O Come O Come Emmanuel
Last Sunday we mentioned the Holy Way, In this, the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, we will delve more into what is meant by the Holy Way. We could not have a better illustration of what it doesn’t mean than King Ahaz of Judah. Reading from Isaiah:
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” (Isaiah 7:10-16)
Ahaz was the twelfth king of Judah. Immediately upon his accession, he had to meet a coalition formed by northern Israel, under Pekah, and Damascus (Syria), under Rezin. These two kings are the ones that Isaiah said Ahaz was in dread. They wished to compel him to join them in opposing the Assyrians, who were arming a force against the Northern Kingdom.
Speaking through Isaiah, God told had Ahaz that the two kings were plotting against him, but that said he would protect Ahaz if he stood strong in faith. God knew that Ahaz’s faith was weak, so he offered him a sign. Ahaz waved him off.
Why did Ahaz do that? I don’t really know, but I do know why I have done that in the past. I wanted to do something on my own. I wanted to get credit for solving the problem. I wanted to keep things under my control because I was not sure God would do what I wanted. How about you?
Through Assyria’s intervention, and as a result of its invasion and subjection of the kingdom of Damascus and the Kingdom of Israel, Ahaz was relieved of his troublesome neighbors; but he felt beholden to Assyria. He brought into the temple of Jerusalem the worship of the foreign god Moloch. This so called “god” of Assyria required the sacrifice of Ahaz’s son by fire. Fortunately, God protected his son.
Though Ahaz refused him, God did give Ahaz a sign. His sign moved well beyond Ahaz. The Gospel of Matthew lists Ahaz of Judah in the genealogy of Jesus. The sign of the virgin’s birth was revealed to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Reading from today’s Gospel:
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:18-23)
Joseph, unlike Ahaz, responded to God’s message with great faith:
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-26)
God was going to do something that had never been done before and that no human being could ever do. All he asked Joseph to do was simply believe and accept the prophecy.
This is how God works. He will call us to do things that we cannot do, but we must believe that he can. Often times, to help our belief, he will give us a sign. This happened to the Apostle Paul in a rather drastic way. As you remember, Paul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. Jesus struck him down with blindness while Paul was enroute. In this case, the sign of blindness left Paul little room to ignore. He was captured for ministry to the Gentiles. Paul had to accept a total revamping of his theology and undergo years of training.
Is God calling us for ministry? This is what Paul wrote to the Church at Rome:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, (Romans 1:1-6)
Paul is writing about the power according to the spirit of holiness. This is the Holy Way of the New Covenant. God offers the New Covenant relationship with everyone who will believe in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He asks us to believe and Jesus asks us to join him along the path of the Holy Way. Jesus is on that path. He is that path. The path leads to righteousness, peace, and joy. We simply have to embrace what he has destined for us.
We are asked to go on an exciting journey to which nothing in this world can compare. We are not being asked to gain credit for salvation. Salvation is a gift. The Holy Way is an extension of salvation. It is the promise of salvation. It is the path of salvation. Yes, it is a test for some of us. Do we love the things of this world more than the gifts of God?
Do we want to control our own destiny? Apparently, Ahaz did. His plans lead him away from God. He set up idols and images of foreign gods and committed abominations by worshipping these gods (2 Chron. 28:2-3). He even worshipped the god Molech by offering his children. In Leviticus 20:1-5, God pronounced the death sentence against all who worshipped this god.
Ahaz died at the age of 36 and was succeeded by his son, Hezekiah. Because of his wickedness he was “not brought into the sepulchre of the kings” (2 Chronicles 28:27)
God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are greater than our thoughts. The path he gives us is an everlasting path, one that leads to eternal life in the new heavens and new earth. The Season of Advent reminds us that our hearts are being prepared for the coming of the Christ Child. We are also being prepared for the second coming of Jesus, when God moves his heaven to earth. We do not want to miss that.
If our faith is weak, then God will give us a sign. Are we willing to ask him for one?