Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.
Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 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.”
By Lauren Beyea
In the verses immediately before today’s scripture passage, Ahaz’s kingdom is threatened by two competing kingdoms. Isaiah is told by God to notify Ahaz, Stay calm and stand firm in your faith. Within God’s time the other kingdoms will fall.
As our passage begins, God asks Ahaz to request a sign of reassurance that what Isaiah has shared is true. But Ahaz says, I won’t put the Lord to test. Exasperated by this response, Isaiah scolds Ahaz and then blurts out that there is Good coming — a miracle born to the House of David who will be called Immanuel. He will know all, even as an infant. And in His infancy, the land of the two kings who challenge Ahaz will dissolve.
The prophecy here is clearly the collective Christian best news ever. However reassuring and affirming to all of us, it does read as if Ahaz was not particularly seeking this sort of intelligence in the heat of his own crisis. A man of the Old Testament, he knows better than to challenge God, perhaps especially when things are already going downhill. Even in Isaiah’s clear frustration to Azah’s retort, the good news is, Isaiah can’t help but share word that there is overwhelming, world-altering Hope on the horizon. Although his family is threatened in the present, Ahaz must hold fast and believe.
With the last several years of pandemic and racial injustice laid bare and fresh in mind, we each can empathize with a compound and complex struggle like Ahaz’s, seemingly sprouting from all directions and without an end in sight. These last few years we lost jobs and livelihoods. We were told to retreat from others and the routines that had provided tremendous comfort, release and solace in all of our previous hardest times. Hundreds of thousands of people died. Yet how have we, like Ahaz, managed to cling to the hope that’s to come in God’s time? Where have we seen the glimmers of promise for the future? How do we, and in what ways should we, prepare to wait for what God is doing in our lives?
In our Glory to God hymnals, hymn 100, “My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout,” speaks to this: Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me.
Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound,
till the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.
The beauty of Advent is that we all live together in the waiting, just as we have as a community of Christians throughout time. We know the promise of Christmas and our Savior is to come — no matter our personal struggles and circumstances. Do not lose heart. Hold fast. A miracle is coming.
By Dr. Ben Hutchens
Today we enjoy our own Westminster Ringers performing a piece which combines two familiar tunes. The “Carol of the Bells” is a popular Christmas carol with music written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914 and lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky. The song is based on the Ukrainian folk chant “Shchedryk.” In its original form, the music is based on a four-note ostinato and is in 3/4 time signature, with the B-flat bell pealing in 6/8 time. In this setting it is paired with “O come, O come, Emmanuel” (Latin: “Veni, veni, Emmanuel”). It is a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas. The hymn has its origins over 1,200 years ago in monastic life in the 8th or 9th century.
On this final week of advent, I pray that the music we offer lifts your spirits. May the peace of the Christchild and the joy of the angels be with you this week and always.