A Devotion for the Third Week in Advent
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”
Of what are you afraid? All of us, I think, live in fear of something. Perhaps it is fear of failure, of loss, of lack of security, or even of harm. Fear is part of our human experience because we are neither infinite nor invulnerable.
We read in Isaiah 7 that Ahaz, King of Judah, is afraid, of two armies that are assembled against him and his people. The Lord sends Isaiah to Ahaz to reassure him. Isaiah’s initial words do not seem to do the trick (Isa 7:1-9). So the Lord then says to Ahaz, “Ask for a sign, as high as heaven or as deep as Sheol.” Ask for a big sign. But he won’t.
On top of being afraid, Ahaz is struggling with overscrupulous piety. He knows the law, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deut 6:16). Despite examples of literal heroes of the faith like Gideon, with the fleece (Judg 6), and the Lord’s own invitation to him, Ahaz will not ask for a sign. Sometimes we prefer to be right—in the eyes of the law—and living in fear than to ask God for reassurance. I should have enough faith. I shouldn’t need a sign.
The Lord, however, knows us in our weakness and frailty. He knows that Ahaz needs a sign. He may lack sufficient faith, but God does not count this against Ahaz. He sends a sign anyway.
Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isa 7:14)
For Ahaz, and for all of us who live with fear and anxiety, we who may also be encumbered by overscrupulous piety, Jesus is forever our sign. His birth, life, death, and resurrection are the Sign of Immanuel—God with us. Does God care? Will he help? Yes. Jesus is the Sign, both that he has and that he will.
Christmas, which is nearly upon us, is God’s miraculous declaration, in truth and in fact, for now and for eternity, that he is with us. A real event. A real sign that is greater than my fear, a sign that comes to me despite my pious protestations that I shouldn’t need it. All because God is with us.