Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”
Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: [BEHOLD!] The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
Over the days leading up to Christmas, a watchword will present itself in clear fashion. The word? Behold. The Greek word we translate as “behold” is idou. In most instances, the short Greek word idou is simply not translated. For some reason, many modern translators of the most popular versions of the Bible have chosen to leave this word out of our English versions. Can you see the irony? The word meant to alert us to pay special attention to what follows is omitted. Might this, in part, explain some of our failure to acknowledge the vast depth of certain occasions? We no longer look when we think we have seen; hence our need to be reminded over and again to “behold!” In order for you, the reader, to feel the effect of this curious and critical omission, I have elected to insert the omitted word as “Behold!” It is intended to have a jarring effect.
Behold is a very important word. It has the effect of a group of children standing in the middle of a busy intersection wildly waving their arms in order to stop traffic and get passersby to pay attention to what is unfolding just off the well-worn path.
This tiny, overlooked Bible word means “to pay attention,” bringing every faculty of our perception into submission to the events unfolding in the world-making wonder of the Word of God. It is the watchword of all watchwords.
Christmas is all at once a sign both in the deepest depths and the highest heights. Advent prepares us for the apparent contradiction.
A virgin with child? For her, that would be the deepest depths. Pregnant with the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit? For us, that would be the highest heights.
“Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14), the angels will soon sing, because glory came down to the lowest—as they invited lowly shepherds to be the first visitors. Christmas will show us in sketch what the cross will reveal in full technicolor: a sign both in the deepest depths and the highest heights.
This word from the prophet Isaiah comes to mind: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isa. 43:19 ESV). Jesus is the new thing. It’s why Scripture says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV). Did you catch it there? “Behold, the new has come.” All the way to the end and beyond, Jesus is the new thing. “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Rev. 21:5 ESV). Did you catch it again? “Behold, I am making all things new.”
The invitation is to behold. It is Advent’s way of saying, “Wake up!”
Our Father in heaven, nearer than my breath, thank you for these days of Advent and this new year in Christ. Thank you for this watchword: behold. I want to learn to behold, to see beyond the surface of what I think I’ve seen before. Teach me not to simply look at things but to see into them. Shake me awake in these days leading up to Christmas. Awaken me to the new creation work Jesus is doing and wants to do in me, in my family, and in the world. Come, Holy Spirit, illuminate my heart and mind. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear. In the name of Jesus Messiah—the one who came, is here, and is coming again—for his glory and our good, amen.
What will it take in this last week leading up to Christmas to shift your faculties of perception from distraction to attention? How might you begin beholding in a new way?
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