• Steven Marsh

Hope–The Promise of Jesus is the Backdrop of Transformation: a Reflection on Isaiah 7:10-16

God’s promise of a Messiah is grounded in God’s intention to reconcile each one of us to the Father and transform a broken world. “For God so loved the world.”

Joshua Bell emerged from the Metro and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript—a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money and began to play. For the next 45 minutes, in the D.C. Metro on January 12, 2007, Bell played Mozart and Schubert as over 1,000 people streamed by, most hardly taking notice. If they had paid attention, they might have recognized the young man for the world-renowned violinist he is. They also might have noted the violin he played—a rare Stradivarius worth over $3 million. It was all part of a project arranged by The Washington Post—“an experiment in context, perception, and priorities—as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste. In a banal setting, at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” Just three days earlier, Joshua Bell sold out Boston Symphony Hall, with ordinary seats going for $100. In the subway, Bell garnered about $32 from the 27 people who stopped long enough to give a donation.[1]

Joshua Bell was with the people, literally. But he could not garner the money worthy of his musicianship, because of the context he was in…a DC Metro station. Immanuel means “God with us.” God is with us now, in this place, and in our lives. Do we recognize him?

The angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would bear a son, the Savior of the world. Mary held on to hope that God would fulfill that promise. Mary and Joseph were pledged to be married. Now, an anticipated joyous occasion was tarnished with an out of wedlock pregnancy. Brennan Manning writes, “Hope is reliance on the promise of Jesus, accompanied by the expectation of fulfillment.”[2] Ravi Zacharias in Questions I Would Like to Ask God writes:

I have often referenced the quote by the talk show host Larry King, in his response to a particular question: “If you could select any one person across all of history to interview, who would it be?” Mr. King’s answer was that he would like to interview Jesus Christ. When the questioner followed with, “And what would you like to ask him?” King replied, “I would like to ask him if he was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”[3]

When Zacharias requested permission through a common friend to quote Larry King, King sent word saying, “And tell him I was not being facetious.”[4]

King Ahaz was perhaps the worst king in Judah’s history. He fostered idolatry and alienated the people from God. The prophet Isaiah was sent to Ahaz to get his focus back on the Lord. Ahaz was giving lip service to his faith, but God wanted him to be a man of deep faith.  So, Ahaz was given an opportunity to ask the Lord anything, anything that would convince him that the Lord was fully trustworthy. But Ahaz would not ask.

God’s working in human history invites our faithfulness. But God is not dependent upon our faithfulness to do what God intends. Ahaz did not ask for the sign. God gave the sign anyway. The sign was that a young woman would give birth to a son and the son would be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

Many of us are just like Ahaz. We talk the talk of the Christian faith, yet we deny the very power of the doctrines we say we believe. The incarnation, God becoming man in Jesus Christ, yet remaining fully God, is a powerful doctrine, when we realize that the very God who creates us is the same God who saves us, the same God who lives in us, and will be the same God who returns to take us to live with him forever. When we believe in Jesus Christ, the power of God is ours. Martin Luther, a church reformer from the sixteenth century writes,

The true Christian religion does not begin at the top, as all other religions do; it begins at the bottom. You must run directly to the manger and the mother’s womb, embrace this Infant and Virgin’s Child in your arms, and look at Him–born, being nursed, growing up, going about in human society, teaching, dying, rising again, ascending above all the heavens, and having authority over all things.[5]

The Love Candle is lit. Advent is about the incarnation. The incarnation is the historic event when God the Father made himself known as God the Son. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was both true God and true man. Quoting John Calvin, another reformer of the church in the sixteenth century, “It was of the greatest importance that he who was to be our Mediator be both true God and true man…The situation would surely have been hopeless had the very majesty of God not descended to us, since it was not in our power to ascend to him.”[6] We need to bank our hope on God and God’s promises. Don Saliers, Professor Emeritus of Theology and Worship at Candler School of Theology, writes, “The sign of a child is to be seen and heard against our deepest fears, but also our desires that the world be transformed.”[7] Being transformed by God is possible for everyone. Love is yours to experience.

Advent anticipates the fulfillment of love in your life. Advent calls you to walk in the interval between birth and death with the future and present hope that God loves you and will transform you and the world in and through Jesus Christ. As Martin Thielen writes, “Cultivating optimism…does not mean a person ignores pain, suffering, and difficult challenges…Happy people don’t ignore reality. However, they do choose to focus more on the positives than on the negatives.”[8]

[1]This illustration found at www.preachingingtoday.com in the lectionary section of sermon illustrations. Gene Weingarten, “Pearls Before Breakfast,” in The Washington Post (April 10, 2007).

[2] Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust (New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 86.

[3]Ravi Zacharias, Questions I Would Like to Ask God (New York: Hartford, 1998.)

[4]Ibid.

[5]Martin Luther in Lectures on Galatians. Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 14.

[6]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, translated by Ford Lewis Battles and edited by John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 464.

[7]Don Saliers in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 78.

[8]Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 37.

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