An angel comes to Joseph in a dream in this painting by Italian artist Gaetano Gandolfi, circa 1790. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: God will always be with us and for us

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  • December 15, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 22 (Year A) Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-Matthew 1:18-24

The Word of God echoes and reverberates throughout human history. It’s the same voice, often with the same words, but they can carry many meanings, depending on the time in which one hears them. 

The well-known prophecy from Isaiah tells of a child that is to be born. He will be called Emmanuel, or “God is with us.” The prophecy was given nearly 800 years before the birth of Jesus and was notmessianic in nature. 

The birth of the child was intended as encouragement for King Ahaz, who was overcome with fear during a siege of Jerusalem. Ahaz was tempted to become enmeshed in political and military alliances to escape his besiegers. Isaiah was urging him to have faith in God, for God certainly had not forgotten His people. 

The birth of the child, with the pointed and encouraging name of Emmanuel, was to take place very soon, within the lifetime of Ahaz. And so, it was — the siege was lifted and Jerusalem was saved. God was definitely with them. 

How do we react to threatening situations? Often the first human reaction is to lay hands on something for defence or counter-attack. In extreme situations, that may be entirely appropriate. But it sometimes results in placing all our hopes in what is outside of us, as well as making dangerous compromises we will later regret. 

Isaiah told Ahaz to sit tight and trust in God. The fate that befell those who did fight the superpowers of the day proved him right. Political and military alliances throughout the centuries have usually been like quicksand, sucking nations into conflicts that they never envisioned. 

This prophecy had a brilliant second life as a prophecy that illuminated the role of Jesus in God’s plan of salvation. It is not a prooftext — the Old Testament does not predict Jesus but prefigures Him. It only comes to light by reading tradition through the eyes of faith. 

In the first century of our era, the people of God again faced injustice, violence and persecution. The birth of Jesus was God’s response, for the people living then and for all time. He was a sign that God was, is and always will be with us and for us. Our lives must be rooted in that belief if we are to face the many frightening challenges our world presents to us.

Paul did not always write in a clear manner and this was even noted by some of his contemporaries. The opening verses of Romans beg for the hand of an editor — it seems a little convoluted and difficult to follow. 

What does it mean to be “declared the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead?” Wasn’t He always the Son of God? He was indeed — but it was through His resurrection from the dead by the hand of God that the declaration was made to the world. This was what empowered Paul to bring the faith to the Gentiles and it is this same grace that impels us to continue the work of Christ in the world.

Custom, tradition, religion and culture are very powerful forces — no one is completely free from their demands. But there are times when we have to turn away from those voices and listen to the gentle voices that come from within, even if it leads in another direction. 

Joseph was upset when he discovered that Mary was pregnant and so he prepared to send her away quietly. But in a dream — and the ancients believed that divine messages came through dreams — he was reassured by an angel of God. 

The repurposed prophecy from Isaiah was given again, making a firm connection with all that had occurred throughout Israel’s history. It was reassurance that God was still present and ceaselessly at work for our salvation. 

The child would not be named Emmanuel, but Jesus, which means “God saves.” That was the message for that time and for ours. God was and is saving the people from their sins — in effect, saving them from themselves. 

The Spirit and Word of God continues their journey through history. In our own perilous and fearful time, we must listen very carefully for the “quiet voice.” What messages and words of guidance and encouragement are waiting to be revealed to us?

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