Sunday, December 23, 2007

When God Talks -- A Sermon

Ever have the experience of looking up to the sky and thinking, “Can’t you just once let me know you’re there?  Can’t you just once talk to me?”

It’s one of the most basic desires to have God communicate directly with us.

But it’s one you might want to reconsider.

I’m beginning to think if God spoke with me directly as he does with Ahaz and Joseph in today’s lessons, I might just cringe.  


Because just like in today’s lessons, when God talks to somebody in the bible, that means things are generally going to become difficult and uncomfortable.  It’s probably going to lead to an adventure, to be sure, but maybe not what you were looking for.

If you remember J.R.R. Tolkein’s book, “The Hobbit,” you can relate to the lead character, Bilbo Baggins.  He was a hobbit who liked his nice comfortable life until Gandalf the wizard knocked on his door and led him into an adventure to seek lost fortune.  

I don’t necessarily think of Ahaz as a Bilbo character.  After all, he was a king who was involved with enough intrigue already.  Isaiah’s visit to him was to warn Ahaz against joining forces with two kingdoms who were pressuring him to fight against Assyria.  

When Ahaz saw Isaiah, he probably said to himself, “Like I don’t have enough problems already!”  

The strange thing about this passage is that after Isaiah offers a sign to prove God is with him, Ahaz refuses out of supposed piety -- he doesn’t want to put God to the test.  Isaiah sees this, however, as a refusal to trust God -- so he gives his own sign.  And it is not a happy one to Ahaz because it points out his eventual doom.

Just to clarify what Isaiah says, we should note that the word we often hear as “virgin” should probably be translated as “young woman.”  In fact, the verse is more properly translated, “That young woman over there is pregnant and will bear a son, and she will call him Immanuel."  Some commentators argue that Isaiah is referring to either Ahaz’s wife or possibly his own wife.  Either way, the message says that by the time the child reaches an age to tell the difference between right and wrong, the two conspiring kingdoms will be destroyed -- but Ahaz, for his lack of faith, will also suffer.

I see Joseph as more of a Bilbo character,  minding his own business when God starts speaking to him in his dreams.  In todays passage, there’s just the one dream, but it’s a doozie.  Take this pregnant young woman as your wife.  And notice that people (at least her family) already know she’s pregnant, so there’s a good chance people will either think you’ve been duped by her OR you have been having improper relations with her before the right time.

He might have wished not to have had that divine message.  Next week, we’ll see a bunch of other messages Joseph receives -- and each one makes his life a little less comfortable, a little less predictable, a little less safe.  

On the other hand, Mary herself might have preferred not to have her own divine message announcing her pregnancy.  

But there is, on the other end of these divine messages, a child.  In Ahaz’s case, the child Immanual will be born as a sign AGAINST him.  “God is with us” might well mean -- “See, God was with you, but you would not believe, so with him comes judgment.”

When Joseph is told to name the child Emmanual, “God is with us” has an entirely different feel.  God is with us and brings grace.

Is the difference between the two simply that Joseph heeded the voice of God -- entered into the adventure -- while Ahaz shunned it?  I don’t know.  

But one difference is clear:  Since that second child was born, we have been able to hear the voice of God as one of love and grace and mercy rather than one of judgment and fear.

So while I may not be in the mood for an adventure, when God talks, I think I might listen.  Amen.