She shall bear a son

Published 5:21 pm Monday, December 23, 2019

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By Charles Qualls

About September of 2018, as we were formulating the concept that would become “Faith on Draft,” I was in Fred’s and asked David Rabil if he had a minute to talk with me. I told him I had a new program I wanted to start, and needed to see if it might meet upstairs at his place of business rather than at our church.

David and I went over into the smaller or booth side of the restaurant, almost near the back. We sat down and there he was in his daily Hawaiian shirt and apron. I said, “Now, stay with me on this. I’ll answer any questions you may have, if you’re willing to consider it.” The perpetually casual David said, “Alright, lay it on me.”

I told him that, first of all, the name of the group would be “Faith on Draft.” Then I said, “Well, does that have your attention?” His face broke into a big grin. His prolific moustache went in both directions and his eyes lit up. Then he said, “Well, that’s just weird enough that I’ve got to hear more.”

Don Saliers points out that our prophecy today from Isaiah 7:10-16 can cause problems both for church people who might be too familiar with the Advent story —- and also for anyone hearing something like this for the very first time. Then, he concludes that the best way we could make sense of it is to understand what was going on at the time Isaiah spoke these words. We just might find it perplexing enough, or weird enough, when placed in its context that it holds our attention. Also, when we hear more it finally sorts itself out in a significant Advent kind of way.

A sign. A signal. We all want them in life. A message in a bottle or a map to follow. A clear answer to what comes next. A ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ from someone who won’t give one yet, or even a blessing from our co-workers to take the open position. Sometimes, we’d even take a lightning bolt if we thought it would clear things up.

That’s what Ahaz was needing so badly. Some signal to help him feel better about things. You see, the king of the Southern part of the Hebrew country, or Judah, was in a mess. This dates back to roughly the time of the Syro-Ephraim war, or about 733-734BC. The kings of Israel (which was also known as Ephraim) knew that Assyria was threatening. They were tired of it. They wanted to unite with Judah and go after Assyria rather than just sit and wait for an attack to happen to them.

Ahaz didn’t see things that way. So, he was pretty unpopular. The text indicates that eventually there was a conspiracy against Ahaz to raid Jerusalem and replace him with a puppet king who would work with the northern neighbors. This is biblical history that sounds more like a movie you might watch on one of your favorite channels. All the intrigue, suspense and politics grips us.

Matthew picked up on Isaiah’s telling of this good news as he wrote the Gospel. He put it right into his story as being fulfilled through Jesus Himself. It’s certainly the foundation of our faith as Christians, for the promise we hear in this wonderful Old Testament prophecy is God’s promised Messiah. These words are our highest hope.

A child was born who Matthew said would bring to us God’s very own presence. To live here and show us that strength comes in a whole lot of shapes and sizes. Strength of character can bear more weight than the absence of any character at all. Strength of conviction and action both carry more ability to change lives than the absence of either. Don’t forget the greatest storyline of all-time. That the strength found in love can prevail over evil, and will ultimately do so in God’s reign.

In Ahaz’s time they wanted to bring back the glory of their past. They wanted to be saved by the might of a military. They wanted the security of a political coalition and wanted the prestige of a sustained rule.

They got a child instead. A baby is the center of our attention at Advent. Immanuel — God with us. That child is why we can have hope after all. That child is why we can believe we have a future. The child gives us confidence that we can have an eternity.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.