“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isa 7:10-14 (NIV)
Loneliness. Hopelessness. Things we don’t talk much about at Christmas. But they are a daily reality for many people even during the Christmas season and for all of us at one point or another. There comes that moment when it seems impossible to go on. The news we just got was not what we expected. The medical test came back positive. The relationship is irrevocably gone. Whatever the reason, we are left with…nothing.
Nothing except fear. Fear of how to handle the situation. Fear of our own massive inadequacy to do so. And that terrible aching sense of being utterly alone in a landscape that from horizon to horizon appears to not have a living soul in it who understands or can help.
King Ahaz faced this fear in Isaiah 7. He had done everything he could think of – and a bunch of stuff he shouldn’t have – to avert disaster when his enemies’ armies attacked his city and nation. He was terrified.
But God sent the prophet Isaiah to him and said, “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart…If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:4,9 NIV) Then he gave Ahaz a sign – a virgin would conceive and have a child called Immanuel, which in Hebrew means “God with us.”
We talk about God being with us all the time. “I really felt God with me.” “I’m sure God will be with you.” In the Middle East “God be with you” is a common phrase used throughout the day in a variety of situations.
But do we really believe God is with us? Most of the time we act as if we’re in this thing on our own. We might send up a quick prayer in a tough situation, but mostly we plan and act and think as if it’s all on us.
That’s our problem really – at least it’s mine – thinking that I need to handle this on my own. I need to come up with a solution, figure it out, do another online search. It’s up to me.
My mother used to say that to me when I was little. “It’s up to you. No one else will ever do anything for you.” She had a hard life and was a bitter woman by the time I came. “It’s all up to you” was the philosophy she lived by.
Thing is, it doesn’t work. When she was in the last decade of her life other people did nearly everything for her. She was incapable of doing all but the most basic things for herself – and not many of those.
I was far less confident and competent than my mom so I figured out earlier that I couldn’t do it on my own. One night when my whole world seemed about to come apart at the seams I finally told God, “I give up. I can’t do this. You take over. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I’ll go wherever you want me to go. I’ll be whatever you want me to be.”
Doggone if he didn’t take me up on that.
Which was very good news for me.
That’s the point Matthew is making in Matthew 1:23 when he says that Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus upcoming birth is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14, NIV)
God with us. That’s what Jesus was – and is. God with us. Not out there somewhere but here. Not back then but now. Not when we get our lives cleaned up and straightened out and organized but right in the middle of our mess and hurt and stupidity.
God with us.
God come to earth to wade through the muck of our world and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
So when you look at that nativity scene this Christmas and you see that little plastic baby lying in toy manger, remind yourself that the God who formed not only our sun but the molecules in your body, the God who is worshipped by every being in heaven every minute of every day, left it all – for you.
He stuffed his enormity into a human body, suffered the indignity of having his diapers changed when he was a baby and of being called a hypocrite when he was an adult. He sacrificed every right he had, every honor he deserved to come to this planet and to die – instead of us.
That cherub checked little tyke with the halo on your Christmas cards had a death sentence already hanging over him – and he knew it.
He chose it.
Because he was on a rescue mission.
He was with you.
He still is.
Read Philippians 2:6-8. How does this impact what you think about Jesus when you seem him portrayed in a nativity scene?
Read 1 Timothy 1:15-17. How does Jesus coming to earth on a mission to rescue you impact how you think about his birth at Christmas?