Isaiah 7_10-16 The way it is
There are some things that naturally just go together. Like horse and cart. Like bricks and mortar. Like paper and pencil. Like man and woman. They work together, they belong together and together they create something greater. Then there are things that don’t quite work together. Like cats and dogs. Like fine wine and Maccas. Like Australia (England) and cricket. They don’t make sense together and don’t create something great when joined.
When in a tight situation, or even a desperate one, we want things to come together; we want things to join so that something great can come of it. King Ahaz of Judah found himself in a desperate situation, when the city of Jerusalem was surrounded and besieged by a foreign army. He wanted something to come together that created something great; like an alliance with another country. It made sense to join two different armies to one great army to defend Jerusalem.
When he and all of Judah and Jerusalem had heard the attacking Syrian army had already done this, making an alliance with Ehpram, the Northern kingdom known as Israel, it is reported that king Ahaz and all the people shook like trees in a forest during a storm; as naturally you would when members of your own family are plotting against you. King Ahaz wanted to defend Jerusalem by doing the same. To strengthen his position, he would have to join with an old enemy Assyria. The alliance would have made sense, they belong together as natural as lightening belongs with thunder to create shock and awe.
Plans, similar to Ahaz’s go on all the time in our lives don’t they. In order to escape out of a difficult situation, or to better our position, we make natural alliances with other people we think suit our needs. Or we join with electronics, with money, with power, with anything we think belongs together to better our cause. The nobler the cause, the more tempting it is to make an alliance. Who could criticise us for acting shrewdly if our intentions are good? Who could judge our alliances as wrong, if our cause is to better the world; or who could consider we were acting contrary to the God’s will, if we are certain our plans and alliances are purely to make great the mission of God?
Perhaps Ahaz thought this very thing when planning to join together with Assyria, a long term enemy of Jerusalem, to destroy the other branch of Israelites. Who could criticise him for wanting to protect God’s own people; who could judge his alliance as wrong in such circumstances and for such a noble cause. He was only doing all he could to keep the promised seed and kingdom of David alive; the promise foretold to David by the prophet Nathan, found in 2 Samuel 7 “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he will be my son…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”
When it looks to us as if we are about to lose something precious, we need to be careful about making alliances, and working with what we think should come together for our cause, as the cause itself can become an idol; something we must do, even at great cost. As you know, an idol demands a sacrifice, and we can sometimes be so blinded by our noble cause, we don’t actually see what is being sacrificed. The Prophet Isaiah came to King Ahaz right at this very time, right when he was planning his own rescue package for the line of David at all cost. Isaiah comes to Ahaz to tell him not to form an alliance with their old enemy Assyria. That the Lord himself would fight for him; that the Lord has a greater plan already in motion to continue to kingdom promised to David.
The Lord had already made an alliance and it was to be through this coming together that the shoot of Jesse, the seed of King David would come and not through any human alliances or plans. The Lord even attached a sign to show Ahaz that his deal was fair dinkum; that he planned beyond the immediate saying “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” God himself had chosen to join with humanity, to become one with them, to be born to them as a child of a virgin. And the child born will be called the son of God, Immanuel: God with us. In this unlikely alliance, through this impossible union, a saviour will be born and he will be Christ the King. And the kingdom of David will be upon his shoulders. He will rule his kingdom in grace and truth.
A virgin giving birth to a son will be the sign of God’s covenant with Israel; that he himself will be their king and will be their God and live with them. With that sort of impossible alliance, and with that sort of sign, that a virgin can give birth, but even more impossible, that God himself will be the son, only faith can grasp such a promise. Only faith that lets go of reason can trust God could do such a thing. Apart from faith, we can only go on relying on our own alliances, as King Ahaz ultimately did, only to destroy himself and most of the kingdom. Yet this is how God chose to bring in the reign of his kingdom; through a virgin, through a son and finally through a cross on which the son of man was crucified for the sins of the world.
If Ahaz’s alliance could have worked to protect the seed of David and make great God’s kingdom, the Lord would not have had to send his son, born of a virgin. If the kings of Israel could deliver from evil, then Jesus would not have to be born a servant king. If the good deeds and religious acts of the Pharisees could have atoned for sin, then there would have been no need for the son of God to die on the cross. No human alliances, no amount of coming together could ever be enough to overcome and defeat our enemy of sin, death and the devil. Only the son of God, born of a virgin, and named Immanuel, could achieve and deliver such a victory. The son to be born to the virgin will be named Jesus; he will save people from their sins.
Luther writes in his commentary on John the Baptist “No matter who a man may be or how prominent he may be, all count for nothing. Something higher than, and different from, man is necessary, even though he be king, patriarch, or prophet…even if I wear a leather girdle and camel’s hide, eat locusts, and dwell along the water, I am not purified there by. Christ alone does this.” (LW 22;434; 440) Our alliances and efforts to better ourselves, or the world, or to further our cause for the gospel, not matter how noble, are futile if the true alliance, between us and Christ Jesus are not glorified; if all we do and say does not point to Christ.
Advent is a time for us to remember the sign of the promise of God that “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” In this unlikely union between God and man, Jesus the Christ was born for all. And in this alliance, God fulfilled the promises of old, that he himself would be our king and delivers us his people into victory, as St Paul writes in 1 Cor 15 “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Advent is a time to relook at the promise given by God at your baptism, “whoever believes and is baptised will be saved’; to trust in the promises held out in Holy Communion, “my body and blood given and shed for you”; and given also through the absolution “your sins are forgiven”.
The son born of a virgin was born for you; to be your God; to be your salvation. Some things just belong together. The word and promises of God are our only alliance in which we trust, and Jesus is our only king. To him be the glory forever and ever Amen