In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Three In One who is Emmanuel.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Lord spoke to Ahaz – “Ask a sign of the Lord your God, let it be as deep as Sheol or as high as the heavens.”
It sounds like something that we would probably be suspect of, and probably rightfully so. “So what’s it going to be today?” asks the salesperson as you’re frantically trying to get your Christmas shopping done, “just tell me whatever you want and I’ll get it for you.”
Our eyes narrow, our body language turns inward and we shy away, trying to avert the advances of the sales person talking to us.
Really, the only person that we might take such a request from would be a Genie in a lamp, or maybe Santa Claus.
When God asks Ahaz this question, it is as if He is trying to prove His identity to Ahaz. It is almost as if you can hear God saying, “go ahead, ask me. I dare you, ask me. Any sign, I’ll do it. You just watch.”
In the classic Christmas movie from 1947, “A Miracle on 34th St.,” a young and skeptical girl named Susan goes up to Santa in the middle of Macy’s department store, which this year is not being manned by a fake Santa, but the real Kris Kringle.
The little girl goes up to Santa and he says, “Well hello there, and what is your name?” Smart little Susan says, “Susan Walker, what’s yours?” Chuckling a little, Santa says, “Well Kris Kringle, I’m Santa Claus….oh…you don’t believe that do you?” Susan responds, “No, you see my mother is Mrs. Walker, the lady who hired you…but I must say you’re the best looking one I’ve ever seen. Your beard doesn’t have one of those things that goes around your ears.” Kris replies, “Well that’s because it’s real, just like I’m really Santa Claus…oh, go ahead, pull it.” And she pulls on his beard. “And now,” says Santa, “What would you like me to bring you for Christmas?”
“Nothing thank you,” is the reply.
“Oh come now, you must want something.”
“Whatever I want my mother will get me, if it’s sensible and doesn’t cost too much.”
Is that where you are this Christmas season? Have you come all this way to the door of the stable just to say, “Nothing thank you,” or “Just looking…”?
Scholars disagree about the reason that Ahaz did not take God up on His offer to ask for something “as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.”
Some say that Ahaz simply doesn’t believe in the promises of God. He simply held on to the worship of God for purposes of ritual and culture. This weekend many people will walk into churches all over the country not because of the promises of God, but because of ritual and culture.
Some say that Ahaz was agnostic about God – it wasn’t that he believed God wasn’t real, but that he wasn’t convinced. He held out hope – but at the end of the day shied away because he couldn’t believe it was real.
But the most poignant tragic possibility is that Ahaz was simply being too modest and too shy with God.
It’s almost as if, in our human understanding, that we can understand the person who does not believe. We can almost understand the person who is agnostic and isn’t convinced.
But the sin that plagues most of the people in this room who are not filled with unbelief and are not agnostic, is an over abundance of modesty. When God comes to us and says, “What can I bring you for Christmas?” We politely say, “Nothing, thank you,” and somehow believe that we will get everything we want as long as “it is sensible and doesn’t cost too much.”
The last written words of Martin Luther were, “It is true, we are beggars all.” If you spend any time at all with beggars, you realize that one thing they are not plagued with is modesty. They simply cannot afford to be modest.
On a trip to Denver, my family and I witnessed a panhandler across the street from where we were having dinner. He was playing a guitar, singing, and wearing a half-mask that made his appearance look like a mouse. We watched our half-man, half-mouse sing all through dinner and sure enough, just about everyone that walked by saw him and put a little bit of money in his pot.
The one thing that he knew he couldn’t be was modest. If he was modest – he wouldn’t even make it as a beggar.
Like Ahaz though, we can’t even make it as beggars. We put our modesty, which is really disguised self-importance, ahead of our beggarness.
Yet to that end God does not leave us. He says “Behold! The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Emmanuel!”
This Son will shake the world at its core. This Son will shake our modesty to bits. This Son will be more meaningful than anything we could have asked for.
This Son will be the very presence of God amongst His people. This Son will die on a cross and rise again and forgive sins. This Son will be a sign to us and will institute signs that are not mere symbols, but are reality – God’s real name given in water, and God’s real Body and Blood given in bread and wine. This Son will be named Emmanuel, God with us.
And this Son will burn away your modesty with God. This Son will show you how brash and bold God wants to be with you. This Son will fill you with the request, “What sign will you ask of me, be it as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven,” and you will find it to be the most exciting and pregnant question of your life.
This Son will show you how real it is because He is Emmanuel.