Isaiah 7:10-16:  God with us

Background information:  This week’s OT reading is pre-exilic (and before King Hezekiah).  Ahaz is still in the throne room drumming the war drums and set on making alliances despite Isaiah’s words and God’s hand at work right in front of him.  The text is unique (in comparison to other Advent texts) in that Ahaz and the prophet have a direct interaction.  The scripture passage opens with Ahaz responding to God by refusing to ask for a sign.  This is false piety.  The history of Ahaz tells us that he clearly thinks he has this one wrapped up and doesn’t need God.  By refusing the ask, Ahaz dismisses God.  This seems foolish considering what just happened prior to our text for this week (Isaiah 7:10-16).

In Isaiah 7:1-9, God has given a much needed word (vs 7b).  Ahaz fears (Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son is Samaria and Damascus in vs. 5) will take Judah by military force.  God sends comforting words through Isaiah that this will not happen and gives directions to the place where Isaiah is to meet Ahaz and deliver the news.  If only Ahaz had the faith of Abraham who responded to the command to go.  Isaiah nearly makes this same point in vs. 9:  “If you do not stand in faith, you will not stand at all.”  What Isaiah foretold comes to pass, Samaria and Damascus do not go to war with Judah.  Not that time, but war drums still beat nonetheless.

Our text this week is another encounter between God, Ahaz and Isaiah.  This time the topic is different competition (Syria and Ephraim/Israel) but what remains constant is Ahaz’s fear and lack of faith.  Unwilling to trust in God’s protection, Ahaz makes an alliance with Assyria.  But this is equivalent to asking the biggest bully for protection.  Eventually, you get squashed.

In response to Ahaz’s stubbornness, heaven cannot stand still.  Patience has ran out. An exasperated Isaiah blurs out a prophecy that fast forwards beyond Ahaz’s immediate needs and his understanding.  In contrast to strategies, alliances and weapons, God turns our attention to the weak and vulnerable:  a young girl and a new born.  Through this vision God is with us (Emmanuel).

 Thinking about the text

 Since Ahaz is directly mentioned in the text, why not make use of him?  We all have an inner Ahaz, unwilling to trust in God’s providence and direction.  (Once again we are internalizing the characters at play in this text.)  Among the congregation inner “Ahaz” lurks and wreaks havoc on relationships.  Here are a few examples:  some in the pew may feel that they cannot ask for what they need of others until they build up enough good will, a form of military strategy?  “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” sounds like the give and take relationship where each party is more interested in survival instead of thriving.  Jesus calls us to love one another as we love ourselves.  The inner “Ahaz” tells us to earn the love of others and refuse to freely request was we need…just like the historical Ahaz refused to ask of God.

In relationships, the inner Ahaz is constantly keeping score, connections, paychecks and/or possessions.  We fear those who we think may be smarter, richer, better connected than ourselves, assuming we will be rejected.  We forget that the redeeming work of Christ is what makes us worthy.  Instead of opening ourselves up to new relationships, full of potential, the inner Ahaz shuts down all hope.  We waste our time keeping score with accomplishments, forcing us to only surround ourselves with those whom we think we are better than.

Hope of the inner “Ahaz” is to limit ourselves with our own resume (we hope in what we have done).  We block the possibilities that may transcend our efforts.  We have no faith that God will work within new relationships or possibilities.  Without faith we will not stand.  If our faith needs proof, it stands before us today – Emmanuel; God with us.  What God dreamed of so long ago came to be.  Because God brought to fruition the words sent to Isaiah long ago, we rest assured that God will bring to fruition a great work in us.  What a contrast is it with Ahaz’s plans for war and what a contrast it is with our constant need to scrape and claw and earn love, respect and attention from those around us….and God.

According to IFS Theory, there are four internal “parts”:  Self, manager, firefighter and exile.  Which one is Ahaz?  It’s up to you!  The main thing to remember when using IRS Theory as a preaching paradigm is not to admonish harshly or condemn any parts.  We offer an alternative route for our inner “Ahaz”.  The pace goes from an exhausting work (war) to a calm, unique moment when a mother and newborn first meet.  This is the peace that Jesus brings (Matthew 11:28-30).  Jesus offers rest to our manager and firefighter by pointing to his birth.  God chose to come as a weak, vulnerable baby.  God chose to come as a weak, vulnerable baby.  This is a sign to our inner voices that God values weakness and vulnerability.  We do not need to “earn” or “fight for” our place at God’s table.  Our place has been set long ago.