Summary: Advent 1987: Ahaz let fear drive him to sacrifice the best that he had and to mire down in "what if". God through Isaiah offered the ultimate sign of hope, His own presence, who drives away our fears.
The birth of a child has many layers of meaning. When a baby is born into a family, there can be all kinds of different feelings, all sorts of different meanings.
For one family, this is indeed a blessed event, filled with joy, running over with excitement, the fulfillment of hopes and dreams and plans, surrounded with booties, blankets and bottles, and accompanied by Dad surreptitiously sneaking off to Toys-R-Us to ogle the electric trains and footballs. All kinds of joy and pleasure.
But for another family this birth may signal only dread and foreboding: the child was not wanted, the child was born out of wedlock, there are already too many mouths to feed, who will take care of him … nothing but hassle. And such a child comes into a world of hostility at worst, resignation at best, and is a sign of burdens and not hope.
Or there is the yuppie family – too busy for this; or the family into which a baby's coming means adjustments hurriedly and reluctantly made. We got a card from friends of ours we had not seen for a long time. We knew they had a couple of children about the ages of ours and assumed that that was the end of that. But the card said, "Announcing our little bungle from heaven" … you did hear me, didn't you? Our little bungle from heaven.
Personally I'm fascinated by what the birth of a new infant can mean in the Third World, in the developing nations where poverty stalks nearly every family and where hunger dooms millions of children to starvation or chronic malnutrition. You might think that for parents in the Third World the coming of yet another child to an already burgeoning household might mean a disaster. But no, we know now that so many of the our western notions about family planning are unacceptable because for many of these folks a new child is the birth of new hope. New hope because the family name will be perpetuated, new hope because there is a greater chance that someone will survive in a place where tens of thousands of children never make it past the first five years of life, new hope because there are to be another pair of hands to work the fields.
I say that the birth of a child has many layers of meaning, and different people see the coming of a baby in a wide variety of ways.
Then maybe it is no surprise to discover that the birth of some babies around the year 733 BC in Jerusalem could be used by God's prophets to convey some very powerful messages. Children, remember, are viewed according to the circumstance in which you live, and their presence, their coming, has all sorts of meanings. God's prophet Isaiah pointed to at least three babies and spoke with power both to Judah and to us through these tiny fragile lives.
Let me set the stage politically for you. The year is 733 BC, and on the throne of Judah is a young king, Ahaz. Not too many years before the great king Uzziah, whom all had trusted and who had kept the nation intact, had died, and a good many folks, Isaiah the prophet among them, were afraid for the future of the little kingdom of Judah.
It was not without reason, too, that Isaiah and his contemporaries feared the future. For one thing, there was the ineptness of the new king, Jotham. Jotham replaced the justice of Uzziah's rule with a reign of terror and chose to lead the people not with the power of solid living but with solid iron.
And the other component that frightened the people of Judah was the presence of Assyria and the mean-spirited plotting of king with king, nation with nation, all across the region. Even Judah's traditional blood brothers, the nation of Israel to the north, were plotting along with Syria to overthrow the rule of Assyria. And while that might sound good on the surface, everybody knew that Judah would get caught in the mess.
Sure enough, just about the time the young man Ahaz succeeded to the throne of Judah, the Syrians and the Israelites marched into Judah to force Ahaz out and gain Judah's support for their rebellion against Assyria.
What was Ahaz to do? He could fight the invaders; or he could accept defeat and humiliation; or he could appeal to the mighty Assyrian empire to rescue him. What could he do? But here at his elbow is the prophet Isaiah, whose message is a very, very simple one. "Trust in God; keep calm, be quiet, do nothing". We would say, and Ahaz no doubt said, well, that's too simple. That's foolish. God helps those who help themselves, you know. But still Isaiah, "Trust in God; keep calm, be quiet, do nothing."