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Finding the “You” in Prophecy
December 18, 2022*
(4th Sunday of Advent)
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 7:10-16 Matthew 1:18-25 Romans 1:1-7
There are two words that I want to talk about this morning. The first is “appointment.” The appointment of which I am speaking, is not the like a doctor’s appointment, but used in the sense that the President of the United States appoints members of his cabinet. Our church has an appointment system. Pastors serve under appointment and every year the bishop of each Annual Conference sets the appointments of all the pastors under their supervision. We sometimes have some say in the matter, but whenever, and wherever the bishop appoints, that is where we will serve.
The second word that I would like for you to consider this morning is “enlistment.” I served as an enlisted soldier in the Army. It was my choice to sign my contract, and it was my choice to take my oath of service, but once I did so, once I chose to enlist, there were obligations that came as a part of that package. You cannot enlist, and then afterwards refuse to obey legal and proper orders from your superiors. Once enlisted, you become a part of a hierarchy and a cog in the machine that makes up the military system. Enlistment is voluntary, but once enlisted, you become a part of something bigger than yourself and owe an obligation of service to that system.
Why are these definitions important? Well, eventually I hope that will be clear, but first, let’s begin with the story of Isaiah 7:10-16, where the prophet Isaiah meets with King Ahaz. Ahaz, the king of the southern tribes of Judah, is afraid because he has refused to ally himself with the northern tribes of Israel, Syria, and several other countries that had decided to fight against the nation of Assyria which was, at that time, a world superpower. Because Judah had refused to join their alliance, they worried that Judah would fight with the Assyrians and attack them from behind when they were busy fighting the Assyrians from the north. And so, before that happened, they marched together to attack Judah even though Judah had never threatened them.
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11“Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”
13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
Ahaz had already decided what to do and he didn’t really want God’s opinion. He covered for himself by saying that he did not want to put God to the test, even when God commanded him to ask for one. Ahaz didn’t want to know what God wanted because, like many of us, he didn’t want God to tell him something that he didn’t want to hear.
Ahaz had already decided what to do before he asked God. He had already stripped his palace, the temple, and all of Jerusalem, for anything valuable, and had sent a gigantic bribe to the Assyrians to convince them to send an army to defend him. Ahaz had already decided what to do, and he didn’t want to hear God’s plans because he was afraid that God might want something different than what he wanted. But instead, God promises that before a child, born in that year, perhaps to a young woman who was Isaiah’s fiancé, was old enough to eat curds and honey, and old enough to know right from wrong, the kings of Israel and Syria would be defeated, and their nations destroyed.
As you might already suspect, this prophecy was eventually also thought to apply to the messiah. And we hear echoes of Isaiah in the birth story of Jesus contained in Matthew 1:18-25.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, 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. 21 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.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Joseph had a problem. His fiancé was pregnant, and he wasn’t the father. It might have been two thousand years ago, but everybody knew how babies are made. What made that a problem was that Joseph lived in a patriarchal culture of honor. That means that first, since he was the man, it was his responsibility. If he did it, it was his fault. If he didn’t do it, it was his responsibility to fix it. The second problem is that in a culture of honor, having a pregnant fiancé before the wedding causes you, and your entire family to lose honor. That, in turn, means higher prices at the market, whispers behind your back, and lost customers for your business. Since it wasn’t his fault, the expectation was that Joseph would divorce her for breach of contract. Being a nice guy, he had, in fact, already decided to do this quietly rather than calling her out for being a woman of loose morals in public, shaming her, and causing a loss of honor for her family.
But hearing from God in a dream, Joseph, unlike King Ahaz, chooses obedience. Joseph chooses obedience over honor, over family, over business, over money, over convenience, over practicality, and over expediency. There were a dozen, or two dozen, reasons Joseph to divorce Mary, but rather than doing so, Joseph chooses obedience as the higher calling.
But why is any of that important to us outside of being a nice traditional story about the birth of Jesus?
And the answer to that comes from the words from the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:1-7 where he says:
1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
In this passage we encounter the words whose definitions we discussed at the beginning. First, Paul has been called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel. Second, we find that Jesus has been appointed with the powers of the Son of God through his resurrection from the dead. And third, that because we have chosen to follow him, Jesus has given us grace and appointed us as apostles of the gospel message. When we enlisted as his followers, we were appointed to call all the Gentiles, that is, to call just about everyone that you know, to the work of obedience that come through faith.
If you read the title of this message, this is where we find the “you” in prophecy. God proclaimed that a virgin would conceive and bear a child… and she did. God declared that he would send a messiah into the world… and he did. And God promised that he would send good news of great joy for all the people to the ends of the earth… and then he called you and I to do it.
The message of Christmas isn’t just that a baby was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
The message of Christmas is that God sent his Son, with the intention of sharing the good news of the gospel with everyone so that he could save the entire planet. But the work that began on Christmas morning two thousand years ago isn’t finished. God has called us, and that includes every one of us who has enlisted in his service. And God has appointed us to share the good news of the gospel, and to call all the world to the work of obedience that comes through faith.
When I enlisted in the Army, I submitted to the authority of the Army. I did not retain personal authority to decide what I would do. I would go where the Army said that I would go and do what the Army said that I should do.
When I chose to be ordained, I submitted to the authority of the bishop of the East Ohio Annual Conference. I go where the bishop says go, and I serve where the bishop appoints me to serve.
And the same is true of us when we choose to follow Jesus Christ. Once we have chosen to follow him, he is the one who appoints and so, as his followers, we must go where he calls us to go, and do what he calls us to do. And if we are to be obedient to that call, then we must carry the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth and call the entire world to the work of obedience that comes through faith.
Christmas was never intended to be an ending. It isn’t just a nice story. It is instead, the beginning of an adventure that calls all of us into a life of obedience to God.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™