The two most important events in human history are the birth of Jesus, the one who is prophesied here in this verse over 700 years before the actual event, and the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we celebrate at the end of Lent during that time we call Holy Week.
We are entering that time of the year on the Church calendar known as Advent. The two most important events in human history are the birth of Jesus, the one who is prophesied here in this verse over 700 years before the actual event, and the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we celebrate at the end of Lent during that time we call Holy Week. Advent is the four week period before Christmas where we are to prayerfully prepare ourselves to celebrate that first event, the birth of Jesus. Over the course of this coming week, we will begin our Advent reflections with this prophecy and then look at the role that Mary played in the fulfillment of the prophecy.
In the year 742 B.C., Isaiah received his calling to be a prophet. It is this passage from the Book of Isaiah that Christians would later understand to be the foretelling of the Incarnation, which was the ultimate expression of God’s willingness to ‘be with us’ (Immanuel). For Christians, the ‘sign’ that Isaiah tells Ahaz to look for has become a reality. It is no longer a sign. The prophecy has been realized in the birth of Jesus and all that was promised has come true.
The world is already a noisy place full of distractions, but at Christmas time, especially in our culture, the decibels and the distractions go into hyper drive. We are bombarded with commercials encouraging us to buy, buy, buy. We have come to think that Christmas is all about shopping. We are even cajoled to participate in this frenzy of shopping because it is ‘good for the economy.’ Many businesses make the lion’s share of their profits at this time of year. The sacred event that is central to the season has been all but lost behind all the glitter and hyper commercial activity. The jovial gift-giving figure of Santa has become the secular symbol of Christmas, and has completely overshadowed the importance of the birth that occurred over 2,000 years ago that changed the world forever. The real gift, the real reason for the season, is lost in the glitter and hype of the secular, material celebration of this politically correct, “Winter Festival.”
As Christians, it is extremely important that we spend Advent preparing ourselves to celebrate the birthday that gives meaning to everything that is good and holy. We are, in prayer and in service, to focus our minds on the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Christ, who is Immanuel, God with us. We need to make it our practice during these four weeks, to read the scriptures, focusing on the birth narratives in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. Make it a point to read a section of the Infancy narratives out loud to yourselves, or in the presence of the gathered family. You could do it as a part of your evening meal, or you could set aside a time in the evening to read just a few verses and then talk about them. For example you could read the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 1: 1-17) and then talk about genealogy and how important it is to pass the story on from generation to generation. The next night you could read the section on the birth of Jesus (Mt. 1: 18-24) and so on. When you have finished with the birth narrative in Matthew, you can then move to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and do the same thing there. Keep it simple, but meaningful.
Advent is a special time for Christians. Everything we are, everything we believe in, is related the the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in the birth of Jesus. It is the beginning of the Incarnation story, the greatest love story ever told. God entered the reality of time and space as a tiny, vulnerable infant, born to a virgin mother, Mary, in a humble stable, in a small impoverished village, at the farthest edges of the Roman Empire. What would otherwise be a simple, insignificant event, is the beginning of the salvation story. That story is filled with human drama and human suffering, but ends in glory with the Resurrection. It is because of this event that all of humanity finally received the greatest gifts we could ever desire, or need, that is, forgiveness of our sins, and the promise of eternal life.
It is no sin to buy one another a simple gift or two to have under the Christmas tree. The practice of loving gift-giving is good for developing the life-long and noble habits of generosity. But we must never forget that Christmas is not about that, it is about celebrating the most important birthday in human history. Let us make this Advent season a time of holy preparation. Let us keep our eyes on the Christ child who has come among us as a free and magnanimous gift of God’s love for us. Let us keep the season holy in our hearts and in our minds. There is no cause for joy in this world that can match the birth of this child. Let us not lose sight of its ultimate importance, or the desire to celebrate its ultimate gift to us. Let us, during this Advent, prepare our own hearts and minds, and souls, to welcome this Immanuel into our very lives, so that we may be his true children and his true servants in this world. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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