Advent | Day 28

Saturday, December 24

  • Psalms 45, 46
  • Isaiah 59.15b-21
  • Galatians 3.23-4.7
  • Matthew 1.18- 25

One hundred eighty-eight years and one day ago a poem appeared that has exerted extensive influence around the world on the experience of the coming of St. Nicholas. It opens by depicting a situation in which “all seems well.”  Each of the texts in the reading for today assumes an existence that is directly opposite. They portray scenes more reflective of reality, replete with its challenges and difficulties.

Psalm 45 engages the challenge of the coming together of a royal husband and wife. The trouble presumed in Psalm 46 echoes natural disasters and international calamity. The oracle in Isaiah grows out of its acknowledgement of a basic moral collapse among God’s people with reference to truth and justice. In Galatians, Paul writes for those wrestling with the personal call of believers to know God intimately. These texts assure their readers of God’s faithfulness as they engage the challenges and difficulties of life.

The account in Matthew 1.18-25 is narrated in a mere twenty lines of text. Its brevity may give the reader an unrealistic perception of its complexity. Reading it carefully and thoughtfully shows the events consumed a significant amount of time, created extreme anxiety within the participants, resulting in their facing genuine danger, but offered them no assurance of vindication within the framework of history. It seems clear, “All was not well in their world.”

The account shares no details about the engagement; how it was arranged, or who may have been involved. Based on the social practices of that world, it is inconceivable Joseph and Mary made such arrangements personally. Perhaps entire families were involved in the betrothal; and when she was found with child, the resulting tension and anxiety could rise to explosive levels, unless we are to assume everyone accepted she was “with child from the Holy Spirit.”  Had that already been embraced by everyone, what are we to make of Joseph’s plan to “dismiss her quietly”? It was a dangerous situation for Mary and Joseph, depending on how their community understood the situation. The first coming of the one who would “save his people” was in a setting fraught with tension and danger.

The meaning of the narrative was not determined by the challenges surrounding the characters. It was determined by their willingness to be led by the God who was faithful in his presence.

Bob Byrd
Professor, School of Religion

You can access an online version of the 2011 Advent Guide (presented annually be Belmont’s School of Religion) at:



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