“Good News For All The People”—Daily Reflections for Advent 2016
THE FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT, December 1st
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil 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.’”
God’s good news, like all news, doesn’t come out of the blue. N.T. Wright points out that any kind of news always has a backstory, a larger context. A doctor racing into an examining room and announcing “Good news!” can only be understood within a larger story of disease or injury. A news anchor excitedly breaking into a program with the announcement of “Good news!” is understood only within the context of trouble and predicament.
The backstory to the angel’s announcement of good news goes back to the first pages of the Bible, to what theologians call the “protoevangelium”, the “first good news”. You can find it all there in Genesis 3:15, where God puts Satan on notice that He will send a Savior to defeat sin and evil (“…he will strike your head…”). Ages before the Christmas angel was dispatched with good news, God promised the coming of the Savior.
Behind the story of the naming of Jesus is another backstory, an ancient prophecy of Isaiah. The prophecy was given eight centuries earlier, during a time of profound spiritual darkness, when Isaiah foretold the coming of Light into the world through a Baby born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). The holy Child, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, is to be called “Jesus”, “Yahweh is salvation.” Today’s Scripture text reveals Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of that prophetic backstory. God comes down and takes upon Himself our cause as His own: “they shall name him ‘Emmanuel’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” Here is the wonder, the mystery of the Creator making Himself a creature, joining Himself to us that He might be “with” us, and we “with” Him.
Karl Barth, writing in his monumental Church Dogmatics, in a section titled, “God With Us”, exclaims:
At that very point where we refuse and fail, offending and provoking God, making ourselves impossible before Him and in that way missing our destiny, treading under foot our dignity, forfeiting our right, losing our salvation and hopelessly compromising our creaturely being – at that very point God Himself intervenes as man…To put it in the simplest way, what unites God and us men is that He does not will to be God without us. (Church Dogmatics, IV/ 1)
No longer are we to think of God as “up there”, and us “down here”. All the world’s religions in their various forms begin with the notion that God is “up there” and we are “down here”, and we must somehow reach up to Him. But Christmas is the good news of God coming to us, joining Himself to us. He is “God with us”, not just in proximity of space and time, but God with us in intimacy and love. Our hearts rejoice with the angels at God’s good news of great joy for all the people.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! The herald angels sing
‘Glory to the newborn King’!
(Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”)
- What is the significance to you of the name “Emmanuel”?
- What are your thoughts about Karl Barth’s statement: “He [God] does not will to be God without us”?