Isaiah 43 beautifully and poetically depicts how God desires for us to see, know and experience him, even in the hardest times and amidst the most testing of 'waters' and 'fires'. I was reflecting on this scripture this week, and something stuck out to me as a bit weird.
In verse 3, God says:
"I give Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you."
I was like:
"Wait... what?! Why would God give up and sacrifice a whole country of people, just for me - one fairly average human? How is that fair? That's not very loving for that whole country?"
It made me think of something that Jesus said (in Luke 15) that's also puzzled me:
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
What did the 99 obedient remaining sheep do to deserve having their shepherd - their sole source of protection and guidance - desert them to go off to look for lil' Berty who had gone wandering by herself again? How is it fair? Did the shepherd not love those sheep? Were they not also important?
Then I thought of the womb of the young, teenage, pregnant, Nazarene virgin. I thought about the soon-to-be-birthed baby Jesus. Cloaked in glory since time immemorial, now cloaked in amniotic fluid. He'd soon take his first breath of air. Air consisting of atoms and molecules and quarks that he had himself spoken into being long ago.
Then it hit me.
In Jesus, God comes to us, in human flesh, with skin and bone, and presence and promise.
Jesus is the the ransom of 'Ethiopia and Sepa'.
Jesus is the sacrificed 99 sheep.
Jesus is God giving of himself so that he may have us and we him.
Jesus is not sacrificing some other city, manipulatively making some other group of people pay for my waywardness. In Jesus, God provides a way - as mysterious as it is wondrous - for the cost, the ransom, the pain of desertion, to be borne in his own being.
These words from the prophet Isaiah and from Jesus himself are meant as metaphors to point our minds (and indeed our hearts!) to an awareness of a God who yearns for us. Who longs for us. Who is for us. And because of our rebellion - our wandering away from the sheep pen - there is great cost for this reuniting. But God, 'veiled in flesh', pays the price, travels the distance, seeks us out. He shows us, dramatically and spectacularly that he is is pleased to dwell with us.
Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
Advent is a time of remembering this Jesus who yearns and longs for us and comes to us. To once again ponder the promise of presence. To consider the king who delights in dwelling with us - of being known even in the 'waters' and 'fires' of life.
It's a time of reflecting on how this 'offspring of a virgin's womb' is God himself, reaching out to us, reminding us what he's like.
Let us join with the carol singers, and the "herald angels", and the great cloud of witnesses and earnestly and fervently declare, with wonder and thanksgiving:
"Glory to the newborn King!"