And (the Lord) said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
You just read three short passages of what Isaiah the prophet wrote down by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I read them (and others), I got to wondering: Why did Isaiah get to write so many great things about the Messiah/Christ who was to be born one day?
Could the other prophets have been just a little jealous of God’s choice of Isaiah to pen those incredibly majestic and far-reaching words? We don’t know and we never will.
Of course, Isaiah lived in a world vastly different from our own in so many ways. But was human nature different?
No, indeed not. Some things truly never change. Let’s talk about his world for a brief moment. He lived some 700 years before Jesus was born. He did his work as prophet during the reigns of four kings of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel (Israel had split up a few centuries before this — 10 tribes in the North, and two in the South).
The four kings under whom Isaiah served were Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Of these, Ahaz was particularly evil — he was overboard wicked.
Did God give Isaiah these astonishing words because he had to put up with a blighter like Ahaz?
As before, we’ll never know. But there’s a point here: When God deals with pure evil, he does condemn it but he always offers his forgiveness and pardon.
That was certainly the case in Isaiah 7. Ahaz and his kingdom were under military siege, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. But God not only promises deliverance from the armies about to overrun his city, Jerusalem, he pledges to do it with a miraculous sign.
Ah, now here we have an issue. The blessed virgin Mary lived and conceived Jesus, our Lord Immanuel, 700 years on down the road, right?
How, then, could this be a sign for Ahaz? Maybe it wouldn’t be good enough for you, but isn’t the promise given from God himself as good as the fulfillment of the Promise?
Yes, it is. And the miraculous nature of this event was not only that a virgin would conceive a child but that his name would be Immanuel, which means “God-with-us.”
God himself will live with his people. Note again that this promise is given to one of the most dreadful kings of any nation, not just of Judah.
How does our Lord do that? How and why does he extend his mercy to those who make cottage industries out of rejecting him? He does it to show how merciful and compassionate he is.
He does condemn sin in no uncertain terms; he does demand unconditional repentance. Yet, he also offers complete forgiveness and remission.
In these final days before Christmas (and in the 12 days of that feast), remember that knowing this truth is like having brilliant light shine upon us. So the Lord promises in the passage above, Isaiah 9:2.
Not only that, but that tender shoot from the stump of Jesse (King David’s father) in Isaiah 11:1 is the baby Jesus who grew into the righteous branch that gave his life for all people. That means that he gave himself for you. You didn’t ask him to do that? I didn’t ask him to do it for me, either. Neither did Ahaz. But he did it anyway. His compassion for you moved him to do it. And now he kindly calls you to come and follow him.
May a most blessed Advent, a very happy Christmas and a right joyous Epiphany be yours.
The Rev. BERNARD J. SCHEY is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Copperas Cove.