For three weeks now, we have been preparing room in our hearts for our Lord’s coming. Are you ready yet? Are you prepared for God to be with you 24/7? Or have your circumstances, such as worries over holiday preparations and family travel, made it hard for you to see or imagine that God is with you?
Our first story today is about one of God’s people who hears God’s words but can’t seem to imagine that God is with him. Ahaz is a descendant of David, and King of Judah; but he is overwhelmed by his worries and can’t seem to see around them. Ahaz is so worried about a military alliance between the Kings of Israel and Aram that he is plundering his own treasury and the Temple to buy an alliance with the King of Assyria – someone he should fear far more than Israel and Aram.
Yet Ahaz is unable to see beyond his own suspicion and worry to hear what God’s prophet Isaiah is telling him. Do not worry about the alliance between Israel and Aram, instead trust the Lord your God. Isaiah tells him, “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.”
Still Ahaz can’t get beyond his skepticism or mistrust, so God in his grace gives Ahaz a blank check. Ask for any proof you need that I am with you, and I will give it to you. But Ahaz responds as if he thinks it’s a trick. I think he is so engrossed in his worries that he can’t imagine that God is with him; even as God gives him a sign, “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
Almost 700 years before the birth of Christ, God is telling Ahaz that if he will only trust God – that if he is open to God’s presence in his life – in the time it takes for a child to be born and weaned, all of Ahaz’s worries will be resolved.
Yet Ahaz will not accept God’s assurances; he has too much reliance that his own scheme will fix things, and too little trust in God. Ahaz will not open his heart and mind to a different story or outcome; he is open neither to God’s promise nor his presence. Ahaz cannot imagine that God is present even amid his worry.
I suspect many of us can relate to Ahaz’s plight. When things begin to go sideways in our lives, as they do, I think most of us try to fix the problem ourselves, or with the help of others, rather than turning around and returning to God with the simple plea of, help me! Asking God for help may come in the end, but too often it is as an act of desperation when all else has failed.
I imagine this saddens but doesn’t surprise God. Nevertheless, she is right there with her hands and arms extended, saying I am here and waiting for you to return to me. Yet too often amid our worries we ignore or can’t see God.
Our blindness to God’s presence reminds me of the story of Balaam and his donkey. As Balaam rides his donkey on his way to see Balak, he and his donkey encounter an angel of the Lord. But Balaam doesn’t see the angel; he is too busy worrying about what he is going tell Balak that he fails to see what any seer worth their salt would see, the angel of the Lord standing before him with a drawn sword. It takes a donkey to open Balaam’s eyes to what is right before him.
In our second story, we have another angel of the Lord, and another descendant of David, who is busy making his own plans without asking God for help. But in this story there is a difference, this particular man is righteous. Joseph is in the habit of looking to and obeying God’s commands, as result he has a trusting relationship with God. Thus when the angel of the Lord appears to him, Joseph is prepared to hear a version of the story that is different than he has envisioned, and Joseph is able to set aside his worry.
Joseph hears the same words that Ahaz heard, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Yet Joseph is able hear this story, Joseph is able to accept that God is with him, and he is able to imagine that he has a role to play in this story. Joseph is open and prepared to receive that which is promised to him.
As you and I hear this very same story, are we able to let go of our worries and receive that which is promised to us? Are we able to open our hearts to Emmanuel – to God who is with us? As we prepare for Christ’s coming, let’s acknowledge that which worries us, let’s acknowledge that we don’t fully know what is in store for us. Let’s let go of our worry and simply turn to face God’s presence and faithfulness. Emmanuel – God is with us!
 Isaiah 7:9b
 Isaiah 7:14b
 Matthew 1:23