Preacher: Jeff Davidson
Scripture: Isaiah 7:10-16, Matthew 1:18-25
Who are the people in the Bible that you think about at Christmas time? Jesus, obviously. Mary. Joseph. If you think a little harder then maybe Elizabeth, or Zechariah, or John. Certainly the shepherds. The angels, if you want to count them as people. The wise men, even though they didn’t really show up at Christmas itself. King Herod.
Who else? Well, maybe King David. If you really, really know all those “begats” in the listing of Jesus’ ancestry then you might think of any of those people, but other than David the only one that I might think of off the top of my head is David’s father Jesse. He’s in a line from O Come, O Come, Immanuel: “O come, thou rod of Jesse, free; thine own from Satan’s tyranny.” Maybe the prophet Isaiah, who’s mentioned in a few Christmas songs and who’s prophecy was in our Old Testament reading this morning.
Anybody else I’m missing? What about Ahaz?
Okay, Ahaz really isn’t a part of the Christmas story. He is, however, in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah that I mentioned earlier. Let me give you a quick thumbnail sketch of who Ahaz was.
First, we’ve already run across Ahaz in passing. Ahaz is listed on Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus just before our Gospel reading from chapter 1. So even without this passage from Isaiah, Ahaz is in the Christmas story in a small way.
Ahaz was the king of Judah for 16 years. People disagree about when exactly that was, but Ahaz was king from roughly 740 to 724 BC. The Bible says that Ahaz was an evil king, and our story from Isaiah shows why the Bible considered him evil.
As soon as Ahaz became king, the kings of Israel and Damascus wanted him to join them in a fight against the Assyrians. Those countries are threatening to attack Ahaz if Judah does not join them in their coalition. Ahaz doesn’t know what to do. The prophet Isaiah tells Ahaz not to rely on other countries for his safety and security, but to rely on God. That’s where we are in our reading from Isaiah.
Now we know from a lot of different places in the Bible that sometimes there are false prophets. Sometimes there are folks who claim to be speaking for God but aren’t. Maybe they’re sincere but mistaken, and maybe they’re dishonest. We can’t always know for sure, but we can know that there are plenty of false prophets in the Bible. Isaiah knows that he isn’t a false prophet, and he wants to prove it to Ahaz. God through Isaiah
encourages Ahaz to ask God for a sign so that Ahaz will know that Isaiah’s advice is truly from God. Ahaz refuses, saying that he will not test God.
I can think of at least one other time in the Bible when someone talks about testing God and uses very similar words. It’s Jesus himself in Luke 4:12 when he’s being tested by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus says to Satan, “It is said do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Almost exactly the same words! “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” and “I will not put the Lord to the test.” That caught my attention as I read.
So what’s the difference? Why is it that it’s okay for Jesus to quote and act on scripture from the Old Testament that says not to put God to the test but it isn’t okay for Ahaz to do the same thing?
The answer’s pretty obvious. Jesus was replying to Satan. Jesus was telling Satan not to test God. Ahaz was replying to, well, to God. Ahaz was telling God, “No, I am not going to test you, even though you have specifically asked me to.” Ahaz was telling God, “I am going to disobey you.”
You may not think of that as an example of God’s love, but I do. God knew the scriptures about not putting the Lord to the test. God didn’t care. God reached beyond the commands and words of the law to try to touch
Ahaz’s heart. Ahaz refused him. God did what you wouldn’t expect God to do, even if it didn’t work.
God does that a lot. If we’d been alive two thousand years ago, which of us would have expected God to come to earth in the form of a helpless baby, born to a poor teenage woman? Not me.
If we’d been Joseph, which of us would have expected God to show up in our dreams and say that our fiancée’s pregnancy was due to God’s actions? Not me. Which of us would then have obeyed God and gone ahead and married her and raised the child as my own? I hope I would have, but if I’m honest I don’t really know.
The Bible is full of moments like that, unexpected moments of God reaching out in unexpected ways to unexpected people in hopes of bringing peace and joy and right relationships. Whether it’s the angel choirs appearing to poor shepherds on a hillside or the resurrection being preached first of all by women or any one of a thousand different things, God is always reaching out to humanity. God is always willing to change the rules to help people. God is always trying to help us to get it right, if only we would be open to it. I think the reason that keeps happening over and over and over is that God loves us.
I hope that you can find unexpected ways to reach out to the people that you love, not just at Christmastime but throughout the year to come. I hope that you can be open to the unexpected ways that others will be reaching out to you. And I hope that we can all open ourselves to the leading of our unexpected God, who loved the world so much that Jesus came to die and rise again, and who continues to love the world so much that he reaches out in millions of unexpected ways every day. Amen.