When you attend the local Christmas pageant this year, I doubt King Ahaz will make the cast of familiar characters. But for today we will begin our story with this leader from the pages of Isaiah.
King Ahaz finds himself between a rock and a hard place, as two neighboring countries want to oust him from leadership and invade the southern kingdom of Judah. He’s frightened. Isaiah tells him to ‘stand firm in faith.’ But he continues to cower. Next God steps in giving the king a sign of assurance that he’ll survive this looming threat.
So Isaiah tells King Ahaz: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel…For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”
According to the story there’s a pregnant woman who’s ready to give birth, from the sound of things the baby could even be crowning. The naming of her son, Emmanuel, will be a sign that God is at work in the present situation. And before the child can grow to tell right from wrong, so before he’s two years old, this entire conflict with the hostile kings will be over. God gives the sign to incubate faith in King Ahaz as he waits out the military menace poised on his borders.
Emmanuel means ‘God is with us.’ And when this name’s given to the baby – it is both sign and stop watch. It’s the sign that God’s present in the current circumstance, as the name indicates. But it’s also a stopwatch – because before this child reaches the terrible twos, the border conflict will be over. King Ahaz had to decide what to choose in light of Emmanuel – faith or fear.
Emmanuel, God is with us.
A sign and stopwatch,
A call to faith over fear amid imminent threat.
Hundreds of years later Matthew writes down the good news of Jesus…
Photo Credit: Ron Doke, creative commons