Fourth Sunday in Advent – Micah and Mary

image In logical ordering of the world God created, the darkness must precede the light. We must endure the night to know the sunrise and warmth of a new day. This ordering extends to the extension of God’s mercy; our repentance leads to the light of the Lord’s mercy. Reading the words of the prophet Micah paints a vivid picture of this contrast. The Lord rebukes his children and follows it with the promises of mercy to be received by those who turn away from their sin. The greatest promise is a featured part of the Advent tradition,

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (v 5:2)

Mary too knew the sweet longing of anticipation. Carrying the precious gift she bore closer and closer to His birth, Mary was overwhelmed at the change that was about to take place in the world. She was perhaps at a point similar to those moments just before the crown of the sun breaks the horizon, when the purples mix with the deep blue and black of the night sky and the sliver of light pushes the sphere of darkness to the west; though many weeks would still pass the day of the birth of the Lord was nearer than farther! Her heart sang,

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is His name. (Lk vv 1:46b-49)

The day is near for us as well, rejoice for Immanuel!

The Year of Immanuel

The name Immanuel is familiar to almost all Christians, though it appears infrequently in the Bible. We first encounter the name in Isaiah 7:14, most recently heard as a part of the Advent readings:

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. (Isa 7:14)

Here we are generally provided with an explanatory note that the name given is actually a combination of words, important ideas, that spell out God is With Us. The fact that the young women will name her child so is either an expression of faith in the face of adversity or a prayer for mercy and help (God Be With Us). Of the coming of our savior satisfies this sign as Jesus becomes one of us and is with us. Is this ideal just a sentiment of is it a theological fact that remains true today?  Theologically, God is with us as believers in the Holy Spirit but in a greater sense, God the Father is present with us intimately every moment of every day. Our response to this promise and its reality to large numbers of people is often quite different.

Many times we are guilty of living as though the Father was distant in heaven, tabulating our behavior from afar, listening to our prayers but not present. We do not consider His immediacy when we sin and we fail to acknowledge his presence surrounding those we do not minister too. Would we bypass the homeless man sprawled out on the sidewalk if the Father appeared as a specter, beckoning us to polish the imago dei for a fellow person? Would we casually continue our bigotry, divisive theological wars, oppression of gifted women, et. al. if we sensed that truly God was with us?

God with us is a profound theological truth that has many implications for our lives and ministry in our current day. It is our call to make it clear to the world at large that not only is God alongside and around us, but as Christian believers, He is in us! We live without condemnation for our past sins and we are empowered to turn from our daily temptation. We can walk into any situation as the Spirit leads without fear — God Is With Us. Why then, don’t we live this truth out in such a meaningful way that we change the world radically so that it nearly shimmers with kingdom values?

God with us has implications for our personal piety as well. Often we see the walls around us as come kind of shield between the God who is with us but not near us. If we truly sensed the presence of God, how would our pursuit of personal holiness be affected? Would we take sin more seriously? Would our devotion to personal and constant worship increase? Would we know in the depths our hearts that God is Truly With Us?

This can be our year of Immanuel, a year of radical change in ministry and a monumental transformation in holiness. I, for one, will be aligning my ministry with the burdens that God has placed on my heart. My pursuit of holiness will be an increased priority. God is With Me is going to be the most profound theological truth that I will pursue this year.

Join me.