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Monday, December 17, 2012

Watching with Isaiah: Do You See What I See? Pt. 4: Reflecting on Isaiah 7.10-17

“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

Contemplating this passage, I am probably going to say things that are not too surprising, and I might say a thing or two that are. And again, just in case I get lost along the way, remember: “For anyone united to Christ, there is a new creation: the old order has gone; a new order has already begun” (2 Cor. 5.17 REB).

In the midst of the promises of the New Creation (and a plentiful quantity await the reader in Isaiah), there is the rough and gritty present-tense to these promises. King Ahaz was a faithless, gutless, “moderate” who stood for only one thing—safety, security. In his faithlessness, he is offered by Almighty loving God, the opportunity to risk faith in God. “Test Me” says the LORD. But Ahaz refuses to “Test the LORD.” Now, I know, Scripture says we’re not to “tempt” the LORD. But when God Himself comes to us and says, “Come along Bubba. I’m giving you the opportunity of a life time—test Me and let Me show you that I AM, and that I AM trustworthy and faithful—no ifs, ands, or buts about it!” then not to ask shows a faithless heart.

The LORD subsequently, in effect, says that Ahaz’s faithless reign will drown the people of Judah in continued poverty and will be sweep the nation off into the dustbin of history. But long after Ahaz is forgotten, the LORD will perform a sign that will leave folk scratching their heads and shocked; “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (14).

The Gospel of Matthew takes this verse and opens it up as a promise about Jesus; that He will be born of a virgin. The virgin conception of Jesus has been scoffed at by not a few throughout the last many decades—from those in the Church and those outside. It has also been swept aside by a lame-heartedness which says that the virgin conception is not really what matters, what matters is this nice story that is trying to describe to us that God was about doing new things, and that’s really all that matters. The reason for such unbelief and skepticism is because folks are skeptical of the wrong thing. They are skeptical that God could and would actually do something as wild and amazing as this, having a virgin conceive a child, this child, this one who is the Son of God from all eternity and now becomes a full-blown human being. Let me point out a couple of things that I hope will help feed your faith and heart.

1st—Matthew risked the credibility of the Christian Faith with this virgin conception story. So does Luke. Now, contemplate this with me a wee bit. No one else in the New Testament specifically brings up the virgin conception of Jesus as in anyway a core aspect of the Gospel. Neither Paul, nor James, John, Peter, Jude…none of them. But Matthew (and Luke) recite this as an interesting historical event and therefore place the Gospel in jeopardy. (1) The Jews would have scoffed at this in thorough scandalized disbelief. And (2) the Greeks and Romans would have snickered, because they knew that the stories of gods copulating with maidens was usually a cover-up for a sexual tryst between a girl and her lover. So why would Matthew (and Luke) jeopardize the Gospel like this? Why would they put something that appeared to not be necessarily at the core of the Gospel into the Gospel? Because…They believed it had happened, and that it fit into the way God had planned to act toward Israel and the world. That this was God’s radical initiative of sheer, absolute love! God with us! And that He gladly became really, truly human. A despised Israeli to boot! Born into poverty, the blue collar world of calloused manual laborers. So, if it didn’t happen, then Matthew (and Luke) truly jeopardized our Christian faith. But if these things DID happen, if God became an embryo, conceived His humanity in the womb of a faithful virgin Jewess, then something critically new has happened. Something new and renewing has actually and truly already begun!

2nd—If everything else we have looked at in Isaiah is right, and if the creator God promised to actually bring about the New Creation [Isaiah 2 and 35], and if He was doing this in and as Jesus (Isa. 11], and if Jesus really did rise from the dead (body, blood, bones, toenails and hair!) then this virginal conception is no surprise! God, not mythically, not metaphorically, but mightily comes as the new Adam to establish the new humanity. And by His obedience he undoes Adam’s disobedience, and by His death He triumphs over our death, and by His resurrection makes us by grace what He is by nature. Thus, this One who is the 2nd David, who is truly Immanuel—God with us—comes and by His powerful Holy Spirit is conceived in the womb of a real, live, faithful virgin—and so is  now truly human in every way that we are, with the exception that He has no sin. It means that a new world has begun to dawn, a new creation has started arriving. It means that God, without our aid, is turning death out on its ear and bringing in the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. It means that you can be part of God’s new liberation program. It means that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. It means: “For anyone united to Christ, there is a new creation: the old order has gone; a new order has already begun” (2 Cor. 5.17 REB). Remember, our Lord’s initial coming was like the first planting of a field, and His final coming is like the reaping of the same harvest. His first coming, as a child etc, is the inauguration; His final coming is the mature fulfillment. “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 9.28). His return will be a day of accounting, where He will ask us: “Have you been part of My new creation remedy, or have you continued to be part of the old order disease!”

That’s why we make so much of the virginal conception of Jesus! The resurrection of Christ validates the New Creation act of Christ launched in His conception in the womb of the blessed, faithful virgin, Mary. That’s why we sing these glorious songs about the coming of Jesus. It’s why we rejoice that the Lord has come. And we look for the day of His appearing again when He will judge the living and the dead. It’s why we work now for peace and reconciliation and not temporary ceasefires. Because we know that His New Creation which He initiated is the time that lions ought to be lying down with lambs; when Hatefields and McCoys should be beating their shotguns and grenade launchers into plows and pruning hooks; when the nations should be flowing to Mt. Zion to be taught of the Lord so that they might walk in the ways of the Lord. Because we know that fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains ought to be joining us in repeating the sounding joy. It’s why we presently are encouraging fidelity in marriages; the birth (instead of the abortion) of babies; the dignity of the dying and the respectful burials of those in repose. It’s why we send out, here and now, thoughtful missionaries, build hospitals, care for those who are truly poor [helping them to become increasingly self-sufficient], establish life-respecting hospices, start up soup kitchens and rescue missions. It’s why we care about those traumatized by tsunamis, earthquakes and school shootings, and give them aid and comfort. It’s why we want to be part of the cure for sex trafficking and human trafficking.

So, when you hear those musical renditions at the mall, and the rock-n-roll modifications on the radio, of Christmas carols; then rejoice, laugh, celebrate, give thanks, and dance with excited joy. For “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and Life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” For anyone united to Christ, there is a new creation: the old order has gone; a new order has already begun.


1 comment: said...

My view was better informed one Easter morning when one of my parishioners, a cosmic scientist and engineer, explained to me, "Well, Father, the reality is this is just the first time resurrection had ever happened in our kind of time. It's always going to be a puzzle for scientific types to be confused about." The same must be true for the Virgin Birth of Jesus. It was just the first time it had happened. It's always going to be a puzzle for our minds when limited by scientific thought patterns.