An Advent Reflection
The theme of the fourth week of Advent in our parish is “The Promise of ‘God with us’” from the readings for this fourth Sunday in Advent. Today’s verse is from the account of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew where Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14.
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” — Matthew 1:22-23
The word from God that Isaiah spoke to King Ahaz as he faced the Syro-Ephraimite threat in the 8th century bce had a very specific meaning in its time. But there is something haunting about the prophetic words. They continue to speak in every generation, gathering meaning like a slow motion avalanche moving through the ages. So the Hebrew word for “young woman” (perhaps Isaiah meant a specific royal bride or concubine), gets translated into Greek as ‘virgin’ and soon the wondrous work of God becomes much more than the simple promise that, if the king will put his trust in God instead of the Assyrian empire, by the time the king’s baby is born the threat of war will have passed and people will be naming their children “God is with us.”
The prophetic word grows ever deeper as the ages pass. And the promise is seen to be more than God’s peace for one moment of time; the promise becomes God’s ultimate peace. The message becomes the assurance that we are not alone, that history isn’t random but driven ultimately by the love of God. The message becomes about God’s wondrous power to open wombs and open graves and reign over a world reconciled to its creator. God will stand guard not only against Syria’s assault, but against the assault of every empire, against even the assault of sin and death. A child will be born. A child of a young maiden. He will be the prince of peace. He will save his people from their sins. Indeed, he will save the world.