Anticipating Advent: Holiness Descended

Excerpt from “Descending Theology: Christ Human” by Mary Karr:

Such a short voyage for a god,
And you arrived in animal form so as not
To scorch us with your glory.
Your mask was an infant’s head on a limp stalk,
Sticky eyes smeared blind,
Limbs rendered useless in swaddle.
You came among beasts
As one, came into our care or its lack, came crying,
As we all do, because the human frame
Is a crucifix, each skeleton borne a lifetime.
Any wanting soul lain
Prostrate on a floor to receive a pouring of sunlight
Might—if still enough, feel your cross buried in the flesh.
One has only to surrender,
You preached, open both arms to the inner,
The ever-present hold,
Out-reaching every want. It’s in the form
Embedded, love adamant as bone.

Amidst the peppy Christmas carols and scents of pine and peppermint, it’s easy to ignore the fact that the very first Christmas sounded and smelled very different from our festivities. I’m sure that the stable smelled pungently of manure and other body odors and was filled with the grunts and rustles of weathered animals. Jesus’ entrance into our midst was messy and raw and corporeal. He lacked the human trappings of royalty but was holiness descended. Mary Karr’s poem reminds me of both the earthiness of Christ’s birth and the phenomenon of his presence among us.

May we see Immanuel, God with us, the babe whose love is as “adamant as bone.”
~Hilary Gibson

Anticipating Advent: Something Greater to Come

art by Bonnie Patterson

The Lord Himself will give you the sign, ‘Look!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means “God is with  us”)’.
Isaiah 7:14

art by Bonnie Patterson

“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer.


Advent 2015: Jesus as Immanuel

“Oh Come Oh Come Immanuel, and rescue captive Israel.”

We sing those words every Christmas. But what exactly are we singing?

Immanuel was in the name of the church I grew up in and that my parents grew up in. It was called Immanuel Trinity Lutheran Church. Still is.

Immanuel, also spelled Emmanuel, is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “a child prophesied by Isaiah (7:14) as a deliverer of Judah. The name was applied to Jesus in Matthew 1:23,” and the dictionary even includes the definition as “God with us,” for that is the Hebrew meaning.

The passage in Isaiah was a word of the Lord to Judah’s King Ahaz, one of several evil kings and he ruled for 16 years. A footnote in the New American Standard Bible (NAS) provides some interesting background and points out that Isaiah’s word was one of encouragement to Ahaz, or perhaps a warning of punishment if he did not act on faith. Ahaz, at that time, was worried over threats from Rezin of Damascus and King Pekah of Israel and Ahaz wanted to ally Judah with Tiglath-pileser, the King of Assyria.

Isaiah exhorted Ahaz to ally with and trust in the Lord instead and offered him this verse as a “fleece,” a sign of confirmation that help would come. A woman would conceive and have a son, whom she would name Immanuel and, while the son was still young, the crisis threat would end.

Whether the woman was a virgin or not really had nothing to do with Ahaz but the sign was in the meaning of the boy’s name, God is with us, and how soon the threat would be over if Ahaz would just trust the Lord. Of course, Ahaz did not take Isaiah’s advice and sought the Assyrian king’s favor instead, but the cost was huge and the temple and treasury paid for the “help.”

The NAS reports that Tiglath-pileser did defeat Damascas and killed Rezin and in 732 BC, he captured and exiled northern Israel and Pekah was assassinated.

The NAS adds that “God had already determined to solve Ahaz’ problem, but Ahaz foolishly took matters into his own hands and paid dearly for it.”

Matthew’s use of this passage in Isaiah was based on the Greek Old testament, referred to as the Septuagint, not the Hebrew, according to the NAS, and Matthew “derived a deeper meaning than what Ahaz saw it for.” His application of a ‘virgin being with child’ to Mary and Jesus, made this a hallmark verse for Christians to use, so much so that the Jews actually modified the translation and even produced another Greek Old Testament, according to the NAS.

In the suggested list of the names of Jesus for our consideration in this Christmas Season, one more name that could have been added but goes with the one I chose is “I AM. “

Though it’s not recorded in the Scripture anywhere that Jesus called Himself Immanuel, He did call Himself I Am in John 8:24 and 8:58 for example.

And that was one of the things that so infuriated the Pharisees against Him because He DARED to call Himself a name the Pharisees clearly recognized as God Himself, the one He offered to Moses as a confirmation of his mission to lead Israel out of Egypt.

Because Jesus is I AM……..He is also Immanuel.

Next time you see the “Jehovah Witnesses” standing outside in front of the Post Office in Lynden, please join me in reminding them that “Jesus is the name that is above every name and that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord,” and then add that Jesus is also Immanuel, because He called Himself I AM. He is indeed GOD with us.
~Lee Mielke

The Gift He Gave

One of the most delightful things I have ever seen in a children’s Christmas program, was the singing of this song, by children whose faces were surrounded by large, animal, cardboard cutouts.

At first, I thought the song quaint but rather meaningless.  Upon further reflection, however, I believe it holds before us a serious truth.  The scriptures say that the whole creation longs for the appearing of the Savior.  Should we not also, then, conclude that the whole creation delighted in His birth?  Are the psalms not full of references to various living creatures worshiping the Lord?  Perhaps it is not so far fetched to give voice to the animals surrounding Christ’s birth – which is  what this song attempts to do.
Beyond that, it subtly challenges all of us, to think whether we have given whatever we are and have – be it ever so simple – as a gift to Immanuel.
~Pastor Bert Hitchcock

This song has it roots in a 12th century Latin song “Orientis Partibus”, but when it made its way into England it began to take on its modern form.  The song as we know it, seems to have come from Robert Davis in the 1930s — with some variations, as people continue to write additional verses.

Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.”
“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

“I,” said the cow all white and red
“I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”
“I,” said the cow all white and red.

“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.”
“I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

“I,” said the dove from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I.”
“I,” said the dove from the rafters high.

Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.