Sunday 16th June
The sign of Immanuel - Isaiah 7:13-17

'Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah - he will bring the king of Assyria."'

Isaiah was now recognised as God's messenger, and a man of sufficient influence to be able to summon the monarch of his people to meet in a field that served as the city's laundry. But there were bigger issues about which to be concerned. The nation had become divided, leaving huge questions for each partner about the unions and alliances that they should now form. Each watched the other's every move, concerned about the implications for their own security and stability.

Narratives of fear abounded as the threat of northern military alliances left the people of Judah feeling isolated and exposed. The king was right to be concerned, looking to his own devices and the support of his allies to shore up his rule.

But God's message was simple and straightforward - don't be afraid, your concerns are not beyond the scope of God's purposes; keep your nerve. He was even offered a sign to confirm this but preferred his own solutions to trusting in God.

This is the backdrop to the pronouncement from Isaiah that our Scriptures record. In the light of the king's refusal, a more disturbing reality was revealed - the King of Assyria would wreak upon the land a devastation far worse than anything currently feared or envisaged.Yet in the midst of this disturbing message is revealed the vital truth "Immanuel" - God is with us.

These words have become so central to the narratives of the nativity, that we might easily forget the context in which they were first declared. A common question that often confronts us is "Where is God when times are difficult?" The reality which Isaiah and his fellow prophets began to announce was that God had not become absent by failing to hold secure the borders of His people's land, but was holding back the judgement that their wrongdoing and injustice deserved. God's coming was not a rescue from the inevitable, but a challenge to confront it.

The future feels deeply uncertain and speculations of every shade abound. We may be no more able than anyone else to predict what lies in store, but of one thing we can be certain. Wherever we find ourselves in the months and years to come, for those who choose to embrace that truth - God will be with us.

God of all truth, may seeking Your presence be more important to me than the cost of the circumstances in which You might be found.

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