Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Great Announcement: God with Us!

Today we light the second Advent candle. The Annunciation candle.

What is the annunciation, you ask? Well, again we turn to Merriam-Webster, who defines annunciation as the act of announcing or of being announced. The greatest annunciation, the one we celebrate during Advent, was when the angel Gabriel came to the young virgin, Mary, and proclaimed,

 “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Luke 1:29-38 continues: 

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Some time later, Matthew records a similar annunciation made to Joseph. He had already heard the news that Mary was pregnant. Not wanting scandal, he decided to divorce her quietly, however God had a different plan. Matthew 1:20b-23 says:

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Immanuel. God with us.

In our modern context, the idea of “God with us” isn’t so foreign. We’ve all see the superhero and mythological hero flicks that speak of the gods coming down to hang out with humans. But to the Old and New Testament ears, hearing “God with us,” brought up images of temporary shelters and palm branches—the Lord’s appointed festival , the Feast of Booths (Sukkot).

When Israel was released from their exile in Babylon, they were left with very little memory of God’s promises or appointed festivals. But gradually, through corporate reading of the Law (see Nehemiah 8), the people of God remembered and re-learned what it was like to celebrate God’s provision and grace. As it just so happened, all this occurred during the Feast of Booths. Not only were they returned to joyful obedience of God’s Word, but the festival itself fed a greater hope – that one day the Messiah would come and make His dwelling among them (John 1:14).

Roughly 400 years later, the announcement came. Immanuel was coming at last! But he was not coming as a conquering super-human king. He was bound for earth as a tiny human being.

In his recent article, “We Do Not Know What God Was Doing”, writer Jon Bloom [side note: you should really read the whole article!] extrapolates on this unexpected announcement and appearance:

“Have you ever stopped to ponder just how strange everything about the birth of Jesus was? Whatever people had imagined the coming of the Messiah would look like, no one imagined it to look like it did.

In all that he reveals to us about that strange first Christmas, God is saying very important things to us about how he wants us to view the perplexing, bewildering, glorious, frustrating, fearful, painful, unexpected, disappointing, and even tragic experiences of our lives. No one really understood all that was going as God the Son entered the world. No one really saw the big picture — no one except God.”

When we are filled with uncertainty; when the pieces of our lives don’t seem to make much sense—that is when the Advent journey becomes a wonderful gift. And there is an annunciation for each of us: “The God of the unexpected . . . that God is with us, Immanuel.”

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