The Pas Advent 4
22 December 2019
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 pg 812
God of grace,
give us the faith of Joseph
to see the Spirit’s work
where the world sees only shame;
to listen to the promise
and to awaken to the cry of life renewed and love reborn;
through Jesus Christ, the one who is to come. Amen.
Todays passage from the prophet Isaiah is an interesting one to read because it shows us how we, as humans, interact with God, still today.
“10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”” (Isa 7:10-12)
Now, if we look closely at these few verses, we find a whole boat load of things taking place that so defines our ongoing relationship with God, the Father, today.
“10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz,” and the first word of importance is ‘again’. So God has been speaking to Ahaz before this through Isaiah. This isn’t the first time God has directed Isaiah into the presence of the king of Judah, to give words of encouragement, to offer God’s guidance where it’s most needed for God’s people. (Isa 7:10)
And then verse 11 tells us what God is encouraging Ahaz to ask about, as he leads half of the tribes of Israel, as he seeks to be a ruler of God’s people
“11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”” (Isa 7:11)
And we are able to see in this verse that God wants Ahaz to ask. God wants to engage with Ahaz in the same way God wants to engage with each one of us, and yet, instead of engaging with God, each one of us gives the same kind of response that we see Ahaz, king of Judah, giving to God, today.
“12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”” (Isa 7:12)
Now, we’ve all heard the well-intentioned phrase, “if you have any questions, please ask,” right? Someone wishes to dispense information that perhaps they haven’t thought to include, and it might be something that’s important to us, our situations, or our very lives.
Something that they’re taking for granted, or perhaps we are, and it needs clarification, if we can think of the question to ask. If we can find the words to put together to seek that clarification.
And when we see such well-meaning statements being made, we often just shrug and look around, mildly bemused, maybe contemplate our toes, and really, we don’t ask anything at all, do we?
What’s worse, though, is when we don’t feel we have enough information at our disposal in order to even formulate a question to ask. I know this happens to me, all the time in issues of medical care, or when being introduced to a new set of circumstances, situation, or scenario.
Before the passage we see, today, God sends Isaiah to Ahaz to let him know that two other kings see Ahaz as weak, and they see Judah as ‘easy pickings’, but God points out that this won’t be the case.
So, God sends Isaiah to Ahaz to participate in the conversation, and Ahaz declines. But you can sense the fear in his response, as he says: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” (Isa 7:12b)
Now, this has a double pronged response, really.
First of all, God really, really wants to dispense important information that is intended to give Ahaz comfort in a geopolitically stressful moment as two of his neighbours become aggressive and start planning to carve up his kingdom for their own purposes.
And if you think about it, that pronouncement has implication for us, still today, as we turn our attention from our endless seasonal tasks of baking, gift wrapping, and decorating, to look to the birth of the Messiah, and all that is implied in the birth of the Christ child, in the return of Christ our King, which we still look for, and which we still anticipate.
And we can see this in Isaiah’s response to Ahaz’s refusing to ask God what the sign will be of his own deliverance, of his own retribution against his aggressive neighbours.
But on the other hand, and if we think about this, how would Adam and Eve have felt, when God expels them from the Garden of Eden, if at the gates to the garden, God says “for any questions or issues, customer service is available Monday, Wednesday and Friday form 9-12, here at the gate.”
How would Moses have felt, being asked by God to lead the tribes of Israel from slavery to freedom in the promised land if he had been told to submit all questions in writing and wait 30 days for a reply?
How about the women in the garden after the crucifixion of Jesus? What would’ve been their response if upon arrival at the tomb to embalm our Lord and Saviour, they found the stone rolled back, and a customer service kiosk installed in place of the disturbed grave clothes?
Or Saul? If he hadn’t encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, would Paul have even existed? Or would he have arrived to find a card in his pocket saying “for any questions, please call the number below”
But none of this happened, nor does it happen, today.
God is and wants to be an active part of our lives.
God wants us to ask what the signs of God’s movement in the world will be, and are.
God wants to interact with us, in our lives, whether through prophets, conversations with friends and family, or other ways that God is active in our lives. Through out it all, God has a plan, and we’re not only an active part of that plan, we’re integral to its success.
When Ahaz refuses to ask God, what will be the sign, we see this response:
“13 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? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 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.” (Isa 7:13-16)
And we can see in these words the hope that we look for at this time of the year, when we remember the birth of the Messiah, in the world.
We can see the hope that Isaiah brings to Ahaz when he includes that the downfall of those who threaten Ahaz is also a part of what Isaiah proclaims, today.
And really, Ahaz is a member of the house of David? Isn’t that an interesting tie in, as we look toward the nativity, toward the fulfillment of these words, as we look to the virgin birth of our Lord and Savour in the stable, on Christmas Eve night?
So, what we see, then, isn’t a disinterested deity who’s set the world in motion, and leaves us to our own devices. Rather we find God who loves us and longs to be an active participant in our lives, not just once a year, but at all times, and days, and in all circumstances.
Because if God isn’t active in our lives, what do we come to hear?
What do we come to participate in if it isn’t an act of worship, of replenishment of our souls, in the company of like minded people, all waiting for the second coming of Christ, as we also wait for the birth of the Christ child?
So, we’re here because we know that God is present. We know that when two or more gather in Christ’s name, God is here amongst us.
And this is the challenge in the world, today, isn’t it? In Ahaz’s day Isaiah wandered about, where God told him to be, and he proclaimed the messages of God to those who needed to hear them the most.
Today, we know that because Christ has come and has returned to God, that’s the job of the Holy Spirit to influence our lives our hearts.
And maybe that’s the point.
God didn’t send Ahaz a registered letter letting him know that the threats against him will be dealt with in God’s time, and that he’s doing a good job as the king of Judah. Instead, God sent Isaiah.
God sent his representative, of the day, and today, Isaiah is God’s representative in the world each one of us delivering God’s words of hope that the future is brighter than we can ever imagine.
But this gets back to the point that we want God to come to us on our terms.
Ahaz refused to ask God the question that he was urged to ask, even though that answer would provide the peace of heart and mind he needed as king to see his people though the crisis of imminent invasion.
I read a daily comic strip: For Better or For Worse. And recently it’s had the strip of the eldest son, a young teen, complaining that there’s nothing to do, eat, watch, etc. And to each complaint his mother has the standard, logical parents reply that there are chores, food, channels to watch, etc. When the father gets home and sees his son in a funk, he asks, and the reply he gets is that the son has nothing to complain about.
Ahaz is each one of us, who is urged to approach God, and we decline because we don’t want to disturb God. At the same time, God has great news for each one of us. God has all the answers that are able to bring peace and harmony and love to our lives.
And at the same time, God is bursting at the seams to be able to reveal God’s prophesy, God’s will for the redemption of the whole earth in the replies that we’re declining to ask about.
So, as we enter the Christmas season, as we gather with friends and family to celebrate the birth of the Christ child in the stable, in Bethlehem, remember, God isn’t distant, God isn’t uncaring, rather God is here, now Immanuel: God with us! Every day.