A Son Named Immanuel
10Once again the Lord God spoke to King Ahaz. This time he said, 11“Ask me for proof that my promise will come true. Ask for something to happen deep in the world of the dead or high in the heavens above.”
12“No, Lord,” Ahaz answered. “I won't test you!”
13Then I said:
Listen, every one of you in the royal family of David. You have already tried my patience. Now you are trying God's patience by refusing to ask for proof. 14 But the Lord will still give you proof. A virgin is pregnant; she will have a son and will name him Immanuel. 15-16Even before the boy is old enough to know how to choose between right and wrong, he will eat yogurt and honey, and the countries of the two kings you fear will be destroyed. 17But the Lord will make more trouble for your people and your kingdom than any of you have known since Israel broke away from Judah. He will even bring the king of Assyria to attack you.
Take your shoes off. This is holy ground. This is the first mention of that name, Immanuel – God with us. This is an impossible, irreligious notion, God with us, not on high, not the great unknown, not an impersonal empty void. God with us, face to face. Job glimpsed it: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” (Job 42:5) It is the great scandal, scoffed by atheists and religious alike: God, a child, a man, one of us.
Isaiah invites Ahaz to “ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” He declines. So God brings the sign to him, to the space between below and above. We don’t mind God in heaven, far away, at a safe distance. We don’t even mind God in a temple, or a church, or in thick books of impenetrable prose, or lofty words from high altars: bottled, contained, under control. But God in amongst us, that’s dangerous. He will see us as we are. Worse, we will see in him what we should be.
In our prayers, we may seek to be with God – us with God. But what happens when he responds – God with us? Are your prayers echoes in the dark: your eyes shut, your ears covered?
Do we really want God with us? We don’t mind the pre-recorded message, but do we really want him to pick up the phone?
How often are we Ahaz: “Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?” Let us be Isaiah: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”
We open our eyes, uncover our ears. We take off our shoes. We wait on hallowed ground, the prayer mat of our hopes and fears, the dust of life left at the door. We wait for you. Answer our call, not from afar, but here where we are. Be God, be with us.