Worship Helps for Advent4


Artwork: O Antiphons

Worship Theme: God will come to save his people, just as he promised. He saves them through the virgin born Son of David who is also the Son of God, Immanuel. The Church prays for God to come in power to take away the burden of our sins. Since the Garden, there has been only one promised plan to do that: God would take on flesh and blood. Immanuel comes—God in the flesh—exactly as promised to save his people. The use of the Great O Antiphons on this Sunday as we sing all eight stanzas of “O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel” highlights God’s promises kept by invoking an Old Testament title for Christ and anticipating the promise kept by the Christ-child. 

Old Testament: Isaiah 7:1-17
When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it. 2 Now the house of David was told, "Aram has allied itself with Ephraim"; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind. 3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. 4 Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood-- because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "'It will not take place, it will not happen, 8 for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.'" 10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test." 13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah-- he will bring the king of Assyria."

Some background information on King Ahaz, so that you are able to make greater sense of the prophecy of the virgin birth: King Ahaz of Judah ruled from 736–716 b.c. Ahaz was one of the most ungodly kings of Judah, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. During his reign, Pekah, the son of Remaliah who was the king of Israel (here called Ephraim), and Rezin, the king of Aram (Syria, whose capital was Damascus), became allies to destroy Judah. In this chapter Isaiah called Ahaz to trust in the Lord for protection from this alliance. Ahaz refused. Ahaz’s solution to this threat was to make his own alliance with the nation of Assyria, north of Aram. (Read 2 Kings 16:1-9.) Assyria did its job only too well. It ultimately destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and would have destroyed Judah and Jerusalem if the Lord had not intervened.

1. What is the Lord’s promise to Ahaz regarding his two enemies, Ephraim and Aram? What does Isaiah tell Ahaz to do in verse 9?

2. The Lord wanted to help Ahaz believe. God offered to give him a sign. How did Ahaz respond to God’s offer?

3. God himself gave Ahaz a sign. Read Matthew 1:18-25. What is the meaning of the prophecy? How can a prophecy that would happen so far in the future be a sign to Ahaz?

Epistle: Romans 1:1
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. In verses 2 and 3, Paul tells us the message he preached to the world. What was that message?

Gospel: Matthew 1:18
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us." 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

5. When Joseph discovered Mary was “showing,” he was of a mind to discretely put her away. Do you gain any insight into the man from this?

6. The way Matthew recorded the account of Joseph showed that Jesus was born of a virgin through the power of the Spirit. How does it become clear that Joseph was not the father? How does it become clear that no other human being was Jesus’ father?

7. Jesus means “he will save the people from their sins.” This wasn’t an uncommon name for Hebrew boys. It is a version of the name Joshua. What, however, was unique about Mary’s son receiving the name Jesus?

8. This child would also be named “Immanuel.” What is so special about that name?



Answers:
1. They would not be successful in their attempts to unseat Ahaz. Within 65 years, Ephraim (the northern nation of Israel) would be destroyed. (Syria would be destroyed as well.) Isaiah tells Ahaz to believe God’s promises. If Ahaz did not stand by faith, he would not stand at all. If he followed his own plans and schemes, he would fall.

2. In false humility he refused to “test” the Lord. In refusing the sign, he tried the Lord’s patience.

3. It was fulfilled when Jesus was born. Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” Since God would come to his people in the future, Ahaz could be sure God would help him in his day.

4. That God’s Son was born as a human being and shown to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. At this time of the Church Year when we are focusing on Jesus’ birth, it is important for us to remember three things that Paul mentions in the opening verses of his epistle to the Roman Christians – 1) He is the divine Lord of glory; 2) He is also the fulfillment of prophecy in that he was born of the line of David and was human living humbly in the womb of Mary; 3) And that he was born in order to die and rise again for the sins of the world.

5. Joseph was a “righteous man” (verse 19), that is, he had a high regard for how God’s Word applied to his personal life. Joseph was also concerned about the spirit in which he took action. He wanted to do so “quietly” (verse 19) and not subject Mary to public ridicule. God provided the boy Jesus with a stable and devout earthly father.

6. First, if Joseph himself had been unfaithful with Mary, it would have been the height of hypocrisy for him to divorce Mary. The fact that he wanted to divorce her shows he was not the father of her child. And then, for him to reverse his decision shows that he believed God that no other human was the father. The entire account is meant to teach us that Jesus was born of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit.

7. Jesus would actually fulfill what his name means. There has never been a lack of people claiming to be saviors of one kind or another. But only Jesus of Nazareth gives his name its fullest and truest meaning. He alone saved all people from their sins.

8. “Immanuel” means “God with us.” God is no longer alienated from sinful human beings. He crossed the gap that was brought about by Adam’s sin of breaking perfect fellowship with God. In the union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ, God is with us.



Putting your faith into action
Stewardship involves trust—taking God at his word. God called for that trust in asking for firstfruit offerings from his people. He also asked for it from Joseph, the husband of Mary. This wasn’t the way Joseph would have wanted to start his marriage, but he trusted the Lord to bless him as he did what the Lord asked.


A reading from the Book of Concord for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
What kind of communion of the divine nature must that be of which the apostle says, “in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” so that God and man are one person? It is important that this doctrine about the communion of the properties of both natures be treated and explained with proper discrimination.  There are many ways of speaking about the person of Christ and of its natures and properties.  When these are used without proper distinction, the doctrine becomes confused and the simple reader is easily led astray.  The following explanation should be carefully noted:

In Christ two distinct natures exist and remain unchanged and unconfused in their natural essence and properties.  Yet there is only one person consisting of both natures.  Therefore, that which is an attribute of only one nature is attributed not to that nature alone, as separate.  It is attributed to the entire person, who is at the same time God and man (whether the person is called God or man).

In this way of speaking, it does not make sense that what is attributed to the person is at the same time a property of both natures.  But its nature is distinctively explained by what is ascribed to the person. So “His Son … was descended from David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). Also: Christ was “put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18) and “suffered in the flesh” (1 Peter 4:1). – Formula of Concord, Article VIII, The Person of Christ (paragraphs 34-47)

Hymns: 23; 4; 702



1  Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!

2  Oh, come, O Root of Jesse, free Your own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell your people save, And bring them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!

3  Oh, come, O Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by your drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!

4  Oh, come, O Key of David, come, And open wide our heav’nly home.
Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!

Text: Latin hymn, c. 12th century, abr.; tr. John M. Neale, 1818–66, alt.


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