Many of us are used to reading this text as directly related to Jesus’ birth and specifically to the virgin birth of Jesus. That’s one perspective, but let’s do our best to hear it as the ancient prophet might have intended. Notice the reference to Ahaz. Who was he? The writer of Second Kings summarized the reign of Israel’s ruler in the eighth century bce as follows: “He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done” (16:2). The writer lists child sacrifice as among Ahaz’s sins (2 Kings 16:3). His kingdom is crumbling, and judgment comes upon the land in the form of two kings, Rezin and Pekah, who lay siege to Jerusalem.
It doesn’t look good for the country, but perhaps Ahaz is receiving what he deserves—only that doesn’t happen. Instead, we hear this unusual promise of an unlikely birth and recall similar Bible stories of unlikely births: from Isaac to Samuel (Genesis 18:1-15; 1 Samuel 1:1-20), to this Immanuel, to John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25), to Jesus—all unlikely births, not to mention the oddity of children as a sign of God’s salvation. But that’s the God of Israel. We don’t always get what we deserve, and when God saves, it’s not always through the means we had anticipated. God tells Ahaz that by the time the child is weaned, the threat of the besieging kings will be past. And it was so.
Sometimes we wait in fear, expecting the worst, but instead God raises us up, offering a new possibility. If you’re anything like me, you may struggle with what some call “blue” Christmas. It’s like a low-grade depression that creeps in this time of year, making it difficult to enter fully into the holiday spirit, whatever that may be. It lays siege to your heart. If that’s where you are living, Immanuel is with you in the midst of it; but perhaps this year the siege itself will withdraw.
“Stir up your power, O Lord; . . . and let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.” Amen. (BCP)
We are close to the reality of Jesus, in whom we have invested so much of our life and faith. Jesus is larger than life, shattering all the categories of conventional religious recognition. On the one hand, it is asserted that this is the “Son of David,” in continuity with the old dynasty and the old prom- ises. On the other hand, this is one “from the Holy Spirit,” not at all derived from the human dynasty. This twofold way of speak- ing about Jesus does not re ect vacillation or confusion in the community. Rather, it is an awareness that many things must be said about Jesus, because no single claim says enough.
• Read Isaiah 7:10-16. How and when has God saved you in unexpected ways?
• Read Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19. What grace- lled steps have you taken to bring salvation and restoration to the world?
• Read Romans 1:1-7. The author suggests adding a chair to your feasting table. Whom will you invite to ll it?
• Read Matthew 1:18-25. When has God meddled in your life? What was the outcome?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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