Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 22, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Isaiah 7:10-17
Sermon Theme: “Here’s a Sign for You”
(Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; Wally Becker, Concordia Journal, Fall 2013, Vol. 39, No. 4; original ideas; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; Merriam-Webster Collegiate Encyclopedia; online Daily News)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ
The world is full of signs, isn’t it? We ring a big bronze bell as a sign that our worship service is beginning. Some folks believe that a full moon is a sign that the fishing is good. The interpretation of signs differs according to the kind of person you are, — if you’re an optimist, you look at the clouds in the sky and think that it’s partly sunny. Pessimists look at those same clouds, and say it’s partly cloudy. Realists never look up because they know that there are birds flying overhead.
In recent years, modern churches have gone to putting up huge, colorful signs with flashing lights in front of their church to grab people’s attention. Not too long ago, one of those flashing-light signs said, “If you’re looking for a sign from God, this is it!” At best, that makes us chuckle!
It seems to me that there are a lot more examples in Holy Scripture of God trying to get the attention of human beings than there are of human beings trying to get God’s attention. With regard to human beings in the Old Testament, both leaders and the general public, there were a lot of folks with ADHD when it came to remembering God’s promises and obeying His commandments. I don’t think we’re any better today, do you?
According to our sermon text, the Lord, through the Prophet Isaiah, told Ahaz, the King, that he should ask God for a sign, but Ahaz, as phony as a nine dollar bill, said he didn’t want to put the Lord to the test. The truth is Ahaz didn’t believe in God and wasn’t interested in God’s truth. Well, the Lord gave him a sign anyway.
The sign was: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The New Testament and all of Christian tradition interpret the fulfillment of that prophetic sign as the birth of Jesus eight centuries later. It’s obvious that Ahaz never lived to see the Lord keep His promise, but this does not invalidate the promise. It simply means that it was left for other people in future generations to become witnesses to the Lord’s acting to deliver the goods.
Before we go any further, I need to remind you that Ahaz was one of the most wicked and most perverse kings who ever ruled Judah. He even sacrificed his own son to a pagan god. Still, the Lord wanted Ahaz to change his heart and acknowledge that God is real and God is truth. You see, as evil as King Ahaz was, the Lord loved him and wanted him to believe, just as God loves us and wants us as His own in spite of our sinful attitudes and behaviors.
Ahaz was a tough nut to crack. He was the 11th king of Judah, son and successor of Jotham and reigned from approximately 735 to 719 B.C. Isaiah was the prince of the prophets, pure, upright, faithful, loyal, courageous, and godly, and one of the great challenges of his ministry was this perverse king. One repeated theme in Isaiah’s preachings and writings is the moral deterioration of the people under Ahaz.
We are very close to Christmas, just days away, when we celebrate the fulfillment of that sign: “a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Like the people in Isaiah’s time, we are surrounded by problems and hostilities; you and I live in a world overshadowed by superpowers and super-viruses, terrorism and trauma. Yet, I am afraid that many of us are more like Ahaz than Isaiah.
People today think a lot like Ahaz, — “I have already made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts.” You see, Ahaz, who is King of Judah, is afraid that the king of Israel and the king of Syria (a country that is still a hotbed of hostility with the Jews today) will unite and destroy Judah. Yet God, speaking through the Prophet Isaiah says “this ain’t gonna happen!” Judah will not be destroyed by Israel and Syria. Look for a sign, and you will see.
Instead of trusting in God for aid and deliverance, Ahaz decides to seek help by making an alliance with Assyria (the country known today as Iraq) to the north of Judah. Ahaz, whose piety is fake, has no faith in God’s promises. Like Ahaz, many people today are blinded by a world view that is contrary to the scriptural view.
What about you? Do you find yourself trusting in your own strength or the strength of your own alliances rather than trusting in the Lord? You know, we 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. How many of us panicked when our 401k’s imploded several years ago? How many of us aren’t muttering about how little interest our savings accounts are paying right now; you might as well have your money in a checking account! Or hidden under your mattress.
We trust our military strength and power of might to secure our own peace and the peace of our allies, but realize that there is so much war and violence, not just in other parts of our world, but right here in the streets and neighborhoods of America, with random killings at our malls and in our public schools. The President of the United States attends a memorial funeral service in South Africa, and a phony sign interpreter with a criminal record of rape, murder, and kidnapping (according to news reports), is allowed to stand within two feet of the leader of the most powerful country in the world.
Iraq and Syria are just as unpredictable today as they were in the time of Ahaz. And just as Ahaz never lived long enough to see God’s promises fulfilled, we, too, may not experience that hoped-for dream come true this year, or this century, or even at all. But that doesn’t mean that our hopes and God’s promises are just a bunch of empty pipe dreams.
God 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.
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 rock, no other salvation.
And as Rev. Wally Becker says with such eloquence, “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. He is with us in the good times and the bad, but we really need to know that he is with us in the bad times. He is with us when the bottom falls out and we are falling into despair or brokenness. He is with us through the tragedies of life, and through the valley of the shadow of death. He will take us through death to share the glory of heaven with Him. Trusting in Him and His promises, we are truly secure in this life and in the life to come.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.