Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent Reflection 2015: Week One

If the LORD of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we would have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah. (Isaiah 1:9)

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

The story of the coming of Jesus opens with reminders of the tentativeness of ancient Israel’s existence. In the extensive genealogy listed by Matthew in the beginning of his account of Jesus, he separates the generations between King David and Jesus by indicating those who lived before being deported to Babylon and those who lived after that time of exile.

The Old Testament has numerous references to the time of exile, usually expressed in laments and cries for God’s rescue of his people. Isaiah recognizes that, had there not been a remnant that was allowed to remain in Jerusalem, the city would likely have not survived. Regardless of the responsibility the people felt about why this had happened to them, the sense of abandonment is not difficult to find in the Bible.

By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people were, for the most part, living in their home country again, but were now under the rule of foreign oppressors. There would surely have been many who would continue to wonder when God would rescue his people, forgive them for generations of rebellion and idol worship, and restore Israel to its rightful place in the world. It would seem to many that God continued to have his back turned and was still demanding that the people measure up to his demands through strict adherence to the laws of Moses.

Into this time of isolation, Matthew has the audacity to quote the prophet Isaiah and use his words to frame the birth of Jesus: He will be called Emmanuel—a Hebrew name which means God is with us. The message is startling: God is not absent, his back is not turned. God is not waiting for adequate religious performance before he will act. He is present, he is with his people, and he is with them in the birth of the baby who is named Jesus.

We revisit and rehearse the season of Advent every year because it is there that our own stories find meaning. We live in a world so violent and threatening that news of death and destruction become commonplace to us. There is enough information available that reminds us that we live on planet earth tentatively, and the health of our world depends, it seems, on human intervention to heal its wounds—wounds that we have largely inflicted by our own power. It seems that we must intervene, since we have come to believe that we are alone in the universe.

Into this precariousness, this tentativeness, the words once again echo in our minds as we rehearse our story anew: "They shall name him Emmanuel, which means, 'God is with us.'"

We are not alone.

No comments: