Sunday Connection

  
Sunday Connection

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Sunday Scripture readings. The Sunday Connection provides useful background and activities to better understand the upcoming Sunday's Scripture readings, helping you to connect the Scripture to daily life in a meaningful way.


Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

Sunday, December 18, 2016

This Sunday's Readings

First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-14
Ahaz proclaims the sign that the Lord will give: a virgin shall give birth to a son, Emmanuel.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 24:1-2,3-4,5-6
The Lord is the King of Glory who established the earth.

Second Reading
Romans 1:1-7
Paul greets the community at Rome and declares himself a servant of Christ Jesus.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 1:18-24
An angel appears to Joseph, directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Finally, on this the Fourth Sunday of Advent, our Gospel Reading permits us to begin our contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” (Matthew 1:18).

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph's perspective. Today's Gospel passage is the second movement in this story. In the preceding verses of the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel, the Evangelist has listed the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his lineage through King David to Abraham. In the chapter to follow, Matthew tells of the visit from the Magi, the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, and Herod's massacre of the infants in Bethlehem. (The other stories which we associate with Christmas, the Annunciation, the Visitation, the angel and the shepherds, are found in the Gospel of Luke).

We must not gloss over too quickly the difficult circumstances described in today's Gospel. The way that Joseph and Mary face these circumstances tells us much about these holy people and their faith in God. Joseph and Mary are betrothed to be married. This is sometimes described as an engagement period, but it is more than that. Betrothal in first century Jewish culture was in fact the first part of the marriage contract. A breach of this contract was considered adultery. Mary is found to be with child. If adultery is proven, the punishment might be death. Joseph has rights under Mosaic law, but chooses to act discreetly in his plans to break the marriage contract, so as to protect Mary. Then God intervenes.

The message of the angel of the Lord given to Joseph in his dream tells us much about the child that Mary bears and his role in God's plan. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit. His name will be Jesus, which in the Hebrew means “Yahweh saves.” He will be the fulfillment of the prophecy heard in today's first reading from Isaiah: “. . . The virgin shall be with child . . . and shall name him Emmanuel [God with us].”

Joseph does as the angel of the Lord directs. He takes Mary to be his wife and accepts the child in her womb as his own. Joseph and Mary are both cooperative with God's plan. They are both models for us of what it means to be faithful servants of God.


Gospel Reading
Matthew 1:18-24
An angel appears to Joseph, directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.


Making the Connection (Grades 1, 2, and 3)

God promised that a child, born of a virgin, would be God and would save his people from their sins. This was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. This is the good news that we celebrate at Christmas.

Materials Needed

  • None

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Play telephone with the children. Whisper a sentence with some difficult words in it to one child and have that child repeat it to the next child and so on. Ask the last child to say the sentence aloud and compare it to the sentence you originally whispered.

  2. Say: When stories are passed from person to person, sometimes the words get mixed up. Many years before Jesus was born, the story of his coming was told. But the story remained the same—even down to the name Jesus would be called. That's because God was watching over the story, making sure it stayed true.

  3. Read the Gospel to the children. Point out to the children that words that the angel of the Lord uses when referring to Jesus are important to us. Say: The angel of the Lord tells Joseph that he is to name Mary's baby "Jesus" and that "he will save his people from their sins." The angel also says that Jesus will be called "Emmanuel," a name which means "God is with us." When we celebrate Christmas later this week, let us remember that we celebrate Christmas because Jesus saves us from our sins and because Jesus is God with us.

  4. Pray together by singing an Advent song, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”


Gospel Reading
Matthew 1:18-24
An angel appears to Joseph, directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.


Making the Connection (Grades 4, 5, and 6)

Joseph trusted God's message to him and accepted the responsibility of caring for Mary and the child she would bear, Jesus. In Joseph, we find a model of faithful service to God.

Materials Needed

  • None

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Say to the group: There are many ways in which we are called to trust other people, and we hope that we will grow to be people who are worthy of trust. What activities in your life require that you trust other people? (Help the group think of examples such as trusting parents to care for them, trusting that their rides to activities will arrive on time, trusting teachers to teach them well, and so on.)

  2. Say: In today's Gospel Reading, we hear the story of how God sends a message to Joseph in a dream and asks Joseph to trust in God's plan. Let's listen to this Gospel. Invite a volunteer to read Matthew 1:18-24.

  3. Ask the group: Do you think it was easy for Joseph to trust God and God's messenger? Why or why not? In what ways are we called to trust God in our lives today? Is this an easy or difficult thing for you? Why?

  4. Say: Joseph is a model for us of what it means to trust God. Let us pray as we celebrate Christmas this week that we will always be people who trust God.

  5. Pray together today's Psalm, or sing an Advent song, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”


Gospel Reading
Matthew 1:18-24
An angel appears to Joseph, directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.


Making the Connection (Grades 7 and 8)

Young people in this age group are learning how to trust those who are responsible for leading them into the future. In this Sunday's Gospel Reading, Joseph is a role model of trust in God.

Materials Needed

  • Prepare some trivia questions ahead of time
  • Make a list of nine celebrities

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Begin by playing a version of TV game show Hollywood Squares.

  2. Invite two young people to be the contestants (one as X and the other as Y). Have nine others play the celebrities.

  3. Create a tic-tac-toe chart on the board, with a celebrity assigned to each box.

  4. Have the contestants take turns selecting a celebrity, who will be asked a trivia question from those you've prepared ahead of time.

  5. The celebrity may give the correct answer or may bluff with the wrong one. The contestant must respond with either “I agree” or “I disagree.” If the contestant is correct, he or she wins that square. If the contestant is wrong, the other contestant wins the square. Play until someone wins the tic-tac-toe game.

  6. When you are finished, say: This game is about trusting. The contestants are challenged to trust the celebrity's answer. In this Sunday's Gospel Reading, we learn about how Joseph was challenged to trust in God.

  7. Invite volunteers to read aloud Matthew 1:18-24.

  8. Ask the group: Do you think it was easy for Joseph to trust God and God's messenger? Why or why not? In what ways are we called to trust God in our lives today? Is this an easy or difficult thing for you? Why or why not?

  9. Say: Joseph is a model of what it means to trust God. Let us pray as we celebrate Christmas this week that we will always be people who trust God.

  10. Pray together today's psalm or sing an Advent hymn, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”


Gospel Reading
Matthew 1:18-24
An angel appears to Joseph, directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.


Family Connection

Joseph and Mary are our models for family life and for service of God. Even when the circumstances seemed unclear, Joseph trusted God. Healthy family life is built upon trust, trust in God and trust of one another.

Spend some time talking as a family about the importance of trust in your family life, including the ways in which the children trust the adults in the family as well as the ways in which the adults trust the children. Then read today's Gospel. Talk about Joseph's trust of God and reflect together on how your family trusts in God.

Pray together that your family life will be built on trust, as was the family life of Joseph and Mary. Pray and sing together an Advent song, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”