For Sunday, 12.22.19
Isaiah 7:10-16 • Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 • Romans 1:1-7 • Matthew 1:18-25
Before the Israelites ever entered the Promised Land they were human; when the Israelites received their label of ‘Israelite’ – as their ancestor Jacob was renamed Israel – they were human; when the ‘father of the faith’ of the Israelites, Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, found out that he was going to have the label of ‘father’, Abraham, the ‘father of the faith’, was human. Humans disagree, they argue, they fight, they split and separate….they are human just like us. So, it should be no surprise that the Israelites, in very human fashion, demanded that God let them have a king and then eventually argued, fought, and eventually split over who should be the King (the split was after just three Kings of the united Israel). This typical, and expected, human behavior brings us to the backstory of our Isaiah passage. The Israelites had split into two different nations, the kingdom of Israel was the northern consisting of ten of the tribes and the southern kingdom, Judah, consisted of two tribes. Isaiah is talking to the twelfth king of Judah, a guy named Ahaz, who was also very human, actually an extraordinarily bad human. Ahaz, along with all of Judah, ad just been attacked by Israel and their temporary ally – Syria. The attack and consequences of the attack were devastating and Ahaz knew that they were facing further aggression from the north. The prophet Isaiah goes to Ahaz and suggests that the King ask God for a sign as to what steps he should take to avoid another loss. Ahaz refuses to ask God for a sign because he has already made up his mind without God, he has decided that he will also recruit an ally, he joins forces with Assyria (also a group of very bad humans, led by another bad human). Ahaz does not want to wait for God’s answer, and does not want to trust God. Even though Ahaz refuses to seek God, God speaks to him anyway. God tells Ahaz that the next King has already been born (which is the next King, Hezekiah, a much better human). Even though Ahaz finds immediate victory in his unwise alliance with Assyria, two years later, after defiling the temple and debasing himself, he is no longer King and Hezekiah is. Echoes of this story, the story of a child savior already being born for those who would wait, abound in the angel’s message to Mary in the gospel of Luke as well as the message to Joseph in the gospel of Matthew. Echoes of ‘Peace’, ’wait’ and ‘trust God’ are the beginning of the encouragement to Mary and Joseph as they choose to accept God’s path laid out before them.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (responsive reading)
In this small collection of verses, the phrase ‘Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved,’ is seen three times. The phrase is a key to the state of mind of the targeted readers of the verses. It is a key to our frequent cries out to God as we are confronted with the misery of our own humanity. As we saw the Israelites, during the exile, come to a realization that their actions had brought about their misery – they then were faced with the reality of waiting on God instead of making their own rash and unwise decisions. Turning back to God was the right choice but it was not an immediate solution to their misery, they still faced waiting on, and trusting in, God. The honesty of their wait is dialogue of Psalm 80; a dialogue that always takes them back to ‘Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.’
Paul’s letter to the Romans can be boiled down to a primary address/confrontation of the issues that divided the church at Rome. These issues were social, economic, and religious dividing the rich and the poor, the Jews and the non-Jews, and basically every social grouping of the believes. We will be reading through the letter to the Romans over the coming weeks to see how Paul uses these elements of division to teach us many basics of our beliefs.
It is in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that we find the birth story of Jesus Christ. While Luke takes one and a half chapters – one hundred and eighteen verses – to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, Matthew takes two chapters – but only a total of forty-eight verses – of which, seventeen verses are a genealogy of the lineage of Abraham to Joseph. In Luke we see the story mostly from the experience of Mary, while in Matthew we see the story more through the experience of Joseph. Matthew was written with a Jewish readership in mind wishing to prove the the lineage of Abraham to Joseph (the Davidic lineage), while Luke was written more to the Gentiles with the intention of proving the humanity of Jesus Christ. In this reading, Joseph, defined as a good human with the best of intentions, finds that his reality and future are taking a very unexpected and inexplainable turn into the weird and onto an unprecedented path. Both stories (Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts) of the radical news delivered by an angel bear the common refrain – ‘do not be afraid’ and ‘peace’.