A Reading from Isaiah 7:1-9
1 In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. 2When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, 4and say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. 5Because Aram — with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah — has plotted evil against you, saying, 6Let us go up against Judah and cut off Jerusalem and conquer it for ourselves and make the son of Tabeel king in it; 7therefore thus says the Lord God:
It shall not stand,
and it shall not come to pass.
8 For the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
(Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered, no longer a people.)
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you do not stand firm in faith,
you shall not stand at all.
The king of Judah, Ahaz, is very fearful when he learns of the conspiracy against him by Syria and the Northern Kingdom. His heart “and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” In their terror, God sends the prophet Isaiah to assure Ahaz that his two enemies will not prevail over him and also to deliver these words: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” Similar words are found in the New Testament when Paul concludes his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, encouraging them to “keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (16:13-14).
These are wise words of advice as we observe the season of Advent during this time of pandemic. For the past nine months, most of the world has lived in dread and fear of a coronavirus that can kill the most vulnerable. Many of us have socially isolated ourselves for the common good, and we are weary and lonely. Prayers have been offered for the discovery of a vaccine, and through the concerted efforts of researchers and technicians, our prayers have been answered. However, we are not quite there yet. Now is the time to “stand firm.”
We see a vaccine on the skyline as we see twilight before dawn. But we also see Jesus on the horizon of history — as the coming sun of righteousness. We have possibly eight more months in which to exercise our now familiar disciplines. Let us prepare to greet these new days by keeping alert, standing firm in faith, and being courageous and strong. May all we do be done in love. Amen.
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas.