesus. Matthew uses this prediction - fulfilment formula 13 times. As a Jew he wants to show that Jesus was the fulfilment of Jewish scripture. Some say that this means Matthew made up various stories to show Jesus ’fulfilling’ Old Testament scriptures. Christians will always disagree, but of course it is also true that just because Matthew says that something fulfilled scripture doesn't mean it didn't happen! Charles Royden


Much debate takes place each year about whether the birth stories found in Matthew and Luke are all literally true. Most probably our faith would not be affected at all if we had none of these chapters. However they are true for all of us in different ways. In one of his Christmas sermons, Meister Eckhart a 13c Christian mystic, theologian and preacher spoke of the virgin birth as something that happens within us. That is, the story of the virgin birth is the story of Christ being born within each of us through the union of the Spirit of God with our flesh. Ultimately, the story of Jesus' birth is not just about the past, but about the internal birth in us in the present. The Christmas story challenges our rational beliefs and asks us that we believe something far more enduring - that an incarnational God had come to be with us.



  1. O come O come Emmanuel 85
  2. Long ago prophets knew 83
  3. The angel Gabriel from heaven came 87
  4. Let all mortal flesh 266
  5. A messenger named Gabriel

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.

If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."


A Prayer for Christmas

Dearest God,
as we contemplate the wonder of your birth,
that you gave up your majesty to
become weak and vulnerable for us;
stir up in us the desire to consider
the needs and feelings of others,
before we think of ourselves.
Help us to be so willing to give of ourselves
that we may be an encouragement
to all whom we meet this Christmas time. Amen.

All-powerful God, let the splendour of your glory rise in our hearts like the dawn, that the darkness of the night may be scattered and the coming of your only Son may reveal us as children of the light. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Let us rejoice in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life. By Him we are born into the family of God, and made members of the body of Christ; His witness confirms us; His wisdom teaches us; His power enables us; He will do for us far more than we ask or think. Amen

God of the past, present and the future, of the old covenant and the new, speak to us today. Amen

Come, O Lord, in much mercy down into my soul and take possession and dwell there. A poor dwelling, I confess, for so glorious a Person as You. Yet, I am preparing for a fitting reception of you, by holy and fervent desires of your own inspiring. Enter then, and adorn my soul, and make it a worthy place for you to inhabit, since it is the work of your own hands. Give me yourself, without which, even if you should give me all that you ever have made, yet this would not satisfy my desires. Let my soul ever seek you, and let me persist in seeking, until I have found, and am in full possession of you. Amen. St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)

The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen

Additional Resources

Meditation: Joseph

Although she lived with her family, Mary was betrothed to Joseph and was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. In other words, it was not only her discovery; her family knew of her child-bearing. This left Joseph in a dilemma; if he married Mary, either he would admit to being the father (a dishonourable option) or he would be shamed by her suspected "indiscretion." If he divorced her with charges of adultery, he would put Mary's life in danger; adultery was punishable by death. By divorcing without charges, Joseph sought not only to save his reputation but to save Mary's life.

Commentary: Isn’t it strange . . .

that things sometimes don’t turn out the way you expect them to … 
It would be quite easy to imagine Joseph, Mary and their extended families preparing for the forthcoming marriage. Betrothal was an important social institution in the ancient world and parents or grandparents arranged marriage for their children from birth. Since social order in the ancient world was built upon relationships between extended families, marriage was a primary means to strengthen political alliances and economic ties between these families. Normally, women from each clan would propose and negotiate the nuptial arrangement; the clan leaders would approve the union. So the proposed marriage of Mary and Joseph would have been common knowledge in their small community for many months, if not years. And just as Mary had been betrothed, she became pregnant. This certainly was not in the wedding plans of the mothers! It probably wasn’t on Joseph’s agenda either. Suddenly all that seemed to have been under control was thrust into turmoil. This wasn’t turning out the way it was supposed to – all the best laid plans seemed to be in tatters.
Because God had other ideas.
But the scope of His plan was mind boggling: a virgin birth. Like Joseph, we are sometimes challenged by the magnitude of God's plan for our own lives, especially if it doesn’t necessarily fall in with our own small designs. God's will and our vision can often differ. Joseph was changed because of God's plan for his life. Written about 730 BC, the reading from Isaiah shows the threads of God's plan were laid long before Joseph was born and affect millions of people 2000 years after his death. And just as Joseph was changed by God’s plan for his life, so we need to be open to be changed by his plan for us. As we reflect on the nativity, perhaps Christmas is a good time to ask ourselves how has God's plan affected each one of us personally? How has it changed our lives in ways which we’ve been unable to predict, ways which have surprised us, ways in which we did not plan?
Culture and experience tell us to take control, to plan for the future, and trust in our own abilities. A common question asked by management consultants is, ‘Who is really in Control here?’, shortly followed by, ‘What decisions need to be made and who can make them?’ They would have a hard time with the Christmas story, because Christmas presents an alternate view, a view which requires trust in God and the notion of someone else being in control. Life may get in the way of our plans, but we will have the strength to survive and thrive because we trust the One who is really in control. We might not be in control - but God is.
And as we look towards the New Year perhaps its also a good time to ask ourselves what plans God may have for us in the coming year. Are we open to Him taking even just a little control? Dare we be as obedient to His call and plan as Joseph was? Do we believe that God might just want us to affect others so that His Kingdom comes, on earth, as in heaven? I wish you all a blessed Christmas and peaceful New Year. The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman


‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel’, a name which means ‘God with us’, a name which signifies that two natures are united in this one person. Before time began He was God, born of the Father - but in the fullness of time he became Emmanuel, ‘God with us’, in the womb of his mother. Without ceasing to be what he had always been, he began in a wonderful fashion to be what we are, assuming our nature in such a way that he did not lose his own. But His coming was not all plain sailing!

By law, on hearing of her pregnancy, Joseph would have been entitled to return Mary to her father and expose her to death. But Joseph is an honourable man and determines to divorce her quietly. Perhaps in his sense of honour he hopes that the rightful father will claim the child and marry Mary. But even more remarkable is that here, in the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament, we begin to get the sense that the rules of the game are changing. That the strictures of the law which had guided the nations of Israel and Judah were beginning to be seen in a new light, a new light that demonstrated that the new era of living under grace and not the law was dawning as Emmanuel was indeed with us. An ‘Emmanuel’ who was not a product of human evolution, some pinnacle which represented the highest achievement of humanity to date, but an ‘Emmanuel’, as the name implies, who was, and is, the intervention of the transcendent God into human history from outside. Even as He was conceived, the law was beginning to be fulfilled as Joseph, mindful of the law, decided to believe the Lord that had spoken to him in a dream.

Unlike Ahaz in the Old Testament reading, Joseph seems to be open to believing that he might just be hearing the word of God, and acts on that belief. Ahaz, it would appear, preferred to believe in his own strength and a treaty with the king of Assyria! Joseph is open to hear the word of the Lord, even in his dreams. Ahaz, on the other hand, is closed, trusting only in his treaty. Joseph believes the promise of God and names the child "Jesus" in obedience to the dream, claiming him as his own. Ahaz refuses the promise of God, and suffers serious consequences. The king he trusted to protect him comes and conquers his land. If Joseph had acted like Ahaz, he would have trusted his own inclination and dismissed Mary quietly. If Ahaz had acted like Joseph, who knows how the history of God's people would have been changed?

The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is both a mystery and a miracle. It’s the stuff of Hollywood movies. A young virgin conceives a divine Son, a quiet boyfriend who believes in angels enough to listen to them, some poor agricultural labourers working at night going to see what all the fuss and commotion is about and ending up in a stable of smelly animals. And later, Eastern mystics turn up on the scene after allegedly following stars to get there to see what’s happening and leave hugely expensive Christmas presents. And that’s before the massacre of the innocents, the exile into Egypt, and the bizarre events of Jesus’ early childhood. It would have been so easy for Joseph to believe that it had all been just a dream

But it wasn’t just a dream, it wasn’t a story in a Hollywood movie, it was the reality of an incarnate God coming among us. When we reflect on the Christmas story do we believe that God can still speak to us and intervene in the world today as He spoke to Joseph and intervened that first Christmas? Or do we think it was all just a dream? Sam Cappleman



  • The angel Gabriel
  • Come thou long expected Jesus
  • A messenger named Gabriel
  • Hark the glad sound
  • Hills of the North rejoice
  • Let all mortal flesh
  • Lo he comes
  • See him lying on a bed of straw
  • Long ago prophets knew
  • Angels from the realms of glory
  • Long ago, prophets knew
  • Unto us a boy is born
  • Born in the night
  • O come, O come, Immanuel
  • Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead.

    Strengthen your Church in the name of Jesus, to know the power of the Saviour, of Emmanuel, of God with us. Hold us fast in the obedience and faith that enabled Joseph and the Holy Family to perform your will in the work of bringing salvation to the world. Amen

    Father God, we ask that you would pour your grace into our hearts, that as at the message of the angel, Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and became the mother of Jesus, so we, believing your word, may receive Christ to dwell in our hearts and by our life make manifest the mystery of His incarnation; who has exalted our humanity into the glory of the Godhead. Amen

    Loving Father, we thank you for the gift of your Son, whose birth at Bethlehem we now prepare to celebrate. May our hearts and our homes always be open to Him, that He may dwell with us forever, and that we may serve Him gladly all our days, to the honour and glory of your name. Amen
    O God our Father, was are preparing to celebrate the birth of your Son Jesus Christ. While we recall Hs coming as a tiny baby in weakness and humility, may we be reminded that one day He will come in great power and glory. Amen

    Christ the Son of God, born of Mary, fill you with His grace to trust His promises and obey His will; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen


    A messenger named Gabriel
    came to the land of Israel;
    and he proclaimed that Mary's son
    was God's messiah, holy One.

    O Jesus Christ, strong Son of God,
    once born for us at Bethlehem:
    we listen to the angels' song
    and worship you for ever.

    Angelic hosts of God most high
    with radiant glory fill the sky;
    enraptured voices joyful sing
    to welcome Christ, the new-born king.

    In awesome fear and bitter cold
    the shepherds huddle in their fold;
    then since the message is for them
    they make their way to Bethlehem.

    Within the sacred stable-shrine
    they see the holy child divine;
    the manger stands amidst the straw
    and humble folk their God adore.

    Since then have passed two thousand years
    of human misery and tears;
    yet Christ alone can bring release:
    he loves us still - the prince of peace.

    Words MJ Walker
    Traditional melody arranged Noel Tredinnick