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A Promise in the Dark

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How does this Christmas season find you? For many of us, we can’t see past our overwhelming to-do list and overloaded schedule. We struggle to meet everyone’s overhyped expectations. The pressure to create the perfect Christmas with Instagram-worthy memories weighs on us heavier than our winter coats.

Add to this the real-life hurts we still carry. The upcoming family gathering may have tension simmering just beneath the surface. Or maybe you’re reminded of past hurts: the broken relationship, the years of unmet expectations, the grief of unfulfilled dreams.

Christmas often grows into a perfect storm of high expectations, unyielding obligations, and rekindling of past and current wounds. On top of that, we feel the pressure to “remember the reason for the season!” It’s no wonder that many of us secretly look forward to the reset of January.

But before we rush through to the new year, let’s pause. The tension, brokenness, and heartache lurking behind the twinkling lights has something to teach us. The family gathering shouldn’t be the most difficult to get through. That chair at the table shouldn’t be empty this year. Things are not as they should be.

In Isaiah 7 we read one of the most well-known verses referring to Jesus’ birth. “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (v. 14)

You can picture this famous scripture gilded on a Christmas card or listen to it sung in Handel’s masterpiece Messiah.

But when God spoke these words, it wasn’t to smiling, happy people. Let’s look at the context in which God gave us this precious promise.

In the eighth century BC, King Ahaz reigned over the kingdom of Judah. Second Kings 16 tells us that Ahaz, “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (v. 2). Throughout his reign, Ahaz rejected God and spread idolatry through the land. He didn’t just choose the wrong faith—he willfully engaged in evil. Many scholars believe, based on 2 Kings 16:3, that he practiced child sacrifice.2 In Isaiah 7, we find him in a crisis. The nation was surrounded by enemies and facing invasion. But in spite of what Ahaz and the nation of Judah had done, God didn’t leave them to face the consequences alone. Through the prophet Isaiah, God invited Ahaz to request a miraculous sign as proof that he could trust God to save them. But Ahaz rejected God’s offer under the guise of feigned piety. In reality, Ahaz chose to trust a foreign nation instead.

In that moment God gave this unbelievable promise. He was going to give a miraculous sign anyway—the virgin would conceive and the child would be Immanuel. The name Immanuel literally means “God with us.”
Do you see? Ahaz had personally committed unspeakable evil. God’s people had rejected Him over and over again. The nation was cornered by powerful enemies. War, death, and destruction waited on their doorstep. God offered to save them and give them a miraculous sign to help them trust Him. And yet, Ahaz said, “No.” And in that moment, God spoke one of the most treasured promises of the entire Bible. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel… ” The child shall be “God with us.” In spite of everything that had happened, in spite of the devastation about to occur, God would be with them.

Maybe there’s a relationship in your life that feels like a war zone heading into this season. Maybe grief casts a shadow over everything as you face this Christmas without a loved one. Remember this promise from Isaiah 7:14. God spoke these words to a broken and guilty man leading a soon-to-be devastated land. In that moment God promises, I will be with you.

As we enter the Christmas season, let’s remind ourselves that God didn’t come for some picture-perfect scene. When expectations aren’t met, when that argument happens again, when nothing is as it should be, let it point you to Him. Let the reminder of a broken world direct you back to the promise of Isaiah 7—God is with us. Remember that it will not always be this way. His coming means He is making all things new again.


Post taken from IF:Gathering’s 2019 Advent Study, Hope is Alive