As the two of us sit here in suburban Maryland, it is tough to imagine being a first century Jew or living next door to Isaiah as Jerusalem (and eventually the Temple--the Home Court of God) is about to fall. Saying we are worlds apart is an understatement.
Of course, we can share with ancient Israel frustrations about how our leaders function and we can speak with foreboding about what our country and culture may come to if we continue at this speed; but really, we (at least the two writing this) are not feeling too much of a sting. We both have places to live, we both eat warm meals every day, we both have cars to drive, and we both have jobs to drive them to. We really do not live in fear of the government or of someone persecuting us for the things we believe or the things we commit to, and we are not afraid of our country or religious center being destroyed by invading armies.
The Messiah (Savior) these writers were looking for seems to be dramatically different from one we can understand--they were looking for a military/political leader to rescue them from national disaster and today it seems our yearning toward a savior has more to do with an individual relationship.
For most of the history of Israel there was a covenant connection between The People and God. They knew that God would always be their God and that they would always be God's people. As time moved forward and the relationship vacillated from better to worse and back to better again, we see Israel (as a people) moving closer to and further away from God (as we do today as individuals). But they always knew that, in the end, God would be faithful to being in relationship with them--"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me." (Ex. 20.2)
The ancient Israelites wanted a King--a human, political, military, social representative of God. And eventually they got a line of Kings that began with Saul and eventually (officially) ended with Zedekiah in 587 BCE when the Temple was destroyed. Ahaz is the Judean King descended from David (as promised in 1 Samuel 16) faced with increasing political instability in the region as Assyria threatened the lesser powers. If Assyria defeated Judah and killed Ahaz, this would end the Davidic line--that is a lot of pressure on one's historical lineage. And Isaiah is advises Ahaz to stand firm in his faith and accept God’s promise, ignoring the political landscape around him.
Ahaz was looking for the political fulfillment of the prophecy, not the eternal fulfillment of promise toward relationship.
In the Psalm we get another political plea. It is a lament (estimated to be written also during the reign of Ahaz and near the fall of Judah) by a people who perceive that all of the turbulence and unrest around them is punishment by God. Their request for God’s face to shine is a request for reprieve from their constant struggle for land and autonomy. Save us God...send us power.
The Matthew text immediately follows the genealogy which establishes Jesus through Joseph’s family as a descendant of David. From what we can discern, Matthew's primary audience were Jews, and so the connection of Jesus to King David is vital. The writer is overtly making a connection his Jewish audience would appreciate and that would legitimate Jesus as the Messiah everyone was awaiting.
The salutation of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome was probably written to a mixed community of Jewish Christians recently returned to Rome after being exiled in the mid 50s, and Roman Gentile Christians. In these first lines (3-4), Paul also affirms Jesus was a descendant of the Davidic line (a king by historical/societal/political standards) and the son of God. The great move of Paul is that he also affirms that the message of Jesus is also to the Gentiles--he’s calling for unity established through God’s grace.
But the difficulty that presents itself is that Jesus’s Davidic connection is about the only thing that the Jews were expecting. He was not the overpowering political or military leader. Instead, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phillipians 2.7).
It is this tension of the historic expectation of a political/social solution that puts Jesus at the crux of controversy and ultimately results in his crucifixion. The expected Messiah who would preserve the Temple and continue the Davidic line instead brought a message of love for more than just the Torah adhering Jew.
Today, there are many different individual and corporate interpretations of what it means for us as "God's people / children" that continue to cause confusion around what we all expect in, and from, a Messiah.
It would be easier to picture the need for a savior if one is fighting a war in the Middle East, or if one is homeless on the streets of Baltimore, or if one is living in constant fear of rape and murder in Sudan.
But what about those of us that live relatively warm, safe, dry, violence-free lives already?
Does living a cushioned life make it impossible for such people to understand the deep need for a savior? Have we made a connection between physical safety, comfort, and health and our own salvation and the coming of the Christ?
+What is it we are yearning for?
+Do we need hope, meaning, rest, fulfillment, companionship, purpose, love, acceptance?
+What do we hope to be "saved" from?
+What do we need / desire a messiah to come and do in our individual lives and in our world today?
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.