December 17

December 17

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Another Advent prophecy that feeds the roots of the family story of Christ is one that speaks into Christ’s coming to us in his first advent, and reflects into Christ returning to us in his second advent (or second coming). It is found in Isaiah 7:14 and carries the freight of the entire Christmas story in one, single sentence: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. The Lord himself is going to give a sign, according to the prophet, and that sign will be threefold in its clarity and provision: 1)  a virgin will give birth, 2) the child will be a son, and 3) the child will be given the name “Immanuel.”
First, the Lord is God of the unexpected process. A virgin will have a child. That sentence doesn’t sound normal in any way. In other words, how we think a thing should happen, isn’t always the way  (if ever) the Lord thinks it should happen. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa. 55:8–9).
Second, the Lord is God of the human process. The child born will be a son. Unlike the sentence before it, that sentence actually sounds too normal. We seem to need more spiritual confetti and fireworks to confirm that God is present than God desires to give. Yes, there were many wonders that surrounded the birth of Jesus, but we have no indication that Jesus’ birth, in the stable with Mary and Joseph, was anything other than normal. A woman gave birth to a son. This is the Lord’s grand entrance, and sets the stage for the combined normalcy, and miraculous quality, of Jesus’ life among us.
Third, the Lord is God of the relational process. The child will be called Immanuel. In other words, there will be no distance between the covenant-making God and his beloved people. Jesus will say hello, will share meals, will walk and talk with us as anyone else would. But his name, and the meaning behind it, will make the relationships different than any other we could imagine. Jesus’ name is Y’shua, or Joshua, which was a common Jewish boy’s name at the time. It means, “the Lord saves.” Yet Jesus’ name is infused by a powerful name unused by anyone else in the Scriptures—the name, Immanuel, “God with us.”3 When Matthew uses the name in 1:23, he translates it for the reader to confirm the connection between the naming of Jesus and the naming prophecy in Isaiah 7.
Then, at the end of his gospel, in 28:20, he confirms that Jesus, Immanuel, will be “with us” until the end of the ages. 3. For more on this, I commend N. T. Wright’s Matthew for Everyone, Part 1 (Westminster: John Knox Press, 2004). The Father is whispering his agenda into the world by the very process we will see unfolding in Jesus’ birth. The Lord will be present with us, coming to us by an unexpected process, a very human process, and a very relational process. Here is the Advent God of the inconceivable, the conceivable, and the communal— the surprise, the normal, and the near. In Immanuel, the Father is present to us, and says “Here I am.” In response, we say, “Here I am.” “Here I am” is one of the most powerful phrases that can be prayed by a human being; to be present to God, to be utterly attentive and wholly available, is the goal of the Christian life. In Jesus, the great I Am says to you, to me: “Here, I am.”
Immanuel, we are entering a day where knowing you are with us is as important as it will ever be. Here we are to respond to your “Here I am”; lead us in your ways as we encourage others to experience the nearness of your presence. In Jesus’ name, amen.
• In what situations do you most sense the Lord’s name—Immanuel, God with us—being true to your relationship with him? In worship? In prayer?
• In this Christian New Year, how can you cultivate being present to Jesus as he is present to you?

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