OT Lectionary – Christmas – Is 9:2-7

Christmas

Is 9:2-7

The Lectionary provides for several different sets of readings for Christmas midnight and morning: I’ve chosen Is 9 because it comes up so regularly and will, I bet, be the OT of choice for many people. The interesting thing about this well-know passage is the mix of tenses. The people have seen a great light; you have shattered the yoke; a child is born, a son is given; but then in the middle of the passage the boots and clothes will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. And then the coming Messiah will reign, and God’s zeal will accomplish all this.

 

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We’ve seen before the two (at least) stage fulfilment of OT prophesy: nowhere is it more clearly exhibited than here. And herein lies the eternal dilemma of Christmas: how can we preach and sing about peace on earth and goodwill when the world is clearly in such a mess. And how can the Messiah who came and went 2000 years ago have any relevance to us as we still live in great darkness. Anthropologists tell us that many cultures have some kind of a winter festival to help people through the cold and dark until spring begins to approach, and we know that the Christian church took over its Christmas celebrations from the pagan Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the birthday of the unconquered sun”). So is that all there is to it? Is Christmas simply about a chance to let our hair down a bit during the long evenings until we can back to the beach in the summer?

Christians believe that the gospel is a gospel of something that has happened, something which is happening, and something which will happen. In Jesus’ birth a light has dawned, and one day he will be recognised as the Mighty God and the Prince of Peace. But in the meantime a lot of stuff is still only destined to happen. The fact that so many places in our world – Syria, Sudan – are still in deep darkness isn’t a failure of the Christian message, according to Isaiah. It hasn’t taken God by surprise that the world is in a mess and humans choose warfare and oppression over goodness and mercy. It’s just work in progress. Our calling always has been to worship Jesus as God and then to get stuck into his world, working with him against oppression until that which is destined actually happens.

 

Now, for those missing Steve’s Random Icebreaker:

‘Two sausages, both alike in dignity.’ Discuss.

 

I’ve got a new job.

What is it?

I’m working in a clock factory, but it’s only a front for a banknote forging business.

How’s it going?

Well, the hours are good, but the money’s rubbish.

 

Dec 22nd Advent 4 Isaiah 7:10-17

Christmas and Easter are par excellence the times when OT ‘scriptures’ are invoked as prophecies about the circumstances of the life of Jesus, thus proving that God knew all along what he was going to do, and felt the need to give little hints to people which one day long in the future they (or rather their great great great … grandchildren) would suddenly ‘get’ when they saw Jesus. I blame Handel’s Messiah, which is full of the stuff, and makes it impossible for us to hear certain Bible passages without running the danger of bursting into song. Especially that ‘wonderful counsellor’ one. I once got myself into trouble speaking to a group of trainees at one of these youth gap year projects by daring to suggest that Is 7 isn’t actually a prophecy about the virgin birth, but might have had a relevance to the people to whom it was actually spoken. In context it is about God saying to king Ahaz, who feared a united attack from two enemy kings, that God knew exactly what was going on, had his hand on the situation, and was planning to do something about it. ‘But when?’ the king might have cried, knowing as we do that God’s next-on-the-list might take up to a thousand years. So God reassured him: this young girl you’re planning to marry and have a child with? Well before he’s a couple of years old these two kings will have been destroyed. It’s a message of deliverance, of hope, of assurance that God really is in control.

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And that, it seems to me, is the real point of this passage, and of its use just before Christmas. Apart from in Matthew 1:23 Jesus never once does get called ‘Immanuel’ , although we know that in a real sense he was ‘God with us’. Whether Is 7 does ‘prove’ the virgin birth or not I’ll leave you to decide. I have no trouble believing that a virgin could conceive, but a lot more in believing that this verse has very much at all to do with it. But Advent and Christmas are all about a God who knows, who cares, and who eventually will act. If we feel under siege, God knows. If we worry about what the world is coming to, we can be assured that God is in control and nothing humans can do will faze him. And if we despair of ever seeing change, God reassures us that the time is coming when he will act. So the message to us as Advent gives way to Christmas is to hold on, to stay hopeful, and to wait faithfully. And God, after all, is with us.