I remember seeing this video a number of years ago that was the Nativity as if it was told through Facebook. It was cute and funny but the part that really gripped me was that it was told mostly through the lens of Joseph's story. There isn't much told to us about this man other than he was a carpenter, and he was "a righteous man" who didn't want to expose his wife to be to public shame or death because she was pregnant, engaged to him and the baby wasn't his. This aspect of the Advent story has gripped my heart every Christmas for the past several years. His reputation is at stake, let alone his marriage, and future family. When the angel appears to him in a dream he calls Joseph to remember his Bible, to the story of Isaiah's appeal and prophesy to Ahaz, King of Judah.
Isaiah 7 "(Vs 4)Say to him (the king), "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood (Syria, and Ephraim)...(Vs9b) If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all."
The prophet Isaiah had been called by God to deliver a message to the King of Judah who was facing a terrible situation. The leaders of Syria, and Ephraim had joined in opposition to Judah. The king had decided that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" and was trying to align himself with Assyria. Isaiah's message is that the Lord will destroy both opposing nations, and that the king need merely to have faith in the Lord. Apparently the king does not listen and "again" in verse 10 Isaiah brings a message to the king, this time to show the quality of the kings faith. (Vs11) "Ask the LORD your God for a sign" but Ahaz does not want proof because he does not want to believe God. So he acts pious and says (vs 12) "I will not ask: I will not put the LORD to the test." Isaiah responds with what has become one of the most famous prophecies of the Old Testament:
Vs 14 "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
God with Us
Fear, Uncertainty, and a reputation on the line. These were what Ahaz had when he was confronted with Immanuel, a fulfilled prophesy in his own day. This prophesy was what we can call a "now and not yet" prophesy: one that would see a literal fulfillment in the time of the original hearer and one that would not see its full fulfillment until some time later. Ahaz did not choose faith in the Lord. He rather chose faith in an Assyrian kingdom, which would ultimately lead to the destruction of his linage and kingdom.Oh and God did still destroy Syria and Ephraim as He said. He just didn't deliver Judah. As one author says,
Joseph is gripped with much the same as king Ahaz: Fear, Uncertainty, and a reputation on the line. The messenger of the Lord appears to Joseph and says:"So it always is. Evidence cannot create faith; it can only confirm it. Where there is not faith, evidence is merely unwelcome, something which needs to be explained away."(1)
Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:20b-21A command and a sign (miracle), what does Joseph do?
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (1:24)Immanuel means "God with Us" the significance is that in our fear, uncertainty, and identity God calls to us and says, "I'm with you". In His declaration of love for us he does not merely have someone else tell us of the love for those made in His image. He comes down and says it himself. Jesus says "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."Mt28:20
I am with you
Jesus is still Immanuel and he still poses the same question as He did for Ahaz and Joseph: Where's your faith?
"Why Christmas?" is a question I'll be asking over the next couple of blog posts and preaching about at church. Immanuel teaches us that Christmas was in part about our faith in God. Do we believe that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do? Your choice this Christmas is when it comes to Immanuel, will you be like Ahaz or Joseph? Does Christmas evoke in you a deeper faith in the saving work of God through Christ? That God would show his salvation to us by being with us is one of the most glorious displays of grace that God gives to us. Let Christmas swell your heart in the assurance of your faith in Christ Jesus.
(1) - Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998. 203. Print.