Christmas Cards from Isaiah – Week 3
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 is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. 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. — Isaiah 7:10-16
“O Come, O Come, Immanuel…”
A hymn that is sung during this time of year, the second hymn we sang this morning, as we longingly look towards the celebration of the birth of Jesus. We are not without longing or desire as we approach this holy day, and as we are now on the precipice of our celebration these words ring even more true as we just want the day to be here. We have forsaken the soft melody for pleas for the day to arrive, and yet, we still have one more week.
The imagery offered as we sang this song in praise together this morning, reminds us of the roles, names, and signs offered through the birth of Christ. Through this act of the incarnation. Each of the verses that flow through the song includes titles that have prophetically been laid upon Jesus, and as we come through this season, we look towards the hope and promise of Jesus fulfilling these prophecies.
However, the imagery is not lost on us that we reflect in the same way this Sunday that the prophets of Judah speak about the work that God will do. I am a pastor who truly believes that in these seasons of preparation we are called to live in these spiritually ambiguous spaces. What does this mean?
I think we can take these times, and seasons, to place ourselves in the context of the world before Christ, to find the longing for hope and peace that existed in those times of exile for the Jewish people. To face the struggles they faced, and to come to the Manger transformed by the journey that has gotten us here. This is what these seasons are meant to represent. The Jewish people were looking for Messianic figures, but in no way expect Jesus. As I have mentioned throughout this series, all of these prophecies are not interpreted in their times toward Jesus. Oftentimes the hope was towards another in their midst, and their hearts often interpreted these prophecies in light of their own desires.
The problem is we too sometimes approach this idealism of God’s calling in the same light. Often times we become blind to the sign that God is offering and try to make it our own desires. The problem that we see in light of this revelation is that we neglect the ultimate point and piece of the sign that God is offering for us.
The Candle of Love
When we reflect back to our candle lighting, we were encouraged into the space as the candles were lit to remember the purpose behind what the candles represent.
“the candle of joyous hope, of proclaimed peace, of deep everlasting joy, and today of presence that speaks of love, as a sign that no matter our circumstance, we know we are not alone.”1
This sets the stage for approaching this last week of holy anticipation desiring for the sign to appear, for God’s love to reign, but are we truly ready for it? This leads to the feelings expressed and experienced in the scripture passage in front of us today, and I would break down the scripture today into two parts, the narrative part, and the prophecy.
What is happening in the actual prophecy of this Isaiah text today?
We will get to the narrative momentarily, but the prophecy sets up this theme of advent nicely, especially for this final week of advent. It is a promise, of God’s abiding presence in our lives of faith, namely this eternal promise of God’s grace and love for all of creation. That presence is felt through, Immanuel (God with us). God is literally saying through Isaiah here that we rest our nature upon the fact that God is with us. God is not just some ethereal being pulling strings in heaven, but God is with us. God was with us in Jesus Christ, and God is with us today through the Holy Spirit. This is why the very nature of Jesus as encompassed in the Gospels (especially in Matthew and John) is that of this divinely created being who instills the very nature of God within humanity by both his example and through the Spirit of the Lord that flows from him and fills us.
The thing is, are we necessarily ready to receive? Do we feign care for God’s desire in the world and give off an air of religious superiority only to be called out for the power we have amassed in our own selfishness? Have we forsaken God’s loving desire for the world by ignoring the sign God is calling us to seek?
The thing is, Ahaz has a point of not testing God, but what Ahaz fails to see is that God is wanting the people of Judah to seek the sign that has already been offered. Since they won’t accept that sign God will offer a different sign, through a baby who will “overthrow” the powers of the world through the love and grace of God.
This is where the narrative portion of our text helps a bit because this passage is more than the prophecy and really it is more than just the handful of verses that were read. Those who may be familiar with the history of the Kingdom of Judah will know that kings were not always the best, and even when they were, fallacies eventually worked their way in. Even Hezekiah, who I talked about a couple of weeks ago had his points about where he strayed from the king that he could have been. This is why we oftentimes hear kings defined as bad or mostly good.
Well heads up on our story today…Ahaz was considered a bad king. Why? Well, Ahaz lead Judah in a time that moved them away from God. Ahaz worshiped and sacrificed to Baal (the idolatrous image of a God in contrast to the Lord of Israel and Judah. Ahaz also worked and ruled for his own power and interest, rather than looking toward God and God’s prophets to lead the people of Judah toward reconciliation and justice.
The entirety of chapter 7 tells of an interaction between Isaiah and King Ahaz. Isaiah is sent to offer prophecy to Ahaz, but it will be received less than genuinely by the King of Judah. 2 Chronicles 28 recounts more on how Ahaz was a faithless King, and he is one driven by power and worship of Baals.2
Now, this may raise flags as we consider this interaction. We know that God keeps the lines of communication open to all the kings of Judah, especially through their prophets. It is these prophets who bring messages to the Lord. In this chapter of Isaiah, Ahaz is encountered by God and given a chance to relent his powers to the love of God, to the sign that God will offer the Judeans, but in an act of feigning his faith in God, Ahaz does not relent. Instead, he challenges God, by thinking he is being tested. However, Ahaz’s inability to relent power to God’s design for the people of Israel, leads to the prophecy offered through Isaiah that will challenge powers and principalities, even those of the people who are of God.
The Promise of A Child
We are in a time where we may benefit from reflecting back on this theological expression. If we look back the promise is for a child who will transform the world, by offering the untarnished image of God that can be present within humanity. If only we would be brave enough to embrace the sign that God offers. In God’s signs, we see the design that God has for creation.
To hear the prophecy again:
“Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”3
It is this idea of “God with us” that is highlighted in this prophecy. If we are unwilling to welcome the Lord figure into the world and live by the society and Kingdom we are called to build, then what is the nature of love we hold on to as Christians? Judeans sought the one who would save them but did not imagine that they needed to be saved from themselves. Their manner of salvation was saving them from the evils of the society that had forsaken God for power.
Isaiah is a text that brings us up close and personal to a divine and collective need for the Christ figure to come into the world. As Christians, we see Jesus as the fulfillment of many of these prophecies, and yet the work of Christ does not end with Jesus. In fact, when we look at the work that Jesus did he merely brought this understanding to the forefront. The “evil and good” laid forth from Isaiah is the nature of God’s eternal love against the power that humanity seeks to attain through its own selfish ambitions.
This is a common theme as we drive through this season, it is the love of God that is the sign for us. We love because God first loved us, as so boldly proclaimed by John in one of the Johannine letters. If we forget that we are created from love and that the workings of God in the world are for grace and love then we miss the point of the work God is doing.
The Lord is trying to get Ahaz’s attention as Isaiah prophesies throughout this text. “Look if you don’t get your house in order, it will crumble upon you.” The Israelites seek love and protection from forces beyond the divine of their God, and they experience the pain and heartache of the evils of the world with no one or nothing to fall back on to rebuild.
However, in Immanuel (God with us), we encounter the best of who God is. We know that even in our dangers we are secured from the true eternal harm that could afflict us. We place our trust in God and are driven by their calling. Therefore, the love we consider and are drawn towards in this season is that presence that seeks to abide with and within us.
The ultimate question is are we ready for it?
Christmas is a week away, and we have been asked by God to ask for a sign. However, we are leery, because we know what the sign will mean for our own self-interests, our own sense of entitlement, and our own sense of power.
How will we heed the words of God?
Let us do so with hearts open wide, knowing the true nature of love that awaits on the other side