A Reading from Isaiah 7:10-25
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah — the king of Assyria.”
18 On that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the sources of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. 19And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thorn bushes, and on all the pastures.
20 On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River — with the king of Assyria — the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well.
21 On that day one will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, 22and will eat curds because of the abundance of milk that they give; for everyone that is left in the land shall eat curds and honey.
23 On that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns. 24With bow and arrows one will go there, for all the land will be briers and thorns; 25and as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not go there for fear of briers and thorns; but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread.
As a sign that God will indeed protect Ahaz, the king of Judah, from his enemies, the prophet Isaiah proclaims: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The gospel writer, Matthew, later was to understand this prophecy as realized in the person of Jesus: “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (1:22-23).
The theme of prayer for protection from one’s enemies is common throughout the Psalms and notably in the “Song of Zechariah,” a canticle traditionally prayed at Morning Prayer: “[The God of Israel] has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David. Through his holy prophets he promised of old that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us” (Luke 1:69-71).
Who is our enemy? Paul reminds us that “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Two stanzas from the Advent hymn “Creator of the Stars of Night” become our prayer for today:
In sorrow that the ancient curse should doom to death a universe,
You came, O Saviour, to set free your own in glorious liberty.
Come in your holy might, we pray, redeem us for eternal day.
Defend us while we dwell below from all assaults of our dread foe.
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas.