Today's Readings: 2 KINGS 16 | Ezekiel 6 | Luke 2
Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.
Reading 1 - 2Ki 16:10-12
"Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction. So Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus and finished it before King Ahaz returned. When the king came back from Damascus and saw the altar, he approached it and presented offerings on it" (2Ki 16:10-12).
The original "foundation stone" was the altar-rock of Zion -- which was probably the site where Abraham prepared to offer Isaac (Gen 22: cp v 9 there with Psa 118:27), and which was probably also the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite on mount Moriah (2Sa 24:18-25). The wicked Ahaz, infected with a zest for the worship of foreign gods, removed the altar of burnt-offering from its prominent place atop this foundation stone, and "hid" it away in a corner of the Temple enclosure (2Ki 16:14). Yet whilst the true altar might be set aside, there was no way to shift the massive outcropping of rock on which it had stood (it is still there today, in the center of the Dome of the Rock). Thus, in Ahaz's day it remained -- quite literally -- a "stone of stumbling" (Isa 8:14,15) for priests walking across the temple court, and a "rock of offence" in a spiritual sense.
It was only when Hezekiah came into full control of the kingdom that he could remedy this sacrilege, and restore the Temple worship to its rightful setting. And so the "stone" rejected by the new "builders" of Judah became, once again, a precious stone and a sure foundation for the true worship of the Lord (Isa 28:16).
It is easy, then, to see how this foundation stone symbolized Hezekiah himself (and his faith in the Lord), upon which all true worship in Judah depended. While sick unto death, he had been "set aside" by other would-be "builders" and rulers, but when miraculously healed he would stand forth again as the chief prince of his people.
And all this incident, and its typical teaching -- even in Isaiah's day -- may be seen, just as clearly, to point forward to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to find its ultimate fulfillment in him.
Reading 2 - Eze 6:3-5
"The evils foretold in previous chapters have been attributed to the general iniquities of the people, not to any specific breaches of particular commandments. Israel had changed God's judgments and defiled His sanctuary. The charges have been more or less general. Now charges of a specific character are to be brought forward, and one particular charge is in this section...
"O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars" (Eze 6:3-5).
"That is the basis of the judgments to be denounced against the people in this section -- high places, altars, incense altars, and idols. All these were associated with the religious customs of the people..." (WH Boulton, "Ezekiel" 44,45).
Reading 3 - Luk 2:6,7
"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luk 2:6,7).
The baby in the manger uttered his first cry, and thereby his Father staked a claim upon our lives. Thereby the Mighty God of all creation became also "Abba" -- the tender Father of a little child; and OUR Father as well!
The God whose son was born in that stable, amidst the simple farm animals, ceased being (if He ever was!) a God of remote abstractions and technical theories.
He is now, for us, a God who loves PEOPLE, a Father who is not willing that any should perish, who holds back no blessing from His "children", who searches out and loves even the least worthy and most neglected.
A tiny cry in a manger. It was truly a miracle. It was the greatest of all miracles -- the birth of God's own son!
But isn't every birth a "miracle", and a mystery? Isn't every child a "holy" child, because he or she receives life from the God who is holy? Isn't every child a "gift" from God, showing His continuing love for man, showing that even yet He has not "given up" on us?
And shouldn't every child be a special child -- like Samuel or John or even Jesus -- who should be dedicated by righteous parents to the service of God?
Like Mary and Joseph, many of us have been entrusted by God with future kings and queens -- who will one day, by God's grace, sit upon thrones and apply to the nations the lessons learned in their parents' homes.
And, in fact, aren't we ALL -- from youngest to oldest -- children of God, begotten by His love... children who manifest our "sonship" by our love for one another? If there is a lesson in the Christmas story, it is this: the preeminence of love. We love him, because He first loved us. For, after all, "sonship" is not what we do, but what we receive. Not what we earn, but a gift. Thanks be to the Father in heaven, that through His special Son we have received the gift of knowing what it means to be His children.