Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Advent 4A

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore 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. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For 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."
Let's talk about signs, symbols, and situations. A sign points or directs us to something other than itself. Street sign. Product packaging. Warning labels in many places. A symbol is somewhat related. The scriptures and the sacraments are the symbols of the Church: although they carry and convey profound realities in themselves, they also point beyond themselves to God's gracious redemptive actions in Jesus Christ. In churches of Reformation heritage, we sometimes include the Confessions (Creeds, Catechisms) as symbols. For all varieties of Lutheran that would be the Book of Concord; for the Presbyterian Church (USA), their Book of Confessions. Other Reformed church bodies affirm the Canons of Dordt as reliable expositions of scripture. God often communicates with us via life situations we're in. Examples?

This week for Advent 4 we have another text from the first part of the book of Isaiah, probably from Isaiah of Jerusalem. Similar to Martin Luther, Matthew's community that produced the featured gospel readings for RCL year A had a habit of discovering and uncovering Jesus Christ in every passage of the Old Testament. No, I have that backwards: similar to Matthew's community, the Reformer Martin Luther loved to discern and explain the presence of Jesus in almost every phrase of the OT. This passage has become one of the most famous predictions of Jesus of Nazareth's birth, yet its origins are anything but. In these very very political verses, King Ahaz of the southern kingdom Judah is very very concerned about the military and poetical threats from Samaria [Ephraim] in the northern kingdom of Israel, from Damascus in Syria.

Discussion: in the world of Jesus' day, it was commonplace for you to be conversing with or find yourself in the marketplace beside someone who was the offspring of a god and of a mortal, thus half human and half divine. In Jesus the Christ we have a savior, a redeemer, a messiah who is fully human and fully divine. Writing to mostly Jews, Matthew drew upon this passage from 1st Isaiah in his gospel-long affirmation of Jesus as the New Moses, the Son of David, the New King David, the Messiah of Israel. Mary named her son Jesus / Joshua / Savior, yet his presence in first century Palestine and 21st century Christianity everywhere is Immanuel, God-With-Us.

I reminded the group the Hebrew scriptures distinguish between the prophet or nabi, one who speaks truth to power, lines out if-then alternatives regarding the future (as in this situation with Isaiah and King Ahaz), and the roeh or seer, someone who predicts future events and happenings.

We'll have a 2-week break from Sunday School, and that back to Matthew. I plan to discuss Bap-J and also at least mention the Magi and the Flight into Egypt, both unique to Matthew's gospel.

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