Stop, drop, cover and rollWhere's the Faith?, Bottom Highlights Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
Pastor Terry had planned what she thought would be an excellent children’s message for the fourth Sunday of Advent. She intended to show the children and the congregation the vital importance of paying attention to the signs of the coming Child that God gives us. Her key verse was Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore, God will give you a sign.” She had painstakingly constructed a stop sign, using red construction paper, a white marker and a wooden dowel.
When the children gathered around her on the front of the steps, Pastor Terry held up the sign and asked, “What is this?” The children yelled in unison, “A stop sign!” Pastor Terry thought to herself, “Oh, yes; everything’s going according to my plan.”
She continued, “In your school, the teacher always tells you what comes next after stop, right?” Well, Pastor Terry’s carefully planned message was based on the expectation that the children’s response would be “look and listen.” Unfortunately, all the children must have been attending a different school, because, in one voice, all shouted, “Stop, drop, cover and roll.”
Pastor Terry, shocked and speechless, could only manage to say, “Let us pray.”
The point here is that we don’t always get what we expect or even want from our carefully constructed plans. We’re not always in control. Life is not about what we want and desire. Rather it’s about what God wants and promises. Maybe you’ve heard this statement before, “If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.”
In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz didn’t even want to ask God for help with his plans. God invited Ahaz to “ask a sign of God.” But Ahaz was in control, or so he thought. He couldn’t be bothered. He replied, “I will not ask, and I will not put God to the test.”
Hmm … think about what you’d do if God invited you to ask for any sign of God’s presence and guidance, even for a major miracle. My response would likely be to stop everything, drop to my knees, cover my face in humility and roll with pleasure in God’s glory.
Sadly, this wasn’t so for poor Ahaz. Let’s look at his situation. Ahaz had been crowned King of Judah at the young age of twenty during the late eighth century before the birth of Christ. Surrounding nations were threatening to conquer a Judah weakened by political infighting, religious turmoil and social injustice. Huge and powerful Assyria loomed on the horizon as a clear and present danger to the entire region. Wars and rumors of war were a daily part of life.
Isaiah admonished Ahaz saying, “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” Ahaz stood firm on the quicksand of his own plans and efforts to keep power and control.
Ahaz just wasn’t able to give up control. He stood firm in his faith, all right; his faith in himself and his own need to be in control of events. In fact, he even allowed himself to be persuaded to seek aid from mighty Assyria. He did this by recognizing Assyrian supremacy over Judah and by paying enormous protection monies to Assyria. Judah became a vassal state and Ahaz, a puppet of the Assyrian king.
No wonder Isaiah urged Ahaz to listen to God. No wonder God continued to urge Ahaz to ask for a sign of God’s presence and guidance.
Poor Ahaz. But here’s the good news … in spite of Ahaz’ stubborn refusal, God persists and provides a sign that we all are ready to affirm and to celebrate. Look again at verse 14 in our text. “Therefore, God will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
Now, that’s a sign that can’t be ignored. That’s an offer from God that can’t be refused. Emmanuel … God is with us, now. That is God’s Advent promise.
Regardless of the destructive plans of Assyria and the surrounding nations, Isaiah proclaims that they will not prevail because of God’s own “Emmanuel plan.” God is in control, not Ahaz. God’s plan does not depend on Ahaz. Neither does it depend on us. God’s “Emmanuel plan” is to be with us and for us – forever.
Now, I admit, it’s sometimes bewildering and confusing for us to recognize God’s presence and God’s guidance in our lives. This is certainly true as we hear the news of tragedies around the world or experience them in our own lives.
For God’s people during the reign of Ahaz and for us today, this is a time of so many emotions. The signs of the season can also bring us closer to one another and also closer to God. Advent is a specific season that draws us closer to a promise of God’s presence with us.
World events and personal crises are daily reminders that we are not in control. Our best-laid plans and expectations may never come to pass. However, God’s plan, “God’s Emmanuel plan” is sure and certain.
I invite you to join me at our traditional Christmas Eve candlelight services at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., Dec. 24 and Christmas Morning Worship at 10 a.m. See themetchurch.org for more info.
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the Senior Pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met) in San Diego, California, themetchurch.org.
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