Living involves risk. Almost daily, we are confronted by death. Come to think of it, the world, its newsmen, and social media never stop wearying us. Just when we are getting out of a pandemic, we learn about a new lockdown. So you get vaccinated. Once you’re vaccinated you are told, while navigating countless conspiracy theories, that you need a booster shot. When you finally have a booster, the new variant is here: Omicron. What could the ancient and admittedly strange prophesy found in Isaiah 7:14 possibly offer us today?
We Have Countless Reasons to be Afraid
The necessity for faith never stops. The chair I’m sitting in as I write could break. And, God forbid, that fall might result in a lifelong back problem. I might choke on the snacks that I’m enjoying between typing. And so on. Because both the world’s and my own alarms never stop, faith is the only appropriate response. When faced with uncertainty and mounting anxiety, we need faith to combat fear.
When faced with uncertainty and mounting anxiety, we need faith to combat fear.
The other day, while preparing this short article on Isaiah 7:14, I noticed that my wife had underlined Isaiah 7:2. It says, “The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” My wife had scribbled in the margin: “they were fearful.”
Isaiah 7:14 Invites Us to have Faith
Isaiah 7 is part of a bigger story, involving Israel and their king Ahaz. Ahaz was melting before the wearisome intimidation of the warring kings surrounding Judah. He needed and sought prophetic assurance from Isaiah.
The prophet’s comfort is well summarised in Isaiah 7:9. He exhorts God’s people: “If you don’t stand in faith, you don’t stand at all.” Yet Isaiah understands that faith must be personalised. It can’t remain abstract. Thus he rebukes the house of David, asking: “Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?” (Isaiah 7:13).
When the sign of God’s deliverance is given, God promises a person.
When the sign of God’s deliverance is given, God promises a person. His solution is not an abstract strategy, election hope, or a change of government. God’s answer to Israel’s—and our own—fears is an invitation to absolute faith. For God says he will send a boy, born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). This child was to be called “Immanuel,” a sign that means ‘God with us.’ Then Isaiah adds: deliverance will come “before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Isaiah 7:16).
Christmas: Hope for Shaken People
One of the Gospel writers picks up this theme to talk about the virgin birth (Matthew 1:23). This illustrates the point that what our shaken world needs is not only a firm faith but a firm person for that faith. In Echoes of the Reformation, one of the panelists says: “Christian discipleship is the fight of faith.” Our faith is repeatedly tested and tried (1 Peter 1:6-7). Where will we look? As Ahaz saw, tumultuous times tempt us to look away from God’s promises.
What our shaken world needs is not only a firm faith but a firm person for that faith.
This is what Christmas is about: God has become man and he is unshakeably here. Come pandemic, come. Come recession or depression, vaccine conspiracies, and dictatorial governments. As Christian believers we don’t lean on philosophies or ideologies. Rather, we lean on and trust wholeheartedly in God himself. We take heart from his signs: Immanuel, born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). We need to calm these hearts that often shake as trees of the forest shake before the wind (Isaiah 7:2).