Saturday

7 December 2019

Isaiah 7:1-14

If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all. (v. 9)

Psalm: Psalm 150

Background

 As we reach the end of the first week of our Advent preparations, we may have been struck by the enormity of the challenge placed before us. Our Advent preparations are the making ready for the arrival of a mighty kingdom that shall sweep away all human pretensions. We might be struck, in our reflections, by the realisation that God uses all manner of instruments for his purposes. God uses what God pleases to accomplish God’s will and, in our eyes, God often uses the most unlikely of instruments.

Centuries before a tiny urgent cry in a bed of hay that night, a king shook from fright at the threat to his land from foreign powers. King Ahaz needed a sign desperately and Isaiah the prophet was sent by God to reassure him. "Don't be afraid of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands," Isaiah quoted the Lord to Ahaz. And then he finished with those marvellous words: "If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all." But they were strong words. They were words meant to convince. They were too direct, too positive for Ahaz to hear. He needed a sign. Just a gentle, subtle sign. And so, reading his mind, the Lord spoke to him and said, "All right, ask for a sign, any sign! Let it be as high as the sky or as deep as the earth. Just ask me and I'll give it to you." But Ahaz couldn't do it. The reason he gave was a clear example of false deference to the Lord. "Oh, I couldn't!" More likely it just wouldn't be the same to ask for a particular sign. But God was not going to leave Ahaz without his sign, whether he wanted it or not, and so a sign he got. A woman would conceive and bear a son and the name of that son would be Emmanuel. Emmanuel. It means "God with us."

What a sign. Not a direct statement that God would see to it that the foreigners would not conquer. Not a rosy picture of how the history of the battle would be written. It was much more important than that. It was a sign. A gentle, general, surprise. The king was shaking from fear of a foreign army, wondering whether he or the nation of Judah would survive, and the Lord, in spite of his protest, offers a sign. God would be there no matter what happened. All will be well and all manner of things will be well. "And this will be a sign for you. You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

We continue our journey through Advent, looking for the signs, announcing the story, singing with the joy of the angels, journeying towards Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened. Justice and sacrifice are signs of the kingdom that we both await and announce. Our response to the signs is not to be a matter of simply passive receiving. We might bow in adoration at the manger, but we must then rise to our feet and journey back to the places assigned to us. We are to pass on to others what has been given us, the hope-filled, justice-demanding, joy-making good news that the promise has been fulfilled.

 

To Ponder:

  • What do you need in order to recognise the signs of God’s presence in the world and in your life?
  • How good are you at resourcing and supporting members of the church to rise up and work in the world?
  • Can you think of one person who needs to hear the good news of hope and justice and can you commit yourself to reaching out to them?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon

The Rev Dr Adrian Burdon is Superintendent Minister of the Shaw & Royton Circuit in the Manchester & Stockport District. Adrian has been a presbyter since 1988 and, in addition to urban Lancashire, has worked on the Fylde Coast, in Leeds City Centre, the North East of England and as a mission partner in the South Pacific. Adrian is Chair of the CTBI Writing group, which writes material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and serves on the liturgical subcommittee of the Methodist Church.

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