Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.
// Isaiah 7:14-16
Dirty. Filthy. Unsanitary. Stink and foulness. Lowing and mooing and a screeching infant, breaking the dead of night with His newfound voice.
The streets outside filled with the bustle of anxiety as citizens mill about, whilst within a barnstable, two parents, overjoyed, dote over their child, born in the midst of a scandalous affair.
The promised Boy-King was born into nothing that resembles a royal palace or an imperial fortress, as one would expect, let alone born into conditions conducive to his own health. Hay and manure and animal stench – such are not the makings for keeping healthy a newborn Boy-King. He wasn’t noteworthy to any that lived during the time of His Advent – in fact, an obstinate and foolhardy tyrant, Herod, sat on the throne promised to this gentle Boy.
None, at the time of His birth, were looking for such a promised King. Sure, a few men from the East had begun their search for Him, having observed the heavens and having beheld His star, but they weren’t to arrive for almost two more years. So, when the heavens ripped open over some wasteland hills in Judea and a troop of angels heralded His arrival to some low-class, rustic shepherds one night, it proved extraordinary. These shepherds weren’t expecting such an announcement and, frankly, weren’t looking to hear such a thing!
The prophetic promise of a Boy-King, embedded in Isaiah 7:14-16, was given to Ahaz, the King of Judah, during a time of siege and civil war, some 700 years before Christ’s birth. That king was looking for an assurance of victory against the kings of Aram and Israel – Judah’s own ethnic brothers – when they’d come to lay siege to Jerusalem, Judah’s capitol. A siege and invasion was not an ideal time for Ahaz to get a prophecy of a Boy-King from Isaiah, but so it went. Sometimes, in God’s way of thinking, what we most need to know when facing crisis is, like what He showed Jeremiah, that we have a future and a hope. For Ahaz, it was the hope that his capitol would still be around for that Boy-King to enter one day, and that the Boy-King was already in his own loins, making His way to His own Advent.
So, the Boy-King’s coming is promised to the Jews – God set the their expectation for His Advent with these kinds of prophecies. He would be called Immanuel (God with us) and it was promised that before He could know the difference between good and evil, He would be eating cheese curds and honey. The imagery in Isaiah’s prophecy about this Boy recalls Moses’ to the Hebrew slaves: that God would bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. And it recalls the Psalmist’s admonition “to taste and see that the Lord is good”. In short, He is the Promise of the Land of Promise, a land ripped apart by war in Ahaz’s day and one that would again be ripped apart by war at the time of Immanuel’s birth.
This Advent, this Christmas time, we aren’t looking for a fully grown Man of Strength or a Conquering King, like the Jews of Jesus’ time did – at least not right away. No, we are looking for a Boy, a Boy-King to arrive, to come and meet our expectations – which is the meaning of “Advent” – and to enter into the mess of our manured lives. We are looking to see His Advent, to uncover that He’s already come, that He’s already chosen to be birthed in the mess of our (un)stable lives, and to bring the tranquillity that only His innocence – as a Boy, as a Child – can gift to us.
This Advent, we aren’t looking for a conquering King riding swiftly on a white charger to rescue us from the siege of darkness. No. This Advent, we are looking for a Boy-King, wrapped in innocence and nakedness, born into our mess, born as a gentle Child in the pitch-black of night, to strike against our own long night by becoming our Eternal Dawn, ever rising in our hearts as the only true King.
So, as “Nathaniel said to [Phillip], ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Phillip said to him, ‘Come and see’,” [John 1:46] we invite you to your knees, to kneel in the mess of your life, to worship the Deliverer, born as a helpless, weak, and innocent Child.