Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Isaiah 7:10-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Isaiah Gives Ahaz the Sign of Immanuel
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah[a] said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman[b] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.[c]
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
One of the great gifts of God is the gift of presence. Even a quick look through the pages of the Bible will show that people down through the ages have experienced God as present with them in their struggles and in their successes, in their joys and in their sorrows, in their hopes and in their disappointments:
There are times in our lives when that hope we have in God’s presence seems to dim. That experience is nothing new—for every person of faith has from time to time a “dark night of the soul,” to use the classic language of spirituality. Go all the way back to the story of the people of God being set free from slavery in Egypt and you have the people questioning Moses in the wilderness: “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7) It became obvious to the people again that God indeed was “among” them—they were not alone in the wilderness. That same experience has been played out in the lives of countless people of faith down through the ages: “Is God with me or not?” In this season of Advent, we prepare to celebrate God’s answer: a resounding YES—spoken by the prophets, announced in visions to Mary and Joseph, sung by angels to shepherds, born to Galilean peasants in a stable, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a feeding trough.
In our scripture reading for today Isaiah writes to people in need of hope. He writes to people who are asking once again—as their ancestors had asked before them—“Is the Lord among us or not?” Isaiah tells them that one will be born whose very name holds out the promise of God’s presence. That name is Immanuel.
Matthew’s gospel looks back at those words in Joseph’s dream about the birth of Jesus and gives us the definition of that name. An angel—a messenger of God—appears to Joseph and gives him two names for the child that is to be born. He says, “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.” Matthew then adds, “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.’”
Remember that names have meaning in scripture. They say something about who the person is. When Matthew quotes Isaiah, he highlights two names for Jesus. First, the angel commands Joseph to give a name to the baby: That name is “Jesus,” a Greek rendition of the Hebrew Yesua, or Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves.” Second, in the Scripture citation from Isaiah, Emmanuel. The name “Emmanuel” doesn’t appear elsewhere in the gospel (v.23)—only here. It means, “God with us.”
“Jesus” and “Emmanuel”: Both names are important and both represent the fulfillment of confident expectation and provide the basis for our hope—our confident expectation today. The Good News of our Faith is that God is with us, never abandoning us and that God saves us from sin and death and saves us for sharing love and hope with others.
Bret Harte published his well-known story The Luck of Roaring Camp in 1868. It is the story of how a how a baby came to a rough and tough mining camp and transformed that camp.
A poor woman with a questionable reputation, the only woman in the whole camp, died. She left behind a small baby and the men of the camp had to take care of it.
The baby was lying in a box. The men felt that a box was not fit for a baby’s crib. So they sent one of their members eighty miles on a mule to Sacramento to get a rosewood cradle. When the cradle came, the rags on which the baby was sleeping seemed out of place. So the man was sent back to Sacramento to purchase some clothes ”lacy, frilly, clothes. When the baby was dressed in its lovely garments and placed in the rosewood cradle, the men observed for the first time that the floor was dirty. So they scrubbed it clean. Then they noticed that the walls and ceiling were also dirty, so they scrubbed them. Then they noticed that the walls and ceiling were unsightly. So they proceeded to whitewash them. Afterward they mended the windows and draped them.
Because the baby needed to be quiet at times, the men remained still and ceased some of their rough language and rowdy ways. When the weather permitted they took the cradle out to the mines and discovered that the mining area had to be cleaned and flowers planted to make the surroundings as lovely and as attractive as the baby. Finally the men began to improve their personal appearances. Thus the coming of a baby resulted in the transformation of Roaring Mine Camp into a new and attractive place. [Ilion T. Jones, God’s Everlasting Yes (Waco, TX 1969)]
Can a tiny baby transform the lives of grown men and women? The angel said to Joseph, “Fear not to take Mary for your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster