Sunday, December 22, 2019

A Sign From God

December 22, 2019 –– Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10–14 / Psalm 24 / Romans 1:1–7 / Matthew 1:18–24
A Sign From God

If we’re honest, we will admit that we would like for God to work on our preferred timetable and to do things in a way that it’s easy for us to understand and obey. Yet the general message we find in Scripture is that God is mysterious and we need to trust him.

When we see trouble on the horizon––whether it’s large scale like global or national, or up-close and personal––we want God to “fix it” so that we aren’t threatened or discomforted. King Ahaz was facing an attack from neighboring kingdoms who had formed a coalition against him. Isaiah told him not to be afraid, that God was at work. Then Isaiah told Ahaz he could even ask God for a sign! (How often do we hope, deep in our hearts, that the Lord will give us a clear sign?!)

Ahaz declined! Maybe he did what is so easy for anyone to do when God does come close––panic and run (that seems to be an inherited response from Adam and Eve). But God also did what he always does––God acts for what is good. The sign was still given: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.

At the time, the sign was unclear. It was rather general and in veiled language. On the other hand, it is an example of something that happens repeatedly in Scripture. The Old Testament especially is full of what biblical scholars call sensus plenior, a Latin phrase that means "fuller sense" to describe a deeper meaning intended by God, but beyond the human author’s intention at the time of writing.

So we do not know exactly how Isaiah understood what he was saying at the time. Yet this in itself has something to say to us. How often are we unsure what God is doing in our own lives and the things going on around us? Our faith may not readily perceive that God is at work in any up-close and personal way. Or we may, indeed, sense that God is truly up to something––yet not understand what it is. Through all the years of salvation history, this is not unusual. Do not be discouraged if you can’t see or aren’t sure of God’s immediate activity. That doesn’t mean God is not at work! 

The reality of this is magnified in the very event when God was finally making plain what he had said through Isaiah. It came 700 years later! And even then Matthew’s story shows that Joseph didn’t understand what was going on. At first he thought what everyone else would come to assume––Mary had done something she shouldn’t have done (this was part of God coming to us in humility). But Joseph had one thing going for him at the start: he was able to discern the voice of God.

Now, I don’t think we should be looking for a particular revelation when we have a vivid dream or when some unusual thought impresses itself in our minds, but…. we should have spiritual ears which are regularly listening for what God might say, and be open. (I would add to that a readiness to seek spiritual counsel if something seems unusual.) What I’m saying is that God wants to be in a relationship with us. I  say this because the fulfillment of God’s message to Isaiah and the outcome of God’s word to Joseph was exactly that: God is with us.

Today we do know what God was saying through Isaiah. The fulfillment of the virgin shall conceive and bear a son is Mary receiving the physical life of God in her womb and giving birth to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary. This is not mere myth; “myth” implies an essential truth. The Virgin Birth is not figurative. This is God at work for our salvation.

We may wonder: why don’t I see God working in big ways like this, “up-close and personal” in my life? The big things are “sprinkled” across the span of salvation history. Scripture is selective. The people and stories which are so familiar come out of centuries of events. C.S. Lewis once observed: “They come on great occasions…. that spiritual history which cannot be fully known by men. If your own life does not happen to be near one of those ganglions, how should you expect to see [it]?”  (from Miracles)

As we celebrate another Christmas I want to remind us of three big things from our readings today. First, God is at work for our salvation even if we don’t understand every detail around us. Second, God did a one-time thing through Mary. Third, because of what did God in and through Mary by sending his Son, God is with us, and he wants us to know him.

The way we do that is to believe, to trust, and to listen.

Are you listening?

No comments:

Site Meter