Lectionary Scriptures for Dec. 22. Fourth Advent. Isaiah 7:10-16, Ps 80:1-7, 17-19, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25
God with us. That is the meaning of the name Immanuel, the name given to the promised saviour.
Isaiah is speaking to king Ahaz when Judah's enemies are forming powerful alliances and surrounding them. He says a child will be born, and that even before this child is old enough to make good decisions, the lands of those enemies will be deserted. What kind of reassurance is this? The threat is immediate, and king Ahaz is only offered the possibility of a baby saviour who has to grow up a bit before anything happens. (And I really don't get this curds and honey thing-guess I'll have to do a little research to understand that reference!)
How is the land of the enemies deserted, do they just walk away? What happens with the immediate crisis? Why would the future hope of a little kid reassure a king and his people whose "hearts are shaking as the trees of the forest shake before the wind?" (1:2b)
The answer is in the name of the child. "God With Us". Isaiah is reminding the king and all of Judah that they are in God's hands, regardless of what goes on around them. Jumping back in the text to verse 9, we read; "If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all." There is a powerful message here that God is in charge, that human armies and powers will not, in the end, matter. The idea that God's hope can come as a child saviour emphasizes this point. Judah may need to wait. They must have faith. And their redemption will look a lot different than anything they can imagine! God is doing something unique, and it is rather difficult to understand as the people watch the enemy surround them. They must accept, by faith, that God is with them.
Where the Isaiah message is corporate, for a whole people, Matthew 1 puts the "God With Us" into a very personal setting. Here we get a glimpse of the struggle Joseph is having with his choice of wife. This is a personal, family agony. Things aren't right and Joseph is simply trying to do the best he can during his family turmoil. The angel tells him (in the midst of his agony) that God is with us. Because God was with him, Joseph's choice looked a lot different than it would have if he had relied on his own decision making.
The Christmas story offers us reassurance, as a whole earth, and as individuals. May we be granted the faith to stand firm, to believe that God is with us in all our problems, no matter their size. Redemption just might have a very different look and timing than we can ever imagine!