We spent the early part of Advent reading and discussing implications from three Old Testament texts. It is a good time of year to remember what the prophets said long before anyone was thinking about Christmas. Yet, these old texts clearly stated that something was coming. Which makes them great conversation during the time of year when we celebrate Advent (something is coming).
Our texts came from Numbers 24, Ezekiel 34, and Micah 5. We read about Balaam (and his wise donkey) blessing the people of Israel with “I see Him, but not now… a star shall come forth from Jacob.” We read Ezekiel’s rebuke of Israel’s rulers and his declaration that “I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David.” We read Micah’s claim “But as for you Bethlehem, Ephrathah… from you One will go forth from me to be ruler in Israel.” So, of course we called our study “A Donkey, a Shepherd, and a Little Town Take Us to Christmas.”
In an effort to emphasize that these texts belong to a larger story, we placed each of them within two other texts. We hoped that an earlier text and a later text would help us to see the storyline take shape. We read the Numbers text in between Genesis 12 where God reveals the seriousness of blessing and cursing His people and Matthew 2 where Magi (like Balaam) enter the story of the people of God. Interestingly, Balaam nearly quotes the Genesis blessing. Equally interesting, King Balak and King Herod both attempt but fail to persuade the Magi.
We read Ezekiel’s text in between II Samuel 12 where Nathan shares a parable about a ruler who does not shepherd his people well and John 10 where Jesus talks about how the Good Shepherd does look after His sheep. Finally, we read Micah’s text in between I Samuel 16 where the first king from Bethlehem was chosen and he was “least” among others and again, Matthew 2 where Micah is quoted in the Gospel when it is revealed where the king will be born.
Although I found this to be both challenging and enjoyable (at times, even exciting), it is my hope that these times have helped us to prepare for the coming of Christ. That we can see how God has acted in human history, acts in human history, and will act in human history. That we will be reminded of our own role in God’s intervention to bless the world through His people.
Reader 1 – Behold!
Reader 2 – Prepare for the Lord
Reader 1 – I am sending my messenger!
Reader 2 – Prepare for the Lord
Reader 1 – There is a voice crying in the wilderness!
Reader 2 – It is saying, prepare for the Lord
Reader 1 – Make your paths Straight!
Reader 2 – and Prepare for the Lord
Reader 1 – Get Ready!
Reader 2 – And straighten up!
Both readers – Prepare for the Lord
We light the first candle of Advent and remember that the Old Testament prophet told us about the importance of preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord. We remember that the New Testament messenger tells us about the importance of preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord. Today we are reminded again to be ready for the coming of the Lord.
I bet Isaiah 7.14 sounds like Christmas to you. At least it does to me. I can almost hear carols in the background while reading it. It makes me feel like I am opening a Christmas card. I feel a twinge of excitement. I think I can smell Christmas while listening to it. And then, after Isaiah sings it, Matthew sings it again – a remix.
But unlike Matthew, Isaiah was not thinking about Christmas. He was thinking about politics. He was thinking about a clash between prophet and king. He was thinking about how different the world of faith is from the world of fear.
During this time the world power was Assyria. They made the rules and made sure the rules were followed. The neighbor kings are tired of this and try to get King Ahaz and Judah to join forces to overthrow Assyria. Isaiah goes to the king with a message and a sign. But the king knows how the world works. He knows where the power is. He ignores the request of the neighbors and tries to snuggle up with Assyria. His worst decision, he ignored the message of the prophet. He refused the sign.
The sign that Ahaz ignored becomes important. A woman will be with child. She will have a son. His name shall be Immanuel. Immanuel means literally “God is with us.” A significant part of the sign for Isaiah is timing. Before the child is old enough to know right from wrong the lands of the kings will be forsaken. It seems the child will be living without fear, enjoying meals of curds and honey. In other words, the original sign is to alert the king that God truly is with his people. When this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. Unfortunately, Ahaz refused “God with us.”
Centuries later Matthew repeats the sign of the prophet and paints for us a picture. There is a woman with child. She will have a son. He shall be called Immanuel. Immanuel literally means “God is with us.” We are more familiar with this story. We know something about this child. We might feel a twinge of excitement. The sign is of great importance. When this sign occurs, when this child is born, when this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. This child is the visible physical evidence that God is with us.
If I talk about the words of prophets as companions on an adventure – it is because they are. If we are told to bind these words to us and to talk about them whether at home or away from home; when we rise in the morning and when we lie down at night – then what are they but a constant companion. These are the words that give meaning to where I come from, to what I am supposed to be doing, and to what lies ahead. They instruct me and remind me who I belong to.