The Gift of Hope

Pastor Ken Gast

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Many are the signs that Christmas is coming. Trees are decorated with ornaments and tinsel. Pretty lights are shining everywhere. Stores are stocked with interesting toys for the children and popular cozy pjs and sweaters for others. And soon cheerfully wrapped gifts under the tree. We hear the Christmas music on the radio, in stores and while on hold on our I-phones. One of the most popular songs over the years is, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”, and goes on to mention the many signs that remind us all Christmas is coming. While there is nothing at all wrong with these signs, how much more important is the gift of hope God himself gave in a sign the prophet Isaiah penned some 700 years before the event that has sparked all these exciting signs that Christmas is coming. We turn to the prophet’s inspired words once again on this first Sunday in Advent, which means “coming”, and this exciting hope filled truth, “THE Sign CHRIST(mas) Was Coming” I. It came from God. II. It consists of a miraculous birth to the virgin. III. It gives the sure hope of Immanuel.

It was an exciting time in Judah, the southern portion of God’s people in the Old Testament. But not in a good way. Aram and northern Israel were attacking Judah and laying siege to Jerusalem. King Ahaz and the people of Judah were terrified. It was truly what was deserved because Ahaz had led the people into idolatry and many other awful sins which dishonored the Lord. Yet God in his great grace and mercy toward his people sent his prophet Isaiah to go to Ahaz and assure him that Judah’s enemies would not prevail. Then to give the king and the people the sure hope of deliverance the Lord commanded Ahaz to ask for any sign that God would keep his promise to them. In sinful arrogance and lack of trust in the Lord and his word, Ahaz refused to ask for the sign. This was not like the people in Jesus’ day demanding a miraculous sign from him to prove he was the Messiah. This was blatant disobedience of divine command from the Lord that the Lord would give some sign that would assure the hope of salvation from Judah’s enemies. Instead of asking for the sign the Lord graciously offered, Ahaz turned to the heathen nation of Assyria for help. And Isaiah chided Ahaz for his insolence.

Yet God’s grace prevailed. He would still deliver Judah, but he would also give a sign, no, THE sign that would deliver all people from the sins of disobedience, false humility and lack of trust. “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This is THE signs of signs that Christ(mas) was coming.

THE sign came from God himself. “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign.” The word sign has the thought of something coming in the future. God wanted people looking ahead to an event that would give the sure hope of deliverance to all lost sinners. He would come from the house of David as Jeremiah wrote and we heard in the Old Testament reading, “I will make a righteous Branch spring from David’s line”. God would do all this as he assured in this sign the Holy Spirit had Isaiah pen long ago. That is what makes the prophecy and promise so sure. It came from the God who cannot go back on his promises.

So instead of criticizing how the signs that tell us Christmas is coming are out too early or they remind us of all the commercialism of the season, let the lights remind us of Christ’s coming as the Light of the world. Let the green trees remind us he came to give us life to the full and eternal life forever. Let the gifts remind us of the gift of sure hope in all trials of life which attack us and that one day, unlike the celebration of Christmas which comes and goes, we will celebrate the unending joy of heaven. Yes, many of the signs Christmas is coming are man-made, but THE sign Christ was coming was God-made and thus gives sure and everlasting hope.

That sign would be easily recognized because it was unique. It consisted of the miraculous birth to the virgin. “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son.” That doesn’t just happen. That would be a miracle of the Holy Spirit causing a boy child to be conceived in the virgin. Not just any virgin, but one highly favored and chosen by God even now, 700 years earlier. Mary recognized this in her response to Gabriel when the angel announced to her she was that virgin. Her fiancé, Joseph, recognized this also when an angel told him that the child Mary was carrying was the miracle Isaiah had prophesied and God promised. THE sign was fulfilled when the angels praised God in the fields of Bethlehem and told the shepherds, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” He grew up, lived a perfect life for corrupt sinners, died an innocent death to bear the punishment all deserve, but then fulfilled the sign of Jonah who was in the large fish for three days and nights and came forth as victor over death and hell. No question he is the Sign Isaiah foretold would be clearly and unmistakably the sure hope for hopeless sinners from his very miraculous conception and birth to the virgin.

The speed zone sign to go 55 miles an hour from the previous 75 miles an hour on interstate 94 going into St. Paul is crystal clear. There is even a sign earlier telling you it is coming. The problem is, very few pay any attention to it. Well, THE sign the Lord set up to tell us Christ(mas) was coming is even more clear, the miraculous conception and birth of a son to the virgin. Problem is, too often people don’t pay attention. But don’t start to rage about those others, look at ourselves, perhaps most of all at this time of year when we can get so caught up in the trappings of the season, we don’t really pay all that much attention. Rather, pray the Holy Spirit to really work through the message we hear here in worship and you children will have the privilege to share with us in special services. Yes, heed the Apostle Peter’s words, “We have the words of the prophets made more sure and you will do well to pay attention to it, as a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” As you pay attention to THE sign that Christ(mas) is coming, the Holy Spirit will also give you the sure hope of Immanuel.

Matthew 1 leaves no doubt that THE sign Isaiah foretold refers to the coming God-man. There the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream and quoted these very words in reference to the child Mary was carrying and then added, “and will call him Immanuel.” The angel also clearly revealed what this special name means, “God with us.” The one who would be the fulfillment of this sign would be God himself, Elohim, the one, true almighty Creator of heaven and earth. Hence the name, “el” at the end of the name, Immanuel. But he would be “incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary.” He would take on flesh and blood, become part of the human race that fell in Adam’s fall. Hence “Immanuel”, with us God. God come to be with us to save us from sin, death and hell. God with us each day of life in the really dark hours and in the times of happiness. God with us 24/7 until we are with him in glory forever.

Makes sense then to start out the service this first Sunday in Advent singing, “Oh Come, Oh, Come, Immanuel.” Makes sense also to be humming this tune, singing the words, praying the prayer, “Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel” every day. He came to be with us to save us. That’s finished. He comes to us daily to help us and to guide us. He comes to us with his grace, mercy and forgiveness in his body and blood he took on in the manger and gave on the cross. You know, under certain circumstances the Christmas season can be one of the loneliest times of the year. But then turn again to THE sign of Isaiah fulfilled in Christ and again be filled with the sure hope of Immanuel, God with us. As we enjoy the signs Christmas is coming, soak in THE sign that Christ, our Savior, has come.