Advent Reflection: Because God Is Relentless
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. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
The most wonderful thing about “God with us” might also be the most perplexing thing.
C. S. Lewis famously noted that those who suggest “the ultimate loss of a single soul” indicates a weakness in God’s omnipotence miss the remarkable nature of God’s relationship with us. “What you call defeat, I call miracle,” Lewis said, “for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become…capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity.”
What Lewis touches on is the profound humility of a sovereign God—a God whose concern for us is so immense, so relentless, that he will at times defer to our stubborn natures until we’re able to finally “get it.” Sadly, though, some of us never do.
Lewis’s statement could bring to mind Ahaz, the eighth-century B.C. king of Judah, who rejected the faith of his ancestor King David in order to bow to idols and chase after the approval of pagan kings. We learn in 2 Kings 16 that Ahaz defiled the Lord’s temple and erected altars to false gods. His spiritual infidelity left Judah exposed to its enemies and cost hundreds of thousands of lives in the southern kingdom.
Yet God desired to reason with Ahaz, even to the point of sending him the prophet Isaiah with an opportunity for restoration. “Ask the LORD your God for a sign,” God implored through Isaiah. But Ahaz, donning a pseudo-pious disposition, refused. He didn’t want to “test” God, he said. In truth, he was not prepared to let go of the false security of his pagan idols.
It’s against this dark backdrop of rebellion that Isaiah gave us a prophecy that promised hope and redemption for both Judah (in the short term) and ultimately for all of humanity: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” (Isa. 7:14, NLT). Looking back, many decided this prophecy signified the coming of Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah—a good king who would worship the true God and lead Judah with righteousness. But, more importantly, we also recognize its long-term significance. Seven hundred years later, Matthew recounts Isaiah’s prophecy in his chronicle of the advent of Jesus.
In isolation, Isaiah 7:14 feels sweet and cheery, like a $4.99 Hallmark card with a candy cane taped to the envelope. But when placed in its Old Testament context, the prophecy becomes both a harbinger of hope as well as a repudiation of our present rebellion. During this Advent season, may we recapture the full significance of “Immanuel.”
It’s not just that “God is with us.” It’s that he’s content to linger, engage, and even crash on the couch until we’re finally ready to listen.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Ahaz refused to seek God’s direction for his situation as ruler of Judah. Reflect on times when you’ve failed to ask for God’s counsel. Has it been because of pride, a sense of self-sufficiency, or because you’re afraid of what the answer might be?
Isaiah’s “Immanuel prophecy” reflected God’s desire to break through Ahaz’s resistance and give him a reason to trust the one true God. Why do you think God was so longsuffering with Ahaz? What does “God with us” mean to you?
PRAYER: God, thank you for your immense and relentless concern for me. Immanuel, you are welcome here. My home. My living room. My work. My family. My life. My heart. Please linger. Please make yourself at home with me, and me at home with you. In this day, and in all the days to come, make me aware of you; always here with me. Amen.
P.S. from Mark: Edward Gilbreath is the author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Inside View of White Christianity and other works. An award-winning journalist, he serves as an editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine and as the executive director of communications for the Evangelical Covenant Church.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.