The Wonderful Child Of Hope

Read Isaiah 7:10-12, 14; 9:2-7 – In a Peanuts comic strip, we see Lucy seated under her sign that reads, “Psychiatrist – Advice: 5 cents.”  Charlie Brown comes to Lucy, nickel in hand, and says, “Lucy, I need help.”  Lucy responds, “What can I do for you, Charlie Brown?”

“I’m confused.  I can’t seem to find a direction, a purpose for my life,” replies Charlie.

 Lucy answers, “Oh, don’t worry, Charlie.  It’s like being on a big ocean liner making its way through the sea.  Some folks put their deck chairs to face the bow of the ship, and others place their chairs to face the side of the ship or the back of the ship.  Which way do you face, Charlie?”

Charlie Brown looks despondent, and finally says, “I can’t even unfold the deck chair.”

We all feel that way on occasion, don’t we?  Life often appears hopeless, devoid of any possibilities.  We suffer from what Dr. Carl Jung called “a neurosis of emptiness.”  He said, “When goal goes, meaning goes; when meaning goes, purpose goes; when purpose goes, life goes dead on our hands.”

In the scripture reading recommended for today, we are reminded that no matter how hopeless things may appear, all hope is never lost because our Triune God is always involved in the world.  The implication of this truth is that our lives can be lived with vibrancy, meaning, and purpose.

The setting

 Ahaz was the king of Judah.  Unlike his predecessors, Uzziah and Jotham, Ahaz “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (II  Chron. 28:1).  Ahaz began to adopt some of the religious rituals of his pagan neighbors, including human sacrifice.  God was not pleased with this turn of events. 

Things were not going well for the king on the political front.  After coming to power, he chose to continue Judah’s policy of appeasing Assyria, rather than entering into a coalition with Israel and Syria against Assyria.  This so angered the kings of Israel and Syria (Pekah and Rezin) that they sent invading armies to overthrow the monarchy and establish a new king in Judah.  In fearful response to this threat, Ahaz contemplated forming an alliance with Assyria to help defend his throne.

While Ahaz was inspecting the water defenses around the water supply of Jerusalem, in preparation for attack, Isaiah arrived with a message from Yahweh designed to call him back to this faith.  The prophet told the king that the threat from Pekah and Rezin would fail and that he should not form an alliance with Assyria.

Despite Isaiah’s best efforts, Ahaz decided to ignore the prophet’s message and sought Assyria’s aid against Pekah and Rezin.  Isaiah, however, refused to give up.  He approached Ahaz one more time demanding that the king request a sign from Yahweh to confirm that the prophecy was true.  Ahaz refused to request such a sign (v 12).

Despite the refusal, Isaiah announced that a sign would be given anyway.  “A young woman shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” (v 14, RSV).

Isaiah declared that Yahweh’s sign to the king would be the birth of a child who would not be old enough to comprehend the difference between good and evil before the plans of Pekah and Rezin would fail (v 16).  In grateful response to Yahweh’s protection of Judah, the grateful mother of the child would name him Immanuel which means “Yahweh is with us.”

Isaiah’s message of hope

Isaiah’s message was that no matter how bad things might appear, hope is not lost as long as Yahweh remains actively involved in the world.  Like the people to whom Isaiah spoke, things in our lives often appear hopeless.  It sometimes seems that the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be an oncoming train.  That said, the Lord has given us a genuine reason for remain hopeful.  It is this hope that is such an integral part of our Advent and Christmas celebrations.

The New Testament tells us a story about Bethlehem in Judea where another young woman gave birth to a child whom would be called Immanuel.  Throughout his life, this Immanuel confronted the dark despair of this world with hopeful proclamation that “the kingdom of God was at hand.”

The world tried to silence his message by nailing this Immanuel to a cross, but the New Testament tells us that this hope burst forth from the grave on the Resurrection Morning, defeating death, the greatest source of darkness and despair. 

That is the source of our hope.  At the cross, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit brought us the gift of New Creation.  At the cross we were connected to our Triune God in the “Divine Dance,” the perichoresis, the circle of life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  What is the only appropriate response to this grace offered as the cross?  The appropriate response is faith.  But this faith is not some sort of action on our part that earns, obtains, or achieves anything from the Godhead.  We are saved “by grace, through faith” as the scripture says (Ephesians 2:8).  God in Christ has done EVERYTHING needed for our salvation.  It is ours as a gift.

So what, then, is the nature of biblical faith?  In this book The Great Dance, The Christian Vision Revisited, (pgs 64) Baxter Kruger offers the following provocative suggestion:

Christian faith is first and foremost the discovery of what the Father, Son, and Spirit have made of the human race in Jesus Christ.  Faith is the discovery that there and then in Jesus Christ we were reconciled, saved, adopted’ there and then in Jesus Christ we were cleansed and born again, recreated…included in the circle of life.

For people like us, in a world such as ours, things often appear hopeless.  But because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, appearances are so deceiving.  Things are never hopeless because the life of God is now at work among us as Immanuel.  The wonderful Incarnate Son is evidence that our Triune God has not given up on this world.  God’s work continues.  God’s redemption continues.  The day when it is finally complete (that day when peace, justice and righteousness shall cover the earth as it declares in Isaiah 9:2-7) is a sure thing. 

Now that is a message of hope in which our faith can rest in.

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