Sunday, December 19, 2010

A - Advent 4 - Isaiah 7.10-17

Did you know you could try God's patience. Ahaz did it. God gave him a command, to ask for a sign, some visible and tangible evidence that God would do what he said, that God would keep the promise that he gave and Ahaz pretended to be pious. "far be it from me O Lord to put you to the test." A pretty thin attempt to be humble and righteous. And God was not impressed. He saw through the King's attempt to brown nose and gave him a sign any ways.
"The young woman will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Immanuel. And by the time the boy is old enough to know right and wrong the kingdom would fall to the Assyrians."
You see, Ahaz was a wicked king. He worshipped false gods. He even sacrificed his own children to those gods, to the Baals. (2 Chronicles 28) He was not faithful to the Lord and therefore the Lord would give him over to his enemies in judgment for the sins he had committed. The words of Isaiah the prophet are a warning. A call to repentance. A call to turn from sin and believe. But Ahaz heard without listening. He listened without understanding. And the words of Isaiah came true. The Assyrians came and took the kingdom of Judah from Ahaz so that he received his just reward. He was punished for his sin.
That same message of warning and punishment that same plea for repentance could be spoken today. Indeed it must be spoken today.
If you go back and read the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles, chapter 28 you can find out all about King Ahaz. He was a wicked king. He walked completely in the ways of the world. The world of Ahaz was an idolatrous place - all kinds of false gods that people worshiped and prayed to. 2 Chronicles tells us that Ahaz even burned his children in the fire to these false gods. A reference to the ancient practice of child sacrifice. Sounds rather barbaric, at least until we remember how many children have been killed in our own day and age as their parents peruse the gods of wealth, a career, a reputation. Our age is just as wicked as those that came before us.
But God knows. He knows the condition of His world. He sees what is going on. He sees the sin and wickedness in men's hearts. It is nothing new. And so while he sent Isaiah to speak words of repentance to King Ahaz, he sends His Christians into the world to call for repentance. And that includes you. As you go off to work, to school, to college campuses. You are called to be a witness to the truth of the word of God.
(And by the way, usually the image we have of this involves brash bible thumping or picket signs. Often Christians forget that they can make a ready defense of the Christian faith in a logical and well reasoned way with sound rational arguments. The world does not necessarily hold the intellectual high ground - we however often give it up to them.)
The world needs to hear that there is a God. That there is a creator. That the words of the Bible are true. The world needs to hear the implications of this. That if there is a creator, then it is true that there is a judge. There is a judgment day, when this creator will return to call each of us to account. We need to be ready for that day, and therefore, like King Ahaz, the world needs to repent. Turn from sin and turn to the Savior. Because God is merciful and he has provided a way of salvation.
This text that was one of warning and judgment for Ahaz, was not just warning. There was a promise tucked away in there along with that call to repentance. A promse of a savior. A promise about Jesus.
"A young woman will conceive." This was a sign for Ahaz. A woman he knew would have a son and name him Immanuel. And Ahaz would see the boy grow and could watch the Lord's promised events unfold as the child grew. But that child who served as a reminder of God's judgment was also a sign of God's mercy. That boy would point ahead to another boy who would be born years into the future. Born to another young woman, this one a virgin. And Isaiah's promise would come to roost in the life of this second child in a greater way than the first.
Matthew the author of the Gospel text for today helps us to understand that these words spoken by Isaiah find their greatest fulfillment, not in the time of Ahaz but in a future time. Matthew's ties those words to Joseph and to Mary. Mary, the virgin who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the boy who was Immanuel - not just by name, but by his person.
Immanuel, the name Immanuel, in hebrew literally means "God is with us". Now this is true in a general sort of way. We believe that when we worship, as we pray, as we have our devotions God is present with us. But with Jesus it was different, it was more. Jesus was literally God with us. God among us. God present in the flesh with His people. The God who is bigger that the universe and holds all power and authority reduced himself to human stature. The God who will come again to judge the living and the dead on the last day. This God, the True God. The Only God.
Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, is exactly what this world needs. Our world that is so misguided and wrong headed, our world that insists on heading in the wrong direction needs this child. Our world needs the forgiveness that he came to provide. Our world needs the salvation that is found nowhere else in all of heaven and earth. Our world needs Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.
You see, the miraculous birth of this little baby was a precursor to the greater miracles that he would accomplish later in his life. Of course there were the healings, the walking on water, the mastery over the wind and the waves, the release of those held captive by the devil. But the greatest work of this Christ child, this God with us was his death. His vicarious atonement, where he was our substitute, where he took God's judgment for our sin so that he could pay the price for our sin. And then, to prove that this work was done, he was raised from the dead. Because he was victorious over our sin, he was also victorious over death. Death, the wages of sin, now has no power because of what Jesus has done. The boy, the baby born to a virgin, has saved us.
The Christ has come. Immanuel, God-with-us has come. He came at Christmas born to be our savior. But he is coming back. And when he returns he will come with judgment. In the days of the wicked King Ahaz God enacted judgment through the Assyrian army. When he comes again he will do the job himself. So the world needs to be ready. The world needs to be prepared. We have God's salvation. We have Jesus who died and suffered that judgment in our place. May we speak as clearly as Isaiah. Amen.
And now may the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.