The Polar Express, Ahaz, Joseph, and me…

Sunday, December 23 – Scripture Readings:
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19; 24; Isaiah 7:10-16; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1: 18-25

Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah challenges Ahaz to ask God for a sign. But Ahaz is afraid. Isaiah responds by saying, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Just months before Jesus’ birth, an angel challenges Joseph to believe God’s sign. But Joseph is afraid. In his dream, the angel 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.’ 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 1:20b-23)

Thousands of years after Jesus’ birth, we are challenged to believe (anew and again) in God’s sign. But we are afraid.

I could talk much about why this might be, but I’m not going to. (I want to watch The Polar Express with Emma and Abby and the evening is quickly escaping.) We are afraid. If we were not, we would all be living full, abundant, amazing lives. Full in the grace and love of the Divine. Abundant in the gifts and graces bestowed by the Divine. Amazing in the awareness of Divine-with-us always, every single day.

We’re two days from Christmas; two days from honoring and celebrating THE sign – past, present, and future – who tells us we don’t need to be afraid; who bursts into the midst of our normal lives (whether we’re King Ahaz, Joseph, or a mom who is minutes away from watching a Christmas movie and drinking cocoa). Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Ahaz is reluctant. Joseph is chagrined. I am often unmotivated to really be challenged and changed by the proclaimed good news. I am afraid – just like the generations before me.

It doesn’t matter. For thousands of years, Emmanuel has come, no matter what.

‘…do not be afraid…God is with us.’

Now that I think of it, The Polar Express might be the perfect articulation of what I’m trying to say. The young boy is afraid, in many ways, to truly believe the signs around him. There’s too much chance for disappointment. Too much possibility that the magic just isn’t real. Beautifully though, he takes the leap. He sets his fear aside. He believes the sign and hears the ringing of the bell from Santa’s sleigh. The last words of the book say,

At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found on Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.

Just like the voice of Isaiah and the proclamation of the angel, the sound of the bell’s ringing continues through the ages.

No matter what.

The music sounds. The angels sing. Heaven and earth declare God’s glory. “…the Lord himself will give you a sign.” No matter what.

Emmanuel. God-with-us.