Advent Sermon: Don’t Skip the Steps!

Text: Isaiah 7:10-16

I don’t know about you, but that text we just heard didn’t make a ton of sense to me. So to make better sense of it, let’s step back and discuss the larger story so we can see where God might be speaking to us—
So here we go:

Ahaz, the king of Judah, has gotten word that they are about to be invaded by the north. When he heard of this, “the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind”.

Understandable.
No one likes to be ganged up on.
And no country likes to be invaded.

So the Lord sends the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz to reassure him that all will be ok.
That God is in control.
Isaiah tells him to “take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint”
He encourages him to hold tight, that all of what he fears will not come to pass—
Isaiah then provides some strong advice- perhaps a stern warning:

“If you do not stand firm in faith,
you shall not stand at all.”

Ahaz’s faith is shaky at best. He isn’t quite sure he can truly believe in God’s promises.

Sensing this, the Lord offers him a deal many of us don’t get (or think we don’t get)—
A sign.
How great is that?
I mean, how many times have you been in a situation where you weren’t quite sure what to do, so you ask “God, please just send me a sign..”
Well, Ahaz is actually offered one.
And not just any sign but a big one- a sign as deep as the depths and as high as heaven.
Isaiah is offering him a sign so clear it will be unmistakable.

Crazy enough, Ahaz rejects this offer and maintains he will “not put the Lord to the test”
Sounds good, right.
So pious.
But Isaiah will have none of it
Impatiently, Isaiah responds, “ok, FINE, you don’t want a sign? Well, God will give you one anyway- so here it goes-

Look! that young woman there- that one! she’s pregnant and shall bear a son- and the son’s name will be Immanuel, which means “God is with us”
And before he is able to eat curds and honey and know the difference between good and evil- the kings you’re worrying about invading you will be gone.

Isaiah is telling Ahaz not to worry.
That God has this.
He only needs to wait and allow God to act.

Instead of relying and trusting on God, Ahaz ends up selling his allegiance to the king of Assyria for protection
and this turned out to be a fateful decision because it resulted in devastation for Judah
Because Assyria turned on them and conquered them.

Poor Ahaz.
Had he just listened to Isaiah and trusted in God rather than in his own devices
things might have turned out better.
But rushing for the quick fix
he skipped the waiting
and sealed his own fate.

“If you do not stand firm in faith
you shall not stand at all”

Now I would love to stand up here and admonish Ahaz for his lack of faith.
But frankly, I might have done the same thing, I’m sad to say.
I think we all have struggled with trusting in God in times of uncertainty
I think we all have rushed for the quick fix rather than the longer, perhaps tougher remedies.

It’s a lot like grief in a way
When we skip over the tough work
of mourning
and crying
lamenting
and we rush to cheer ourselves up and just “move on”
we often never truly process what we are feeling
and don’t experience the full value the grief has to offer.
We might achieve a quick fix, sure
But when we skip these steps, we deny God—and ourselves- the opportunity to accomplish some meaningful work in our lives.

Our culture conditions us for this mindset
We don’t wait for anything

Entire industries have emerged to deal with the “problem” of waiting—
all for the sake of efficiency and perceived productivity
think of the microwave oven- we got so sick of waiting for things to cook that we brought in radioactive devices INTO OUR HOMES to nuke our meals!
And be honest- you still don’t even wait the whole time before the beep— you stand by that microwave and open up the door when there’s only 30-45 seconds left.
Don’t you?
Admit it!

But we have drive-thru everything- meals, prescriptions, coffee
Call ahead seating at restaurants
Almost everything in our lives we can do from our phone now
All to “maximize our time”
The message is clear: whatever you do, don’t wait.
Now, sometimes this can be good- don’t get me wrong.
I doubt anyone is inviting a long check-out line at Harris Teeter
Or a three hour wait at the DMV

But in this busyness and “efficiency”, we drown out the voice of God who is calling to us
begging for our attention
Offering us true wisdom
To slow down
and wait for God’s guidance.

Sometimes, we don’t really want to wait for what God has to say because we don’t want our plans derailed—

When Ahaz refuses to “test” God, I have a sneaking suspicion it has less to do with piety and more to do with being afraid of what God might actually say

For me this happened in my professional life.
For years I struggled with my vocational calling
I knew the things I enjoyed and were gifted at
But these jobs weren’t as financially lucrative as others, and I was convinced that the money was the priority.
So I went through the motions of praying— asking God for guidance
But really only if it fit my current agenda.
Because listening to God was too scary to me
Too uncertain and unpredictable
So rather than wait on God for guidance,
and trusting in his provision
I took matters into my own hands
And jumped into jobs
for money
and the quick fix—
Now, this lasted for while
But ultimately each time I was left restless and unsatisfied.

I kept looking for the quick fix rather than waiting on the right fix

When I finally stopped to wait for God—
he revealed to me a path unimaginable to me before
I mean, ministry? Really? Me?
And yet, this was a path I’ve found to be far richer and more fulfilling than my wildest dreams—
If I had only listened in the first place.

Maybe this has happened to you?
where have you skipped the steps in your life?
When waiting on God
trusting in his provision
Would have granted you so much more?

Where is this happening to you now?
Is there an opportunity for you to slow down, quiet yourself, and wait for God to act?

God offers us so much more than our human minds can imagine
If we just lean into the waiting and trust in God.
That’s what Isaiah was saying to Ahaz.

Matthew rightfully interpreted our passage today as a prophecy for the birth of Jesus.
And what a prophecy it was!
It is no small thing that God defied expectations and came to the world as a vulnerable baby
Instead of the Warrior Messiah others wanted and expected
Prophets promised this different kind of Messiah
but the people would have to be patient and wait.

So-
Many skipped the steps of waiting and jumped at the messiahs that met the criteria they were looking for
ones who exhibited power
prestige
and might.
And as a result, they suffered the consequences of their impatience.

God offers something so much more precious than a quick fix
so much more valuable and lasting
In the birth of Jesus, God shows us God’s true nature:

Meek and humble
Gentle and trusting
Compassionate and kind

And so… we wait.

For the last 3 weeks we’ve acknowledged this waiting through our liturgical observance of Advent.
Each week we’ve discussed a specific type of waiting:
Waiting on..peace
Waiting on…a new story…
Waiting on….new life in desert places.

We’ve acknowledged the waiting through the lighting of candles on the Advent wreath
each week we’ve marked the time with the accumulation of light
Visualizing how at the end of our Advent journey, the wreath will be ablaze with light
And Christmas will at last be upon us.
But until then, we move through the season with patient intention.

Now we might be inclined to skip these steps and race to Christmas morning—
to get to the prize
get to the presents
or maybe just to get through it altogether—
to check off all the action items on our to do list
to just…get it done

Doing so might offer us some short term relief.
And doing so might not bring us to destruction like it did Ahaz.

But it will nonetheless cause us to miss the work God is doing in our lives
to miss the joy of reconnecting with friends
to miss the excitement of anticipation
to miss the love offered in precious time with family

All of these are signs of the love, compassion, and care shown to us in the Christ Child.

And these are too precious to miss
So let’s not skip the steps
Let’s wait on them
Let’s savor them
And enjoy the gifts that they are

Thanks be to God.

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