Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the historic one-year lectionary.
As I promised when we had readings for St. Thomas (December 21) posted some time early, there's now a flurry of special observances that will keep us busy for a while. I may even go to posting more than four days a week at some point. Here's what we have on the docket: Christmas Eve 12/24, Christmas Midnight 12/24, Christmas Dawn 12/25, Stephen 12/26, John the Evangelist 12/27, Holy Innocents, Martyrs 12/28, Eve of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus 12/31, Circumcision and Naming of Jesus 1/1, then Epiphany ⅙. When people called the end of December "the holidays" that was part of what they were talking about.
There are plenty of times in the Bible when God gives a sign of something. There are also a lot of examples of people asking God for a sign. It's a very normal kind of thing to do. Yet here in Isaiah 7:10-14, God offers Ahaz that he will give a sign to show that he is the mighty God who will rescue his people. Ahaz refuses!
I can picture God rolling his eyes. Really? These faithless people always seem to need some sort of concrete evidence if they are going to believe me. Now I offer it in advance and they refuse?
So God gives a sign anyway. A virgin will conceive and bear a son, whose name will be Immanuel.
If we think about it, the sign is a little cryptic. Scholars, especially of the less theologically conservative type, will be quick to observe that the word used for the woman could indicate any sort of a young woman, though it is often used of a virgin. This makes it a very cryptic sign indeed. How many young women will bear sons? Plenty! Who is the child named Immanuel going to be? It means "God with us." Again, not really that remote of a possibility.
In biblical studies sometimes we talk about prophecies being fulfilled twice. There's one fulfillment near the time of the writing or speaking. There's another, which is often fulfilled in Christ or is yet to be fulfilled but which we believe will happen in the last days.
Matthew's Gospel makes it plain that the evangelist considers the birth of Jesus to be the fulfillment of this prophecy. Sure, there was probably some other baby born earlier who somehow fits the descriptor. I've heard reasonable arguments that Israel recognized it as fulfilled in Josiah, the good king, who became king at a young age. However, the ultimate fulfillment is Jesus.
Christians confess the virgin birth of Jesus. He was conceived, as Martin Luther says, through Mary's hearing the promise and receiving it by faith. The angels give him a name. He shows himself to be God with us.
Do we want a sign? Whether we want it or not, God has given it. In Jesus we are able to see God in the flesh. We are able to wrap our heads around the fact that God actually has cared for us and entered into our world. This is the great news of Christmas. In Jesus, we never have to look somewhere else to find God.
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