Dec. 13, 2009
Background Scripture: Isaiah 7:13-17; Luke 1:26-38
Devotional Reading: Micah 5:1-5a
Isaiah 7:10-17 can be for us a stumbling block. For one thing, we might assume – wrongly – that Isaiah is being unfair to King Ahaz, who can be interpreted as simply being humble. But Isaiah knows what is not apparent to the casual reader.
Ahaz wants to form an alliance with the Assyrians and Isaiah knows that such an unholy alliance is contrary to the express will of God. So, Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign from God because he doesn’t want that sign interfering with what he has already decided to do. That’s why he replies, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”
It is amazing to me how often Bible characters are just like us: Lord, you don’t have to give us a sign or show us the way, for we’ve already worked it out. Because of the economy, you want us to slash the budget of our church. We know that you are calling us to lead a lot of people out of this church to join with another denomination with which we agree.
God probably would agree with that old adage: “The hardest thing to teach someone is something they already think they know.” And if we can spread a thin layer of false humility over the issue, we may assume that God is on “our side.”
God‘s signs often may not point in the direction we’ve already decided is the “right” one.
Doing it my way
It is arrogance, not humility, that leads us to say: “My way or the highway!”
So, Isaiah responds with one of the prophetic scriptures we associate with the birth of Jesus: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also. Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:13,14).
There are two distinct ways of understanding this passage. We can see it as a literal prediction of Jesus’ birth, but the prophecy would have to be bent and twisted to fit the accounts in Luke and Matthew where he is clearly named “Jesus,” not “Immanuel.”
Further, verses 15-17 are speaking of an event in the prophet’s own time, not the distant days of Jesus: “For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dreads will be deserted.”
The second way of interpreting the relevance of Isaiah’s passage is to see the coming of Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s proclamation. So we see Jesus as the realization of the hope in Immanuel, (which means “God with us”) because in Jesus we find that very experience: God was in the birth and maturating of Jesus; God was in Christ when Jesus went to the cross; and God is in Christ when he sends his Holy Spirit upon us.
So we sing of Bethlehem: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.”
The greatest dreams, hopes and aspirations of humans across the pages of time and throughout the world today are signs of God’s visiting His world in human flesh.
Blowing the mind
Yesterday, at the funeral of a family member, the preacher was noting that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Almost as an aside, he paused and said: “I don’t know how God did that, but I believe it. And I live by it.”
We do not hold that Jesus was 50 percent human and 50 percent divine, but 100 percent of both. But how can it be that the divine word becomes human flesh and the eternal adopts temporal form?
Mary exclaimed: “How can this be ...?” (1:34). It blows the mind, not the spirit.
Actually, we are not called to explain it, because we can never do that. But, like Mary, we are urged to experience it and testify to what we have found. Too often we get bogged down in “figuring it all out,” in reducing it to a formula on a piece of paper.
So, rather than arrogantly reducing Jesus Christ to a mere human idea, like Mary we respond with ever-deepening awe at the mystery of “God with us.” Behold, we are the servants of the Lord; let it be even unto us, according to the angels’ word.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.