Fourth Sunday in Advent: What Signs of God-With-Us Will We See?

Fourth Sunday in Advent: What Signs of God-With-Us Will We See?
Greta Thunberg at the COP25 UN Climate Change Conference

Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25

I remember growing up and feeling like Advent was a time of stress and strain. I grew up with my mom as a single parent. She worked two, sometimes three jobs to provide for all our needs. She is and always will be my shero! It was not always easy, but when I think back on this season it often induces some shame. With so much emphasis on gifts, I recall receiving gifts, but not being able to give gifts in return.

In our current economy, I imagine this kind of shame to be common this time of year. There exists a stark contrast between holiday ads promoting images of happy families in a country of plenty, and the reality of families struggling to make ends meet, pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads. 

Gift-giving is not only about materialism and our addiction to consuming more and more. I know that our obsession with “stuff” is wreaking havoc on the planet. Deep down, I worry about the spiritual decay that occurs each time I click “buy” online or swipe my debit or credit card.

My ability to buy makes me feel “powerful.”

My ability to spend is a sign of “success.”

My ability to own property is lauded as a sign of “abundance.”

My ability to consume can be interpreted as God’s “favor” over my life.   

Advent has challenged me to ask deeper questions of myself. 

What signs of “God being with us” has been confused with the power we have in this economy? How much of my “buying power” is connected to the shame of poverty?

Isaiah and Matthew

When I read Isaiah and Matthew, herein lies the irony. The sign of God with us, Emmanuel, was neither power nor might. The sign of God would be a vulnerable, single (not yet married) mother and her child.  The sign of Emmanuel would not be born from a family of wealth, means or status, but quite the opposite. This sign would be born to make the powerful and mighty tremble with fear. This is the sign of God’s inbreaking, a child, one who “refuses evil to do good” (Isaiah 7:15).  

This season I am looking for signs of God less in my ability to buy or give, but I am looking for God in children, who are refusing evil to do good.

I have seen signs of Emmanuel in the youth climate activists who attended the recent COP25 Climate Conference in Madrid, Spain.  

I have seen signs of Emmanuel in the children who are advocating for the right to go to school and not fear gun-violence. 

I have seen signs of Emmanuel in the children at my daughter’s school who have chosen to support two families in our neighborhood this season. 

What signs of God-with-us will you choose to see this season?

"Again 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." –Isaiah 7:10-16

"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 fulfill 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." –Matthew 1:18-25

Chantilly Mers is the transformational experience specialist at United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 12/19/2019 12:00:00 AM

Give Thanks. Give Now.

Advent 2019

December 1: First Sunday of Advent
December 8: Second Sunday of Advent
December 15: Third Sunday of Advent
December 22: Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24: Christmas Eve
December 31: New Year's Eve