Advent 4A

Text: Isaiah 7:10-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament which was read earlier.

We are big on signs. They tell us important information. They tell us where to go or where not to go. They tell us what to do or what not to do. We like signs. And what better place to have a sign than from God, a big flashy, neon sign, telling us whether or not I should choose A or B, to do this or do that. All would be well with the world if God would just give us some sort of sign. And believe it or not, God does give us a sign, one we would do well not to miss.

As we hear from our text for today, the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Here, God is speaking to Ahaz. Faced with the silent rejection of Ahaz, God did not remain silent. Through His prophet, the Lord offered the king one more opportunity to repent and trust in Him. God commanded Ahaz to ask for anything; He invited the king to ask for a sign, a miracle. The king could prove the reliability of God’s Word by requesting anything at all.

This is a very decisive moment for Ahaz. Ahaz remained in unbelief and said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Clearly, Ahaz had no regard for the Lord, His prophet, or for the promises of protection that God would grant. This would not go well for Ahaz. When God offered such a sign, it was an insult to refuse. Worse than an insult, it was arrogant for this king of Judah to tell the Lord that he did not need or want God’s promises. This act of unbelief of Ahaz and ultimately, throughout the land of Judah, could have only one outcome – the judgment of the Lord.

By the time Isaiah is recorded, God’s people had seen their fair share of belief and unbelief towards God. God’s people had seen their fair share of times of prosper and plenty and of need and lacking. God’s people had seen their fair share of blessings and cursing from God. God had graciously promised deliverance to Ahaz and his people from the threat of the two northern kings. The deliverance would come; God would not void this or any of His promises. And even with God’s promises of deliverance, Ahaz responded negatively to the Lord’s gracious offer of a miracle. God was going to give Ahaz a sign, whether he wanted it or not: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

That’s the kind of sign we want to hear, right? That’s the sign of God keeping His promise to Adam and Eve. Ahaz should be rejoicing; we should be rejoicing. But Ahaz isn’t really rejoicing. And sadly, we’re not rejoicing either. We’re left wondering what kind of sign this will be for us. Unfortunately for Ahaz, this was bad news because he didn’t believe God and worse trouble would befall him. The sign of Immanuel was a sign of judgment for him because he saw the sign as an inconvenience. Ultimately, what a sign means depends on how you see it.

Ahaz failed to see Isaiah’s prophecy as a good sign. What should have been a good sign turned out to be one of inconvenience and annoyance. The true meaning of the sign was lost, at least for Ahaz. Fast forward to two of the most insignificant people you could find and this sign of Immanuel was good news, great news, for Joseph and Mary. They lived in a time of fear and doubt. They lived in an occupied country, a people oppressed by Roman rule. But while this was good news, times were still uncertain for both of them. Mary was pregnant but not yet married, only engaged. Joseph assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him. Joseph was considering divorce, breaking off the engagement. But God had different plans.

God brought the prophecy of old to fruition in Jesus. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This was as much for Mary as it was for every person in creation. Mary was going to be the mother of God. This child that was conceived in her would be as much for her salvation as it would be for anyone. To conceive a child was nothing, but to bear the Son of God was indeed something, something that would turn all of creation upside-down.

God’s promise, made hundreds of years ago was now coming to fruition. The promise of a Savior, one who would undo the damages of sin, was soon to make His grand entrance, but it wouldn’t be grand. He would be born to lowly parents, in a barn, surrounded by animals. But none of that mattered. What mattered was the promise was being fulfilled. What mattered was this Child would be Immanuel, God with us. He would be God with us as He became one of us, lived among us, ultimately to die, not just among us but for us. For Joseph and Mary, the sign of Immanuel was a gift of forgiveness and promise, because what the sign means depends on how you see it.

What does the sign of Immanuel mean for you? We live in a time of fear and doubt. Our lives are full of uncertainty. Wars, famine, economic woes, lost jobs. Many people have anxiety and fear, because they cling to false gods and idols of this world instead of fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. But more than that, there is an even greater problem. Despite all of the world problems, our greatest problem is sin, the reason God gives us the sign of Immanuel.

Jesus is God in human flesh, Immanuel, “God with us.” And by coming in the flesh, God took our fears, our conflicts, our sins on Himself. Then that flesh, God with us in the flesh, was killed to take them all away. Still, Jesus is present with us. He is present with us in His Word and Sacraments. He is present with the forgiveness He brings to us. The sign of Immanuel is good news, great news for us. What the sign means depends on how you see it. For you, the message of Immanuel brings you great joy, as it did for Joseph and Mary. God is with you, with His forgiveness and His mercy. Rejoice, for God’s promise has been fulfilled for you. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.