Ahaz or Joseph…Joseph or Ahaz?

Posted By Communications on Dec 8, 2020 | 0 comments


Sunday, December 6, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Isaiah 7:1-14 & Matthew 1:18-25


Ahaz, son of Jotham and Joseph, son of Jacob…two descendants of the house of David, and yet, could they be more different? Ahaz, King of all Judah, the Southern Kingdom, centered in the capital city of holy Jerusalem itself. Ahaz literally sits on the throne of David, a man of power and wealth. And yet, scripture repeatedly describes him as one unfaithful to God. And Joseph, the carpenter, the day laborer, certainly not living in the mighty city of Jerusalem. He lives in poverty, powerless, and yet described as a righteous man before God. And yet, these two do have important things in common; they are children of Israel, they are of the line of David, and they are offered a sign…a gift. This gift is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and yet this holy presence of God takes the form of a vulnerable, newborn infant, a baby. This gift required tremendous trust and radical courage to accept.

King Ahaz…we miss a lot of his story if we only focus on Isaiah, chapter 7. Ahaz is a young king, a king new to reigning on his own. His rule begins with his city, his country, under siege from the alliance of two neighboring nations. First, the nation of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Once Judah and Israel were one nation, but shortly after King Solomon’s death, the nation split, largely due to divisive policies and actions of Solomon. The kingdom of Israel has joined forces with the kingdom of Aram, roughly modern-day Syria. Here’s why—The Assyrian Empire looms threateningly on the horizon. Israel and Aram want Judah to unite with them to stand against this wave of empire heading their way. Ahaz refused. These two desperate nations seek to force a unification. Ahaz looks out from his palace in Jerusalem to see two armies camped on his doorstep. Scripture tells us that his heart, the hearts of all his people, shake—tremble—like trees caught in the wind. Great metaphor.

Enter the prophet Isaiah. He meets Ahaz by the city laundry, another great metaphor. Isaiah speaks God’s work to the king; “Be careful. Be calm. Do not be afraid. Do not make decisions based on your fear. God IS with you! God IS with your people! Believe! Here is a sign straight from God, whether you will ask for it or not. Just what anyone would want when looking out at to armies at your walls, a baby, newborn—Tahdah! Don’t go looking for support and power elsewhere. This little baby is all you need for salvation.” That is a tall order from God, to trust in vulnerability in the face of military might. And Ahaz can’t do it. He cannot overcome his fear. He cannot trust in God’s upside down ways of brining salvation through vulnerability. Instead, Ahaz turns to Assyria for help. Eventually, Israel and Aram are swept away by the might of the empire, and Judah stands alone, a vassal of Assyria. And when the Babylonian empire rises, Judah is defenseless. Ahaz would not dare a right relationship with this God-with-us in newborn form. He would not embrace kin-dom over kingdom.

Joseph the day laborer…his story is so short in our scripture. He is shrouded in mystery. However, history and story rarely record the lives of the poor. We don’t know how old he is, certainly older than young Mary. We only know the simple pieces offered in Matthew, and a tiny bit from Luke. Matthew 13 tells us that this humble carpenter is in fact a day laborer, one who must go out each day hoping and praying for work, for resources to care for himself and his family. Today’s reading in chapter one names him as righteous, and informs us that he is married to Mary. They are legally bound, contracts all signed. All that remains is for the ceremony that brings Mary from her parents’ house to Joseph’s house, and for the marriage to be consummated. 

Somehow, when we tell the Christmas story, Joseph comes off as relieved, or even excited to be told by the angel that Mary hasn’t been unfaithful, but is indeed giving birth to the holy Savior of the world. There is a reason that the angel begins the conversation with Joseph with “Don’t be afraid!” “Don’t be afraid…deep breath…don’t be afraid.” First, when angels make an appearance in the history of Israel, it is usually pretty scary. And second, God just informed Joseph-this poor, peasant, carpenter, day laborer-that he is responsible for raising and caring for God’s sacred child! Emmanuel…God-with-us!

Joseph, like his ancestor Abraham, doesn’t speak, but simply follows God’s instructions. He brings Mary into his home and he waits until the holy Savior from God arrived and some time has passed before he consummates their marriage. He claims father-ship of this child by doing as father’s do, naming the baby. He again follows God’s instructions and names the baby “God Saves,” Yeshua, Jesus. Joseph dared to enter this new and radical relationship with God-with-us revealed in newborn form. Joseph embraced the kin-dom that Ahaz rejected.

Ahaz or Joseph…Joseph or Ahaz? Though radically different, yet they both faced a terrifying choice. Do they trust that God’s new creation can be made manifest in the most vulnerable? Or do they place their trust in the power and might of this world? Will they open their arms and their hearts to receive this gift, this sign, this baby? Will they protect the child, nurture the child? And will they believe, somehow, in the mystery and wonder of God, that this little, new life will save them all and all the world?

That is one of the foundational questions of the season of Advent: Ahaz or Joseph…Joseph or Ahaz? Who will we emulate? There is so much to fear in our world today. We have been naming all that we struggle with for months and months—I will leave it to you to name what troubles your heart, mind and soul today. Isaiah’s words come to us today: “Be careful. Be calm. Don’t be afraid. Don’t make decisions based on your fear. God is with you! God IS with us!” The angel calls us into the dream: “Don’t be afraid! Behold the promised Child! Emmanuel! God IS with us!”

Open your arms! Open your heart! Receive Love made flesh! Protect this Love. Nurture this Love. Share this Love! Live Love! Love your neighbor, love yourself, and in doing so you love God. Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick and imprisoned. Welcome the stranger. Be LOVE to all the world. Let us join in our litany of belief!

In times when humanity disappoints, perhaps even when our own thoughts and behaviors disappoint, it is an important act to call out, name and claim the consequences of our wrongs. And in times of distress it is a prophetic act to call out, name and claim our belief in the hope for tomorrow. Let us proclaim our belief: Our communal response is

            I believe…help my unbelief.

I believe that we have been taught to fear one another AND I believe that we are capable of learning to love.

            I believe…help my unbelief.

I believe that our society is built on a foundation of oppression of some over others AND I believe that we can speak this truth and move to act in ways that balance this inequity.

            I believe…help my unbelief.

I believe that we are afraid AND I believe that we can lean on each other and God for courage to face anything.

            I believe…help my unbelief.

We believe, even when we are discouraged. We believe that when we are discouraged, raising for voices for justice will bring about more love in the world!

            I believe…help my unbelief.

We believe…help our unbelief. Amen.

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