The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
In the Book of Isaiah the Prophet, we find the words from God to Ahaz, ‘the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. ‘ As the Angel Gabriel said to Mary, ‘Nothing is impossible for God.’
Let’s join in a word of prayer: O God our Father, source of hope, peace, joy and love – our hearts are hushed by the mystery and wonder of your plans fulfilled in the birth of the Christ Child. Open our hearts to the wisdom of that Saviour who lived among us and showed us your love, so that once again the truth of the incarnation will be born among us. May your name be glorified in our praises, now and evermore. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Amen.
King Ahaz of Judah lived in fear. The kings that surrounded Judah were far less powerful than Assyria, but they appeared powerful enough to join together to overcome Assyria. They wanted Judah to join with them in their quest for power. But Ahaz didn’t trust them to pull it off. So he refused.
The other kings then pooled their resources to attack Judah first. When Ahaz went to Isaiah for guidance from God, he received his answer. Ahaz had nothing to fear from the risky neighbours. As God spoke through Isaiah, ‘Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood’. God spoke about the crushing defeat of these ambitious neighbours. And yet, King Ahaz still lived in fear. But also in the stubbornness of his pride and the weakness of his faith. Ahaz held onto his doubt that God is all powerful!
And yet in his compassion, God was saying to Ahaz, ‘trust me’. When Ahaz waivered so badly, God offered to give him a sign that the Kingdom of Judah would be protected. The reply from Ahaz is so well known. ‘Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”’ And yet, by not asking for a sign that all would be well with Judah, Ahaz was testing God. When God gives each of us an intuition of the right thing to do, like Ahaz, we have a responsibility to trust God and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Sovereign Lord made it clear to Ahaz .. “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’ ” (Is 7:4–9 NIV84)
Christ Jesus will never abandon us, he has promised it. But we can only live in peace and hope, when we are living in the will of the Father. Responding with faith that God puts in our hearts by hearing his word to us, and sharing in his gift to us of the body and blood of his Son.
We test the Lord when we decide to follow our own will, against the intuition that God gives us, and then expect the Lord to save us from consequences and forgive our failures. It is true that God has promised, that by faith in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness, we are free from eternal guilt. But we still face the very human consequences of the world’s rebellion against God.
This is what happened to Ahaz. Because of his fear, he failed God’s test. He lost faith in the Lord Almighty. He aligned himself with Assyria, who defeated the neighbouring kings, and then extracted tribute from Judah in gold and silver, demanding also the worship of the foreign gods of Assyria, in the Kingdom of Judah. Of course their false worship led to the human consequences of Judah being over-run, the temple destroyed and the people taken captive by the Babylonians who later defeated Assyria.
Nothing is impossible for God. But God demands our faith in him and his Son and his Spirit. Faith that eluded Ahaz. Faith that we see demonstrated this morning in a young maiden and her husband to be.
I suspect that Mary and Joseph, in almost every aspect, were a typical young couple. Living with excitement through the year of preparation that would bring them together as man and wife. But I also suspect that one aspect of their lives made all the difference. Their unwavering faith in the God of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. Faith that impressed Mary to declare “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” Faith that called Joseph to wake up, do what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and take Mary home as his wife.
God has blessed us in the way he sees Christ Jesus in each of us. By our baptism, by our faith, by our fellowship. We test God, when we place barriers between us and God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Barriers that prevent God our Father from doing his work in us. Barriers of fear, of doubt, of anxiety. These barriers will keep us from being who we are in Christ Jesus.
When we let the Holy Spirit remove these barriers, we join with Mary and Joseph, giving thanks that we are the Lord’s servants, allowing him to guide us in our lives, doing what the Lord commands us, following the intuition of what to do as disciples of Christ Jesus.
God knows what it is like to be human. Through his son, our Lord Jesus Christ, He was born into humanity, and became one of us. Immanuel, ‘God with us’. God knows what it is like to grow into adulthood. He cared enough to experience everything that makes us who we are.
To God, every person is important. God made us just the way we are, and He loves us just the way He made us. He loved us enough to enter our humanity and make the way for our salvation, and He loves us enough to remain with us until the very end of the age.
He loves us enough to give us purpose and meaning for our lives. It is our time now to show God how much we love him by sharing this love, care and concern for each other. Just as Mary and Joseph showed God how much they loved him by giving birth to God’s Son, and nurturing him to adulthood to fulfil God’s plan for us.
During this season of Advent, we cherish the traditions of lighting candles for the hope, peace, joy and love that Jesus represents. We cherish remembering the first advent when Christ was born in Bethlehem, and of looking forward to the second advent, when Christ will return in glory.
The whole point of Christmas is that God came down to stake his claim on the world he created and on us as children of God through our faith. To give us a sign that he is for us, and not against us. At the time of the first Christmas, Christ Jesus was unwelcome, and some even wanted to destroy him to erase his name from the earth. When we look around today, it doesn’t appear that much has changed.
God the Son, Jesus Christ, loves us all so much He entered humanity to tell us just that, and to show us the reality of his love for us. Because of God’s love, each year, we celebrate the birthday of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Even in the multicultural world with such animosity toward Jesus, it is a joy to celebrate his birth. A birth proclaimed by ancient prophets. A birth announced by angels. A birth through which God blessed just the right parents to give him birth and raise him to manhood.
Yes, God loves us very much, and we are part of God’s grand plan for all things. We ponder the Scriptures that proclaim that plan to each one of us. And we glorify God for the Good News that the Scriptures share with us.
The plan of God for our lives revealed in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Scriptures tell us that God set into place every aspect of the Saviour’s birth, along with his life, death, resurrection, and sovereign divinity. God chose just the right place to be born into humanity, as God the Son. He chose just the right time to pivot history around that birth. He chose just the right mother to bear him, and surrogate father to raise him.
And he revealed his plan to the prophets, the apostles, and now to us. As Paul writes in Romans, ‘I Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God.’