Summary: A sermon for Christmas Eve. The gift of a savior we celebrate at Christmas is that the birth of this baby is a sign that in the midst of all our fears, God is yet at work fulfilling God's promises and making this world a better place.
This past week, I watched little LuLu cautiously approach Santa Claus during the Fairview Christmas meal. Now, LuLu is past that age of squalling uncontrollably when seated on Santa’s lap. But as those of us at the Fellowship Meal observed this week, she is still a little bit uncertain, if not fearful of that big guy with the red suit and fluffy white beard. She refused to sit in his lap and when it was time for her to receive her gift from Santa, she slowly approached him, and with her back almost turned to him, she reached out her little arm as far as she good, grabbed the gift from Santa’s hands, and quickly walked back toward her Mom. She’s not alone, of course, there are countless numbers of kids who are afraid of Santa Claus. We laugh every year at the pictures of cute little children sitting in Santa’s lap, balling their eyes out. And, of course, if it’s not Santa a kid is afraid of, it’s something else. Mary Ellen doesn’t like to go down into our garage by herself. She tell you it’s because it’s too dark and she can’t see, or it’s too cold; she would never admit that she’s afraid, but that’s what it is. Some kids are afraid of the dark, some honestly believe that a monster lives in their closet, and then there are those who are afraid of creepy crawly things.
Of course, we all know that children aren’t the only ones who experience fear. We adults might not be afraid of Santa Claus or the dark, but we certainly have our own fair share of fears. Maybe we are afraid of creepy crawly things, too. Or perhaps it’s more complicated than that. We might be worried about how we will put the next meal on the table, or maybe we are afraid of what kind of world our kids will grow up in. We may fear the outbreak of another World War or the death of a loved one. We might be afraid of the onset of a debilitating disease, or we may just fear failure. Whatever the source of our fear, the truth of the matter is that if we are being honest with ourselves, we all fear something.
Well, it turns out the Israelites in Isaiah’s day had some pretty major fears, too. Assyria had become strong and was systematically over-taking the whole region. By that time, the Jewish nation had already divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and the Northern Kingdom was the first to be conquered by Assyria. In response, the kings in the north joined together with Aram to fight Assyria. As a result, the people of the Southern Kingdom, and their king, Ahaz, were quite literally caught “between a rock and a hard place.” Because the coalition asked and then ultimately demanded that Ahaz and Judah join with them to fight Assyria. But Ahaz refused, and the result was that the northern coalition moved in to attack Jerusalem as well. So now, the Israelites in the Southern Kingdom were threatened not only by the Assyrians, but also by the tribes of the Northern Kingdom!
It is into this crisis that God sent Isaiah with a message to King Ahaz. This is recorded in chapter 7, where Isaiah tells the king to stand firm and not join either the coalition from the north, or the Assyrians. Then, through Isaiah, God tells the king to ask for a sign of assurance that God will keep them safe in the midst of these looming attacks. King Ahaz refused to make that request, but Isaiah went on to declare that God had sent a sign anyway! He pointed to a woman sitting in the room and said that before the baby she was carrying “knows good from evil,” the threat of the north would be no more. And just in case anyone missed that message, God sent the very same sign just a little later, as recorded in chapter eight!
I suppose that it would be safe to assume that if King Ahaz had asked for a sign of assurance from God, he would have been pretty disappointed. In the face of two warring threats, in the midst of nearly immobilizing fear, the birth of a baby seems like no sign at all. Great fear calls for a great and powerful sign. A sign of babies being born seems to fall far short of providing the much-needed reassurance in dark and fearful times. Just think about it within your own circumstances, within the context of your own fears; when you’re worried about how to put the next meal on the table, how can the birth of a baby just wipe away that fear? When you are worried about the onset of nuclear disaster, how can the birth of a baby just wipe that fear away? And sure enough, the people of Jerusalem were still unsure, still afraid. The sign of the baby wasn’t enough, and they began acting out of their fear, refusing to acknowledge God’s promises to them and turning to other gods instead. Isaiah knew that this would bring only more darkness, but it was the path they chose.