‘The promise of hope’ – 29th November 2020 – Advent Sunday

This Sunday evening we begin a series of Advent sermons focusing on the themes behind each of the Advent candles.  Our service will be live-streamed from the church.

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20 11 29 Advent 1 Evening Prayer

The Readings

Genesis 12.1-4a

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Matthew 1.1-17

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Joe, a Reader at St. Mary's

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Advent. The start of the period of waiting for the birth of Christ. This year it seems that we’ve spent a great deal of time waiting, in one way or another. From when we entered in to Lockdown 1 (and yes, you know you’re in trouble when you start numbering these events) half-way through Lent, this year has been a strange time of uncertainty, with few of the usual ‘anchor points’ of our daily lives left unaffected.

At first glance, some readings would appear to give little for a preacher to go on. I have to say that that was my first feeling about tonight’s lectionary pairing. But I slept on it, prayed, and concluded that, if nothing else, these readings do go to show that our Lectionary isn’t just thrown together, and that there are frequent connections, even if at first glance the links between readings may seem tenuous.

We’re once again talking about waiting; this time the long and patient wait of the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah.

Our first reading, from Genesis, takes place after the destruction wrought by the Flood. God now takes a new approach with Humanity. He takes a particular couple – Abram and Sarai – of an age where the idea of children seems impossible – and from them he intends to bless the world with His people. He tells Abram to leave his country – in fact, God tells him to even leave much of his family behind when He tells Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And promises that He and Sarai will be the start of a great nation. God is focusing on a single family from all the branches of man that have emerged after the Flood. And from this unlikely start, He will create His Kingdom on Earth. It’s a big job…and a long game.

And then in our second reading, the opening of the Gospel according to Matthew, we see the genealogy of Jesus. And yes – it starts with Abraham (after he changed his name from Abram).

Jesus’s genealogy turns up in two forms in the Gospels. There’s the one in Matthew, and there is a further one in Luke Chapter 3. The version in Luke traces Jesus right back to Adam; indeed, it finishes with the words ‘the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.’ Luke’s version of the family line also gives attention to Mary. The lineage in Matthew, on the other hand, follows the line back from Joseph – Jesus’s legal father – back to Abraham.

Luke, the Gentile, emphasises Jesus’s relationship to the whole of mankind; Matthew, writing as a Jew, puts more emphasis on the lineage of Jesus as a figure of Jewish history. I always feel that the inclusion of the genealogy in Luke is almost a secondary thought, whereas in Matthew it’s ‘up front and centre’, starting the whole Gospel off.

This would probably have been a deliberate decision by Matthew. Although the Gospel was written in Greek, it’s quite likely that it was aimed heavily at Jewish readers. Matthew quotes Old Testament sources more than any other New Testament author; he assumes that his readers will have a knowledge of Jewish custom and terminology, and the family lineage he uses starts with Abraham – the name which Abram took when he became the ‘father’ of the tribes of Israel.

Matthew is setting out from the very beginning to show his Jewish readers that Jesus Christ is their Messiah. And he does this by building upon existing Jewish scriptures, using Old Testament scriptures to show how Jesus fulfils the prophecies to be found in the OT.

It's also worth noting that some scholars have suggested that in the 1st Century AD, Chronicles was regarded as the last book of the Hebrew scriptures. The first part of Chronicles – what we know as Chronicles 1 – is very much a set of genealogical data, and so if Matthew is writing with the intention of making it clear that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, then starting his Gospel with the genealogy of Christ provides a continuity between old and new scriptures that would be obvious to his readers.

Matthew’s intended audience would be at home with the idea of a lineage starting his version of the Gospel. If we take a look at the reading, we see that it states:
“Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.”
Now, a quick examination of the lineage given reveals the fact that there aren’t actually 14 generations in each of the three sections; it would be more accurate to say ‘about 14 or so generations’ but that wouldn’t have read as well. There are also a few names missing in this lineage, if you compare the list here to the similar list in Chronicles. And – note that it’s only David who is marked as ‘King David’ in the list – no other ruler is so described in the genealogy.

Matthew uses his ‘rule of 14’ to split this list along lines that emphasise the role of David in the family tree of Christ – the first 14 generations end with David becoming King; his ‘regnal line’ continues for the next 14 generations until the Exile, and then, 14 generations later, the Messiah is born in to the line.

From the very start – in the opening lines of the Gospel – Matthew is asserting the continuity of the line from Abraham, through David and other well known kings and events in Jewish history, right through to the Messiah, born in this generation as Jesus Christ.

So, what’s in a number? To be precise, why does it look like Matthew is working hard to create this association with the number 14?

An aspect of Jewish spiritual beliefs was the practice of ‘Gematria’ – a process whereby numerical values are assigned to characters in the Hebrew text. The value that comes from David’s name is 14; so Matthew, with his focus on 14, is reminding his readers – who’d be aware of this – that as well as Jesus being descended from David, that descent also involves 2 lots of 14, which links the Messiah and David at a deeper, almost mystical, level in the minds of the readers.

Matthew knew his stuff. What he was saying to his readers is ‘The long wait is over; the promise given to the people is being fulfilled now, in this generation. The promised Messiah is here.’

We experience this wait every year; we experience the waiting, the anticipation, the looking forward to the light in the darkness. The Jewish people had also waited for, and anticipated the coming of the Messiah – and Matthew was letting them know. He is coming; the one we have waited for is here.

This Advent finds us waiting, uncertain, perhaps a little fearful of what is coming in the future, at the end of a year when certainties have been cast aside. But we have one certainty; one source of hope, one source of light in the darkness. The Messiah IS coming. May we all have a blessed and enlightening Advent season as we wait.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe

The bidding for our prayers this evening is “Lord, have mercy” and the response is “Christ, have mercy.”

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father.

As we enter the season of Advent, we pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s.
In these uncertain times, we know we can rely on you, Lord, to keep your promises to us, as you kept them to Abraham and Sarah.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all. In this time of uncertainty, people are fearful; we pray that leaders work to calm those fears, not inflame them. We pray that people speak the truth to each others, and that we have discernment to know when we are being deceived.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. We pray that the levels of Covid-19 infection continue to fall, and that the health services in our city and region are not overwhelmed. As we plan for coming out of lockdown, we people will be careful and care for one another, keeping our homes, schools and workplaces ‘Covid Secure’.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. We pray that God’s power and spirit will strengthen them and bring them the healing and peace that belong to Christ’s kingdom. We pray that the scientists working on vaccines and treatments for Covid19 are successful, and that we may soon be able to be with friends and family without fear.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for those close to death at this time, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey. We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn. We pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, that they were comforted by your presence, Lord. We pray that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and also those issues and concerns that we have in our own lives.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.

Merciful Father:
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour,
Jesus Christ.



Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000