Sermon for 4th Sunday in Advent - Dec 18 2016

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year A
December 18, 2016
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Oh, Ahaz, you don’t want to put the Lord to the test?  God wants you to ask for help!

Judah, of which Ahaz was the king, was being assailed in two directions – on the one side by an alliance of Syria and Ephraim, or Israel, and on the other by Assyria.  Ahaz was hoping to make a deal with another empire – Egypt – to forestall ruin.  He was living in fear and the people were living in fear.  Ahaz may have thought he could go it alone, or perhaps he didn’t trust God.  His false humility didn’t convince either God or Isaiah.

But instead of god throwing up God’s hands, metaphorically speaking, a sign of God’s faithfulness was given anyway.

This, my friends, is grace.

Now you know, of course – that Isaiah’s prophecy that a young woman will bear a child has been viewed by Christians pretty much from the start, and certainly in Matthew, as being applicable to the birth of Jesus, even though the Isaiah story is some 7 or 8 centuries earlier.

Isaiah didn’t name the young woman or identify her in any way – but one supposition is that she may have been Isaiah’s wife.  After all, two others of Isaiah’s children had names that were given as signs.  There was Shear-jashub, or “A remnant will return,” and there was Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means something like “swift to the spoil, quick to the prey.”

So it makes sense that another child of Isaiah might be named Immanuel – “God with us.” 

Isaiah wasn’t the only prophet to name his children as a message – Hosea did it as well.

But what does it mean that the child would eat curds and honey before being able to choose between evil and good? 

By the time young Immanuel is old enough for solid food, peace will come; the wars will be over.

This is the sign of God’s grace.

This vulnerability is the sign of God’s promise.

The sign is never the strong warrior king messiah we expect, but an unborn child, and the Divine hidden in a human womb, awaiting the light of day.

Whether it is Isaiah’s child or Mary’s, God’s sign is hidden, not yet here, and oh so very vulnerable.  Anything might happen, except what most of the people expected or hoped for.

Why would God choose to be so vulnerable?

Why would God choose the opposite of the messiah the people hoped for?

How does this vulnerable God help us, rescue us, or save us?

How can this vulnerable God smite the oppressor, free the slaves, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, or raise the dead?

We pray so often to the Almighty God… how often do we pray to the vulnerable God?

I suspect God’s vulnerability is a sign – just as Isaiah promised – of God’s grace and mercy.

Not just in showing us the humanity that was a much Jesus’ person as his divinity.

Not just in drawing us in with a tender emotion to a cute baby that must be held in our arms.

Not just to share our own burdened lives,

But also to remind us it is our vulnerability that binds us together, to each other and to God.

It is when we feel most in need of support, that we are most open to realizing how much we need God’s grace.

And maybe, we respond by thinking “I don’t want God to know how vulnerable I feel.  Maybe I don’t want to acknowledge how vulnerable I feel.  Because if I did, then any illusion I may have about the power and authority of myself, would be lost!”

This sign, given in vulnerability, also reminds us that we, like any newborn child, need to grow – to be children and to learn, and eventually, as Paul says, to put away childish things, to deepen our understanding of our faith, and the implications of our faith – and to strive to model our lives on Jesus’ example, to love God and our neighbor, and to defend all who are vulnerable or lost or afraid, or hungry, or lonely, or sick, or oppressed, or in despair, or in need.

We are vulnerable.  We want to believe that we are not.

But the vulnerable God declares the truth that we are, in fact, vulnerable, and acknowledging our vulnerability is the first step on the road to the Realm of God.

This is a road we do not walk alone, for Immanuel – God with us – is our companion, guide, and teacher.

God is so vulnerable that we need not be afraid of anything or anyone – and least of all of God.

Amen.

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