ADVENT 2022: A SEASON OF REMEMBRANCE AND RESTORATION – 12/18/2022
December 17, 2022
The Significance of Signs
(Rev. Dr. H. James Hopkins is Senior Pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church)
Isaiah 7:10-16 (NRSVUE)
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
Isaiah 7:4: Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Signs matter in the Bible. The word sign is used over 200 times in the Hebrew Bible alone. Signs warn people, execute divine judgment, deliver people from oppression and confirm divine direction and presence. In the midst of confusing circumstances, they point people to God.
During an attack on Jerusalem by some fearsome enemies, King Ahaz of Judah was promised a sign by the prophet Isaiah. The sign was that a young woman would become pregnant. The Common English Study Bible notes that “The identity of the young woman isn’t stated. Perhaps it is the king’s or prophet’s wife, or simply a pregnant young woman nearby.” The name she would give her child was Immanuel which means “God is with us.” Her faith, as expressed in the name she gave her child, would serve as a sign to Ahaz of God’s protection.
Over the centuries, the meaning of the sign of the young woman and her child has evolved and changed. The first followers of Jesus claimed that the ancient sign could be understood as evidence that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, that Mary’s child was God with us in the fullest sense of those words.
Now, looking back from the vantage point of 2,700 years after the sign was first promised, we still find it meaningful. Is there any more important promise that, in times of pain, confusion and chaos, God will stay with us?
Christmas is drawing near. One way of understanding the Advent season is to see it as a sign of the eternal promise, a promise that came to a desperate king and a pregnant young woman long ago – Immanuel – we are never alone.