I suppose I'm not alone in having a limited preaching task this week: our congregation's children will offer the message in our second service, so I'm only preaching at the first. I know other colleague's have traditions of special carol services on this day. It's too bad, since Matthew's Christmas story only comes around every three years.
Even so, since our 8:15 crowd is the true diehards (I could not believe how many of them made it to church after major ice and snowstorms this month!) -- I'll be taking another direction, namely looking more closely at the Isaiah text's context.
The good folks at working preacher pointed me here, to Ahaz' unholy compromises with the empires of his day and his seemingly pious refusal to ask God for a sign. He'd much rather go about his political business without pesky prophets like Isaiah suggesting he should consult the true King of Israel first.
How often do we employ the same excuse?
No, God I won’t ask you for anything, because I know you don’t control the weather.
No, God, I won’t ask you for a job, because I know you don’t control the economy.
No, God, I won’t ask you for health, because I know you do not control tumors and my daily nutrition.
There is a certain humility, and some logic to not asking for anything, especially since we are confronted daily with the news of those who lack so much. But how often is that logic really just a cover – a cover for our lack of faith, a cover for our fear that if we ask, we will not receive? How often is our failure to ask really a cover for the fact that it is much easier to trust in other gods than the God of Abraham, the God of Isaiah?
It’s just plain easier to trust in the invisible hand of the market, or our own ability to ensure our own future, or our own acts of securing health and wealth and happiness, even though we know that those powers are pretty unreliable too.
For Ahaz, it was easier to trust in the compromises he would make with the powers that be than to ask God for guidance, than to risk trusting God’s reign rather than his own.
And into this time when Ahaz doesn’t even want God’s help, hasn’t asked for it, doesn’t trust it, Isaiah says, "Look, a sign is given unto you ANYWAY. God is coming to you anyway."
Anathea Portier-Young puts it beautifully:
"The impossible miracle of God's saving power is evident in the birth Isaiah shows the king taking place at this very moment. Stop looking away from the miracle. This woman is wracked with pain. She is laboring in faith to bring forth life. In a moment you will hear an infant cry. The woman will feel a flood of fierce love that binds her to this child as his guardian and protector forever. Listen closely when she speaks his name and you will hear her name the ground of all life and hope: God is with us. "