Monday, December 15, 2014

Immanuel עִמָּנוּאֵל "God is with us"

Isaiah 7:10  Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11  Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12  But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. 13  Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15  He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16  For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17  The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah--the king of Assyria."

Ahaz was King of Judah in the mid-8th century BC. He found himself in the precarious position of being forced by the neighbouring Israel to join a coalition against Assyria,  - something he desperately wanted to avoid. In the above passage, the prophet Isaiah brings a word that Ahaz does not need the coalition to be secure, because God will protect them. He is then given a sign to ‘prove’ this prophesy: a young woman would give birth to a child, who will be called “God with us” (Immanuel). The threat from the enemy kings would be ended before this child grew up.  

Nearly eight hundred years later, Matthew draws on this history to address the fear and insecurity experienced by the followers of Jesus (Ch 1:23). Some in Israel had relied on a political arrangement with Rome to keep the peace; others had thought to build an underground movement of zealots to overthrow Rome. Most were just afraid... a fear expressed in a terrified diaspora when Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Roman army. Matthew tells his readers not to be afraid: because the birth of another child will become the sign of God’s presence – Immanuel.  

This becomes the recurring theme for those of us who follow Jesus:  Christmas is the reminder that no matter how desperate our circumstances, we do not have to twist and turn in the wind, relying on our wits or our scheming. To be safe - we do not need to trust in our military power or our personal weapons; we do not require our financial investments or educational qualifications; we do not need our powerful families and political connections. Instead God steps out of eternity into our lives and walks alongside of us.  As with Ahaz and Isaiah, and with the generation who read the Gospel of Matthew, we too can know that God is with us – Immanuel. This Christmas – choose to trust that God has your life.

For Thought
Emmanuel, God with us
Emmanuel, God with us
The son of Israel

And still he calls through the night
Beyond the days of old
A voice of peace to the weary ones
Who struggle with the human soul
All of us, travelers, through a given time
Who can know what tomorrow holds
But over the horizon surely you and I will find

Emmanuel, God with us
Emmanuel, God with us
The son of Israel

Second Sunday in Advent
4.  God is with us
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 32.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.

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