Session 3: Incarnation
Pre Class Assignment if you have time: send me any pictures you find that shows one person displaying love to others in a way that reminds you of God’s love, reflecting how Jesus’s life in the flesh blessed others.
DECEMBER 16, 2020, CLASS FOR SESSION 3
INCARNATION: REDISCOVERING THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTMAS
FROM REV. ADAM HAMILTON’S ADVENT STUDY FOR 2020
OPENING DIRECTIONS AND QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
I GIVE ALL CREDIT TO REV. HAMILTON AND HIS CHURCH OF THE RESURRECTION UMC FOR CREATING THIS STUDY
• For those participating in the Wednesday 10 am Zoom Session: since we are doing this on-line, it might be difficult to guarantee that conversations will be confidential, so please consider all conversations as open
• We will work on Section 3 in the book, (pages 85-114). We will save Section 4 for our wrap-up class on January 6 at 10 am.
WEEK 3: SESSION GOALS
Readings, reflections, activities, and prayers will equip participants to:
• Understand what Isaiah’s prophecy about Immanuel meant in its original context.
• Appreciate why early Christians like Matthew found a new meaning in Isaiah’s prophecy when reflecting on their experience of Jesus.
• Reflect on theological questions raised in the doctrine of Incarnation.
• Articulate the practical benefits of the incarnation, guided by passages from Hebrews; and
• Identify images of “putting flesh on” God’s love that can inspire us to similar action.
IN PREPARATION FOR THE STUDY
EMMANUEL IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC
Read Chapter 3 and the assigned Scriptures.
• Do you have any inspirations, challenges, or questions from previous sessions? Has this Study in any way affected your relationship with Jesus and/or others? (If so, feel free to email me before class.)
• Has the pandemic made the celebration of Christmas and Advent different for you?
• In Chapter 3 Hamilton says when he was writing this study he is “knowing things may get worse before they get better. [He was sitting there] bracing for what lies ahead, and [he did] so with hope—a hope that is rooted in Advent and Christmas. (p. 90-91)
The message of hope that is enclosed in the concept of “God with us” or “Emmanuel” is huge in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels and the Epistles. As we prepare to watch the video, let us consider how this ancient message of hope is exactly what we need today.
Would someone offer a prayer?
VIEWING THE DVD AND POSSIBLE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
What does the name Jesus mean?
1. Hamilton shares how he felt at the outset of the pandemic. In one or two words—what were you feeling at that time?
2. Hamilton does not think God caused the pandemic; however, he does feel God will bring us out of it, and walk with us through it. Do you agree? Why/why not?
3. Why does Hamilton think this message of “Emmanuel” (God with us) is one people need to hear when they are living in times of fear?
FINDING A NEW MEANING IN AN OLD PROPHECY
If any of these introductory questions stirs your heart, email me with a brief response and I will weave it in so we can cover as much of the material as possible in the time we have.
• Have you ever gotten a new meaning from a song, poem, story, or work of art with which you thought you were remarkably familiar?
• What prompted the new understanding?
• Did these new or extra meanings invalidate the ones you had previously? Why/why not.
Hamilton points out that only Matthew’s gospel calls Jesus Emmanuel.
Would someone read from page 98, where Hamilton explains why?
“Much of what Isaiah . . . in their time as well.”
We need a volunteer to read Isaiah 7.1-9
Isaiah Reassures King Ahaz
7 In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. 2 When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-Jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, 4 and say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Aram—with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah—has plotted evil against you, saying, 6 Let us go up against Judah and cut off Jerusalem and conquer it for ourselves and make the son of Tabeel king in it; 7 therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.
8 For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
(Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered, no longer a people.)
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.
1. Why were King Ahaz and his subjects feeling afraid?
2. Why does Isaiah compare the enemy kings to smoldering stumps? (verse 4)
3. How is the name of Isaiah’s son, Hear-Jashub (“a remnant shall return”) meant to be a message of hope for Ahaz?
4. Isaiah urges Ahaz to rely on God and not on military allies, telling him, “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” (verse 9) When you feel afraid, who or what are you tempted to rely on rather than God? What does “standing in faith” look like practically in times of fear and panic? How do we find the strength to do so?
We need a volunteer to read Isaiah 7.10-16
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 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[e] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.[f] 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
1. Other scriptures warn against testing God (Deut. 6.16; “16 Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah”; Matt 4.7, 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”) What makes Ahaz’s refusal to test God a sign of fear, not faith?
2. What sign does God promise through Isaiah and how is it meant to address Ahaz’s fear?
3. How does the name of the child who will be born underscore his birth as a reason not to fear?
We need a volunteer to read Matt. 1.22-25
22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
1. What new and different meaning does Matthew find in Isaiah’s centuries-old message for King Ahaz?
2. Why might Joseph have been feeling afraid? (See Matt 1.18-21. ) 18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
3. Matthew, a Jew, who wrote in Greek, used the Greek translation of Isaiah, which is why 2.23 speaks of a “virgin” while Isaiah 7.14 speaks of a “young woman.” Does this difference in translation affect your beliefs about Jesus birth? Why/why not?
4. Matthew describes Jesus’s birth as a profound fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. Does Identifying Jesus as Emmanuel add to, take away from, or not affect the importance of the sign God gave King Ahaz? Why?
CONTEMPLATION OF THE INCARNATION
We need a volunteer to read what Hamilton said on pages 100-101:
• Matthew alone found in this somewhat obscure verse [Isaiah 7.14] a powerful picture of who Jesus is and why he came. The emphasis on Jesus’s conception by the Holy Spirit seems to be Matthew’s way of pointing to his unique identity . . .. somehow [to be] both Son of Man and Son of God.
Hamilton is summarizing the classic doctrine or teaching of the Incarnation: in Jesus, the essential nature of God became one of us.
1. What are helpful and/or unhelpful ways you have heard the Incarnation explained—or perhaps have even used yourself to explain it?
2. As Hamilton points out, Matthew does not offer us a fully developed Trinitarian theology of how God is at once Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (page 101) (nor does any other New Testament author). The word Trinity does not appear in the Bible. What Matthew and others in the New testament do offer is evidence of how Jesus’s first followers experienced and responded to him. What Biblical evidence of people’s experiences of Jesus can you think of that point to Jesus’ humanity and/or divinity?
3. What would you say to someone who says, “if the Bible does not teach the Trinity, I cannot believe it”?
4. Christianity teaches that “God in Jesus did not simply assume human appearance,” writes Hamilton, “but. . .actually, was born and lived as a human being” (page 106). By the fourth century, the church officially rejected the idea that Jesus seemed only human. What is the difference between a Jesus who appears human and a Jesus who is human? What is at stake?
5. What things in life do you find mysterious yet still trust are true? Why? How are these things like and/or unlike the mystery of the Incarnation?
SEEING THE SON OF GOD IN HEBREWS
We need a volunteer to read Hebrews 1.1-4
God Has Spoken by His Son
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,[a] whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains[b] all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs
1. What, specifically, does the author of Hebrews mean by calling Jesus God’s son? Why does Jesus’s identity as God’s Son matter to us, according to these verses?
2. How does Jesus, God’s Son, allow us to see God? What distinguishes him from idols?
We need one last volunteer to read Hebrews 4.14-16.
Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us, therefore, approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
1. Why does Jesus’s status as Son of God matter to us, according to these verses?
2. In your personal faith, do you tend to think of God as distant and judgmental, or as approachable and sympathetic to you?
3. How do you respond to the idea that, because of the Incarnation, God is, as Hamilton writes, a God who has “experienced what we experience as humans. In Jesus, God experienced temptation, love, hunger, joy, fear, friendship, grief, doubt, rejections, a sense of abandonment by God, and death? (page 102).
As we end this session, would someone close us in prayer?