O Come, O Come – Part V
The Fulfillment of Immanuel
We’ve read Isaiah 7 in its original context, and now well take a look at it within the gospel of Matthew, which begins with the birth of Jesus. This time, God puts a young woman, who is literally a virgin, in a very troubling predicament. Imagine Mary and Joseph, good, upstanding people, who, for all we know, did things by the book. They are antithetical to Ahaz, yet according to the rules, someone has done something very wrong. No matter who it was that got Mary pregnant, the fact remains that Mary slept with someone and got knocked up. And if it wasn’t Joseph, then both Mary and mystery man are to be stoned to death. Whatever the case, Mary is in an extremely precarious position, and she is disturbingly close to a death penalty. And Joseph, at the very, very least, is a fool. I can never get over how ridiculous this situation is. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to convince my own mom that I’ve been impregnated by the Holy Spirit and that I’m keeping the child because he’s going to save the world. I’ve had roughly 27 years of a decent track record with my mom—Mary was roughly half my age—and I doubt I could’ve convinced her. What kind of bogus story is that? Not to mention that I’d be livid with God for choosing me—imagine the stories that would circulate, the shame of it, no matter what fruit of my womb will rescue all of mankind.
But see the parallels in today’s stories. The angel of the Lord appears as a sign to Joseph and delivers a prophetic message to one man, in one dream. The message is familiar. The angel says: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Joseph and Mary didn’t ask for trouble, but they seemed to get it. Sometimes we make our own messes, like Ahaz, and we have to lie down in the beds we’ve made, and in spite of our own bungling and disobedience, God says to us, “I am with you.” And then there are times when we do everything right, or we think we do everything right, and we’re still in a pickle. We do everything God wants us to do, we follow him to the ends of the earth, we sacrifice, we labor, and God seems so, so far away. The poop keeps hitting the fan.
But Matthew continues: “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God is with us.”’”
Again, the name of the child redefines the whole situation. Matthew understands the spirit of the word given to Ahaz, and he lifts it out and applies it to the birth of Christ because it makes perfect sense in this situation. If this particular passage was meant for Ahaz, then what does Matthew mean about this being a fulfillment? The other night in discipleship community, Anna Reiners was talking about a guy who gave her rides to church every Sunday, going way out of his way to pick her up and drive her home, and how formative that was for her early years as a Christian. And it struck me, because we had just had a bunch of meetings in YF about giving kids rides home and how frustrating and tiresome it was to drive some of them 20 miles away to Compton, come back to Santa Monica, and do it all over again. And in that meeting, I suddenly realized one of these kids could someday be Anna Reiners. Our situations might look different on the surface, with her story set in rural Missouri and ours in urban L.A., but her testimony is a fulfillment, the God-appointed end, of what we are presently doing. I can see the present clearer because of what happened in the past, even if it’s someone else’s past. Likewise, when Matthew uses that passage from Isaiah, he is bringing the past, a message of hope in a time full of darkness, into the present. Once again, the child’s name is Immanuel, and it will be a sign for us, in this awful situation that God himself has placed us in, that he is with us.
Maybe we did everything right this year, and at the end of 2009, you might’ve thought 2010 was going to be great. And it didn’t turn out at all—maybe you’ve ended up in some of the most difficult circumstances you’ve ever faced, and now we’re two weeks from the end of the year, and you are exhausted and wondering where God is, because he got you in this mess, didn’t he? To that, God’s answer is the same as the one he gave to Ahaz—Immanuel. And to prove it to Mary and Joseph, he sends his own Son as a baby, and in the 30-some years that this baby becomes a boy, and then the boy a man, the world knows without a doubt that God is with us. All the past, present and future can look at this moment and hear God declare in this humble birth, “I told you so.” Check out the conclusion of this series on Tuesday.
|Debbie Kim, a Chicagoan lost in Los Angeles, is a graduate of the University of Missouri. Ignoring her high school English teachers prophecy that she would become a teacher also, she pursued a career in journalism. In 2006, she came to LA to help plant a church and work at a city magazine. Four years later, she has somehow found herself in UCLA’s education program fulfilling that accursed prophecy. When she’s not at the gym pumping iron or at the beach rescuing baby seals, she works as an indentured servant at Kairos West LA. Debbie appreciates good design, Earl Gray tea, butter and bacon, but not in that order.|