God With UsPosted: December 22, 2013
God With Us
MARY WAS WITH CHILD
Matthew dares to open up the issue of the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, and then Mary discovered she was pregnant. Since they had not yet had sexual relations, Joseph knew he could not be the father, and therefore questioned the wisdom of proceeding with a marriage to a young woman of questionable virtue. Being a kindly man Joseph did not wish to publically accuse Mary of adultery and subject her to being stoned to death, so the text tells us that he planned to divorce her quietly. The child, however, in such circumstances would have been illegitimate, and as a bastard he would have been barred from the congregation of Israel and his descendents also excluded for ten generations. Deuteronomy 23:2 “No bastard shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD.” In those days not everyone was welcome!
JOSEPH LISTENED TO HIS DREAM
Joseph was not a hasty man. He took his responsibilities seriously, and so he slept on his decision. Have you ever slept on a weighty issue? Sometimes answers come to us in our dreams, and indeed an angel appeared to Joseph assuring him that the child conceived by Mary was of the Holy Spirit. But who would believe a message from an angel in a dream? Joseph made the leap of faith to embrace the child as his own and name him Jesus.
Of the four gospels Matthew was most anxious to relate the story of Jesus to the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. And here in verses 22 and 23 Matthew makes the first claim to the fulfillment of prophecy – Isaiah chapter 7 verses 10-16. “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
ASK FOR A SIGN
One of the problems of Matthew citing this passage from Isaiah is the prophet was not referring to Jesus in this passage. In Isaiah chapter seven the prophet was trying to convince King Ahaz of Judah that he did not have to be afraid of his enemies Syria and Samaria, because within a short time both of them would fall to pressure from the larger and militarily stronger Empire of Assyria. The prophet said to Ahaz that if he didn’t believe what Isaiah was telling him, then he should ask for a sign from heaven.
But Ahaz feigning humility replied: “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”
Since the King would not ask for a sign, Isaiah gave him a sign anyway: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The young woman in question was a young princess of the court, who became pregnant and gave birth to the future King Hezekiah after Ahaz had sacrificed his first born son Rimmon to the pagan god Molech. In the eyes of Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah Hezekiah turned out to be a good King and so he was described by the prophets as “God with us.”
A SIGN FROM GOD
And speaking of signs I am reminded of a story. A rabbi and a priest got into a car accident. Both cars were totally demolished, but, amazingly, neither of the clerics was hurt. After they crawled out of their cars, the rabbi saw the priest’s collar and said, “So you’re a priest. I’m a rabbi. Just look at our cars. There’s nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God. God must have meant that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days.”
The priest replied, “I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God.”
The rabbi continued, “And look at this. Here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of Mogen David wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.”
Then he handed the bottle to the priest. The priest agreed, took a few big swigs, and handed the bottle back to the rabbi. The rabbi took the bottle, immediately put the cap on, and handed it back to the priest.
So the priest asked, “Aren’t you having any?”
The rabbi replied, “No…I think I’ll wait for the police.” Be careful of assuming any event is a sign from God.
YOUNG WOMAN NOT VIRGIN
We should also note that Matthew mistranslated Isaiah 7 to read, “a young virgin shall conceive a son,” instead of “a young woman shall conceive.” Standards for the study of scripture in the time of Matthew were very different than our principles for Bible Study today. The early church felt free to rewrite, and be creative with the Hebrew Scriptures, when they were forming the oral traditions that became the New Testament. The important point both Isaiah and Matthew were making in their writing was that somehow the child to which they were referring was a special person – God with us.
GOD WITH US
What does “God with us” mean? For a Christian can that term apply to a person other than Jesus? For that matter, are there events and places other than human beings, we want to point to and say, “That is God with us?” In that event, in that creature, in that book, in that film, in that relationship, God is with us.
WINDOW SEEMS MORE HOLY THAN THE GARGAGE CAN
If God created the universe and all that is within it, then God must be a part everything, and potentially all people, places and things can be a pathway into God’s Holy presence. But some places, some people, some objects seem more able to draw us closer to God than others. I have to admit that when the sun shines through our sanctuary window my spirit is lifted more than when I take the church’s garbage can down to the street on an over caste day. God is present in both, but I am more open to God in the window than in the garbage can.
God can be found in everyone, but I must confess I was more aware of the presence of God in the life of Father Homrich, who had spent 60 years in mission in the jungle of Bangladesh than in Bing Bisping who I am not sure whether he had a spiritual bone in his body. Now that is probably just the failure of my perception, but I think most of us experience some places, some things, some people are more holy than others.
GOD IS SELDOM AS PLAIN AS THE NOSE ON OUR FACE
How do we know when something or someone is holy? God is seldom as plain as the nose on our face. We are more likely to catch a glimpse of the divine out of the corner of our eye than when we are staring right at it. God has a way of showing up in unexpected ways and places – like in a baby in a feed trough for animals. Our ascent to the holy depends more on us than it does on circumstances.
CALVIN AND HOBBS
I am reminded of a Calvin and Hobbs cartoon. Through my adult eyes snow is dangerous and a nuisance. But in the eyes of a child snow is a great wonder, especially a first snow fall of soft powder, and a day off from school. Snow is a wonder in the eyes of a child.
TO SEE A SNOW FLAKE
And if as Jesus said, we can become like children again to actually see and be aware of a snow flake, we might once again experience the awesome mystery of life around us. If we can actually see a snow flake we might know that God is with us again.
Our awareness depends upon us. Can we focus enough to experience God with us? And we need to not be afraid that our visions of the divine are too simple and not sophisticated enough. One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons reminds me that even if all I can see in the clouds is a horsey and a ducky, then that is the vision God has given to me, and it is enough.
KARL BART H
We should be careful when our theologies become too sophisticated. The famous theologian Karl Barth, who wrote a multi-volume theological magnum opus was once asked by a smart ass seminary student, if he could summarize his theological work in 25 words or less. Barth looked at the students and said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
JESUS IS OUR EMMANUEL
Here at United Church we hope that we are all growing in our faith and understanding, but no matter who you are or how simple your theology you are welcome here. God is with us in our prayers, our relationships, our homes, our families, even in Christmas, despite all of the abuse to which that poor holiday has been subjected God is with us. Indeed, over this next week we will celebrate that Jesus is our Emmanuel. So let us pause in this holiday time to be aware of God’s presence with us.