Isaiah 7:1-2, 10-17
Dr. Anne M. Cameron
December 11, 2011
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
1 In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. 2 When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
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. 17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah-the king of Assyria."1
Did you get all that? The scripture this morning is nothing if not political. Unfortunately, it is also a bit confusing. If you will turn to your bulletin insert on the back page, we will try to set the stage for Isaiah's prophecy.
Isaiah and his son are listed in the "Prophet" column. Notice his son's name---the name means "a remnant shall return." The prophet Isaiah speaks to King Ahaz, who is one of the House of David, the line of kings ruling over the Southern Kingdom of Israel---also known as "Judah", the capital of which was Jerusalem. Then we see Rezin and Pekah, grouped together because they had joined forces against Assyria, the powerful kingdom to the north and west of Israel. Rezin is King of Syria (aka Aram, capital Damascus) and Pekah is king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (aka Ephraim, capital Samaria). Rezin and Pekah are threatening Ahaz because they want the Southern Kingdom to join them in the war against Assyria (733 B.C., the Syro-Ephraimite War).
Even if you don't quite get it all, the bottom line is this. Things are pretty much a mess for King Ahaz. He is in between a rock and a hard place. The prophet of God is trying to get Ahaz to consider a different perspective---God's perspective. The prophet Isaiah tells the King: "Have hope! Look at my son---'Remnant Shall Return.' We call him 'Hope' for short".
Then Isaiah puts a figurative arm around Ahaz's shoulders and says, "Take care, be calm. Don't be afraid, don't be a coward. You don't have anything to worry about. These other two kings---they're nothing, just a flash in the pan. God's going to take care of all this---remember, Rezin and Pekah---they're only human!"
Ahaz doesn't buy it. He doesn't listen to Isaiah. He continues to worry about making alliances, playing his political cards, scheming behind the scenes. Isaiah persists. "Ask God for a sign! Anything! Big or small, let God prove to you God's power!"
That's quite an invitation!
But amazingly, Ahaz declines! He refuses to ask God for a sign! It looks like Ahaz doesn't want any part of God's planning.
And then a strange thing happens. God grows tired of Ahaz's shenanigans, his stubborn refusal to place his trust in God. God is frustrated! Instead of raining wrath down on Ahaz and Judah, though, God blesses them and offers a sign of hope.
Isaiah turns to Ahaz again: “Look, this crisis will soon be over. This young woman we both know is pregnant. By the time her baby is born, things are going to be really different around here, and then you will know God IS with us. By the time this baby is 3 or 4 years old this political situation will be history. This is the sign God gives. Believe it! "A young woman will bear a child and his name will be called God-With-Us."
The gospel writer Matthew appropriated this verse from Isaiah. He quoted it from the Greek version of the Old Testament, and he used it to point to Jesus. This is the line we are most familiar with; this is what we heard the choir sing so beautifully last week when they presented this portion of the Messiah.
So which is it? A contemporaneous comment on the political future of Judah, or a seven century prediction of Jesus' birth?
As convoluted and ancient as this text is, I believe it still has a very important message to us today, a message that may easily get buried in debates about the virgin birth, the miracle of Jesus' conception, whether or not Isaiah's prophecy actually was intended to foretell Jesus' birth, etc. Not to diminish all THAT, of course, but let's go back to Ahaz and look a little deeper at this sign thing.
"Ask for a sign!" the prophet says.
What would WE do if someone put this question to us? Would we be willing to ask God for a sign?
Are we open to looking for signs of God's presence? Where, in the middle of our crazy, busy, political, practical lives can God be seen and known? Where, today, on the 18th of December in Dallas, Texas, does God break into the world?
God breaks into the world in the stuff of our lives. In the people who love us, in those who challenge us, in the circumstances that force us to grow and mature and become more heaven-bound beings. God also breaks into the world in a special way through the words and lives of children. Perhaps this is one reason God came into the world in the usual way of humans.
I now share with you a few of my collected observations, ones which suggest God's presence in the world, signs that point to God's reality. These stories appeared on my blog in the last couple of years, and I hope they will remind you not only that it is IMPORTANT to look for signs of God, but also that it is POSSIBLE to find them.
Carl Sandberg once said "Babies are God's opinion that life should go on." Just yesterday I opened a Christmas card from a congregant, with the following words on it "There is no footprint too small that is annot leave an imprint on hearts and in this world."
I know a woman who has witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, of babies born over the course of her career. Once when we were talking about 'where do you see God,' she said this. "When you are present at a birth, when you are there, and you have the chance to watch a new life come into the world, to see this beautiful perfect tiny human being, how can you not believe in God? How can you not believe in a Creator who fashioned the incredible intricacy of the human body? "
Yes, I would agree, that Creation itself, the human body, and especially babies have God's fingerprints all over them.
A group of professional people posed this question to children between the ages of four and eight. "What does love mean?" The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. But the one most appropriate for today is this, from seven year old Bobby:
"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
About a year and a half ago we had a youth lock-in at the church. I don't know if the stars were lined up just right or what, but these kids amazed me. We were going to worship together, but nothing was planned ahead of time. We wanted to "wing it" with the kids, let it emerge. I brought in a pile of books including books with poetry, art, and non-traditional prayers. The youth planned the whole thing, which gave us time to talk about worship, prayer, what's important.
On their own they decided to have a "theme", which turned out to be "finding God in our lives and dealing with stress." This opened up a whole discussion about stress. Fourteen to sixteen year old youth talking about how much pressure they feel: to perform, to compete, to do more in less time. They worry about grades, college, performance. They do not get enough sleep.
But notice as well, they were especially interested in "Finding God in our Lives." They each seemed to recognize God is an alternative to stress. When you look for signs of God, when you locate God's presence in your life, it puts things into perspective.
Last year in the DMN: "Heart for the homeless" a front page story about a little boy who at age 8 decided to do something for the homeless. Every month, Casey's Heart delivers necessities to the homeless in downtown Dallas. "It's about doing the right thing" said one adult. "And it took a child to knock us over the head." Brings new meaning to the phrase, "and a little child shall lead them."
Babies, Children, Youth, the inbreaking of God into our lives, the signs of God's presence which are all around us, if we will just take the opportunity to look. Don't be stubborn like Ahaz. Ask God for a sign; ask with all your heart. You can be sure there is a sign out there, just for you.