The Sign of Immanuel
Text: Isaiah 7:10-17
4 Advent, A
10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11“Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Consider Ahaz, a weak and disobedient King of Judah faced with a world that is quickly turning against him. A failing leader afraid that the kings of Israel and Syria will unite and bring destruction on his kingdom because he will not stand up with them against an even bigger enemy called Assyria. Isaiah comes to Ahaz with encouraging news from God. It won't happen. The little bullies won't stand. Ask for a sign to know that God is with you to deliver you. But instead of trusting in God for help and deliverance, Ahaz had already determined to seek help in an alliance with Assyria herself. The enemy of my enemy and all that. So instead of choosing a sign, since he was not trusting in God for help anyway, with very pious sounding words he impiously states that he will not test the Lord. Does he not realize that God can see into his heart? Yet God in His grace will give His own sign, asked or not: the sign of Immanuel.
People today still think a lot like Ahaz. “I have already made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts.” People are blinded by a world view that is contrary to the scriptural truths. They want to explain the existence of the world and the blessings of their life without giving credit to the Creator who made it. They willingly look for assistance and support from everyone and everything, other than their loving Father who provides for all their needs. They look for salvation in man-made religions or the things they have done instead of from the gracious Lord who already provided for eternity in Christ. They will use very pious words like “Being open-minded is more important than being overly dogmatic. Being kind and inclusive is more loving than foisting a bunch of antiquated rights and wrongs on people. I am very spiritual, but never religious!” But for all their fine sounding platitudes, they have already made up their minds and it will be difficult for even the truth to convince them otherwise.
What about us dear friends? Are we that much different from Ahaz? We also find ourselves trusting in our own strength or the strength of our own alliances rather than trusting in the Lord. We often make our plans as though we had control of the future, sometimes without even praying and consulting God for direction and guidance. We trust our income, bank accounts, retirement funds, the government, to provide for all our needs, and we panic when these things fail us. We trust our military and law-enforcement personnel to secure our own peace and aid in the peace of our friends and neighbours, but realize that there is so much war and violence, not just in other parts of our world, but right here in our own neighborhoods.
Yet still God, in His grace, promises to be with us and gives us the sign of Immanuel. A virgin does become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the child born is truly God and truly man. She calls Him Jesus because He will save His people from their sins, but He is truly Immanuel, God with us. All this has already happened for us, but have we already made up our minds about God and life and all this religious stuff? Don’t confuse me with the facts. My life works fine the way it is. How teachable are we? How open are we to letting God shape our lives and guide our decisions through His Word? When that Word and your life are in fundamental disagreement are you willing to change? To do whatever it takes to make it right? Are you really willing to trust your life, your future, your security, to this Book and the Immanuel of which it speaks?
The sign of God’s Immanuel comes as both law and gospel. God is indeed with us through the virgin birth – the incarnation of Jesus. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He continues to be God with us as He comes into our lives through His Word and Spirit.
The sign of Immanuel is a call to repentance for all who trust in their own strength, their own way, their own works, their own world view; for, apart from Jesus, God with us, there is no other way, no other rock, no other salvation. The sign of Immanuel is a call to repentance for us, who want to trust in Jesus and follow as His disciples. It is a reminder that we need to take inventory of our own alliances and friendships – take stock of where we place our hope and trust – and bring all those back to Christ alone.
But the sign of Immanuel is a sign of hope and promise, of grace and mercy. For Jesus has come to be with us, with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Promises made in water and the Word. Promises enough for a lifetime to follow. Promises proclaimed from every page of His Holy Scriptures. Words that are there for you every day of your life. Promises renewed again, and again, in His Holy House, at His won table. Promises written in blood, born in His own body.
Yes, He is with us in the good times and the bad. And we really need to know that He is with us in the bad times! He is with us when everyone and everything else is against us. He is with us when the bottom falls out and we are falling into despair or brokenness. He is with us whether we ask it of Him or not, whether we choose to see Him or not. He is with us through the tragedies of life, and through the valley of the shadow of death. He is there to take us through death itself to share the glory of heaven with him. Trusting in the sign of Immanuel we are truly secure in this life and in the life to come.
14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 17The 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.”