Lesson 7 – God is with Us as Emmanuel
Isaiah 7:10-16: this small section of text has been used over and over as a prophecy of the coming of Jesus. We read it every Advent season and on Christmas Eve assuming it refers to Jesus alone. But as the author of our study points out, it has its own historical context. The context is that the Assyrian Empire had finally subdued its neighbors to the south (Babylon), north (Urartu) and its East (what would today be Iranian territories) and was turning its attentions to the west. The west included Samaria, Judah and Damascus, along with Egypt. As the Assyrian threat grew, Damascus and Samaria demanded that Judea join in a mutual defense league against Assyria. When Judah, led by King Ahaz, declined, Damascus and Samaria threatened to conquer Judea and unseat Ahaz. The threat appeared real and imminent. What Ahaz instead proposed, and ultimately carried out, was to seek an alliance with Assyria, thus becoming a vassal state. Isaiah argued against this course of action and told Ahaz that in the time it took for a child to be born and be weaned, both Damascus and Samaria would be dealt with.
So, the image of the child was a visible reminder that God was present and that God’s promises (in this case that the Davidic line of rulers would remain intact) would insure the survival of the nation. This teaches us that:
Matthew 1:18-25: The author of our study implies that the use of Emmanuel in the Matthew text is a claim to Jesus’ divinity. This, in my opinion, is incorrect. For Matthew, Jesus is not divine (the Word or logos as in John), but is instead the new Moses; the one who will reset the relationship between God and God’s people. Jesus is the one who will deal with the sinfulness of the people and set them free from their captivity. Even so, by bringing the Isaiah text to bear, Jesus is linked with the constant presence of God; a God who can be trusted to fulfill the promises of restoration and renewal for the world; and a God who can be counted on to finish the renewal of the world that the Law of Moses could not accomplish, but that Jesus would fulfill by giving his life on the cross. Finally, God is with the people in a unique way in and through Jesus not just for a moment but forever as we discover in Matthew 28:20b when Jesus tells the disciples, “And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
I would argue that Joseph in this story is not choosing between fear and faith, but between openness and closed-ness. The angel tells him not be afraid, not because of the message, but because of the presence of the angel, who is a messenger of God. Once the message is delivered, Joseph must choose whether to be open to this new and strange possibility (that Mary has conceived by the Holy Spirit and the child will be the savior of the people), or be closed and act as if Mary has done something wrong and needs to be cut loose. I believe that this is also the question that we have to answer on a regular basis, namely will we be open to the new things that God is doing; and will we be willing to do new things trusting that God is with us?
So, the image of God with us, is a reminder that God has become present in and through Jesus to:
John 1:1-18: Though the author of the study does not use this passage, I believe it more fully conveys the sense of God becoming in-fleshed with us than does the Matthew text. This text from John is a reminder that Jesus was more than the new Moses but was the Word made flesh; God with us.
This allows us to find God with us in new ways: