Almost exactly 10 years ago, January of 2010, Corinna was starting nursing school at Denver College of Nursing, beginning a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.
I remember a few months prior when I had gone with Corinna to check out the campus and talk more with an admissions advisor. Corinna was very excited about the program and the career opportunities available with a degree in nursing, but as we got back into the car and started the drive back home, she was understandably nervous about the endeavor.
For one, the program was insanely expensive. Maxing out the Federal Student loan options would still leave us short $1,000 per month. Secondly, the program was extremely intensive—21 months straight of full-time school. This was no easy task. But this was something she’d been working toward for some time, and deep down she was determined to make it through. And, 21 months later, October 3, 2011 she did.
But the journey along the way was certainly not without its challenges.
For one, we didn’t have a lot of money. I had actually just started seminary in the fall of 2009. I was making ends meet with a couple of part-time jobs and doing school in the evenings. She had quit her job to focus solely on school, so we had a combined household income of about $30,000 a year.
While I was working towards completing a Master of Divinity degree and ultimately wanted to pursue a career in church leadership and ministry, I was under no illusion that I was going to strike it rich in such a profession. Rather, Corinna was going to be our ticket to financial security.
Corinna bore a significant brunt of the burden financially in our family. Not so much that she was paying the bills right now, but that in time her career would be able to provide us the financially secure life we dreamed about.
If you remember back in the 2000’s, everyone was talking about a looming shortage of nurses so nursing as a career path was often promoted as a fairly lucrative career choice due to the high demand and theoretically low supply.
We looked at her far-off graduation date in the future as the moment when things would change, when the financial struggle would cease, when we wouldn’t have to constantly scrimp and save, when we could begin to live the life we had dreamed of.
To that point, I don’t remember if it was my idea or hers, but we made these large wooden dice to countdown the days until her graduation day.
Back then I worked for a lumber yard, so I was able to get some blocks of redwood and then she created some crafty numbers to help mark the time.
When the countdown blocks first went into effect, the number was somewhere around 600, six hundred days until that graduation day.
Almost every day for nearly two straight years, we’d rotate the blocks to correlate to the countdown number. Amidst the stress, the challenges, the drudgery of life and school during that time, we could look at those blocks and think;
“only 539 days until graduation…”
“only 345 days until graduation…”
“only 223 days…”
It was when the blocks hit double digits that the mood seemed to shift somewhat in our household.
What was up to that point a distant dream began to come into focus as oncoming reality.
But it was in those days in between, day 525, day 449, day 332, when she was overwhelmed with school work, when I was stressed about finances, when we were exhausted from the seemingly never ending process—she could look at those blocks, I could look at those blocks, we could look at those blocks and think, graduation day is, slowly but surely, getting closer and closer.
The blocks were for us a tangible sign of hope in the midst of our fatigue; a sign that things were going to get better, that things would improve, that there was reason to hope.
To this day, I’ve held onto one of those blocks because, for me at least, they were such an integral part of my life, looking to them every day when I needed another reason to keep going, another reason to hang on, another reason to hope.
I wonder if you’ve ever had something like that in your life?
Maybe it was a poster on the wall of your childhood bedroom of some famous hero or athlete you hoped to be like?
Maybe it was a teacher or mentor in your adolescence that gave you hope of what you could be.
Maybe it was a picture, a relic, a souvenir of some sort that reminded you of a better time in your life or your family’s life, and that item gave you reason to hope that those fond memories could happen again someday.
Maybe it was something else.
I just wonder what it was for you. Because, if you’re like most people, we tend to essentially memorialize some item as our reminder to hope when times are tough, when the future seems daunting, and things look bleak.
I’m not a sociologist, but to me it seems this is something humans have been doing for thousands of years. I sort of think this is why ancient humans made idols to represent their gods. They wanted to tangible symbol in which they could put their hope and trust, rather than just some ethereal entity.
In the Bible, idols are strongly discouraged, and asking for external signs and symbols hope was often frowned upon also. Yet, this often didn’t stop many ancient people from seeking a tangible symbol of hope.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the ancient character of Gideon, a guy who was tasked by God with going up in battle against a mighty army. But Gideon was a skeptical guy who repeatedly asked God for a sign. He wanted to lay out fleece one night and find it wet with due one morning while the ground would be dry. God did it. Unsatisfied however, Gideon asks God to do the opposite, to have the ground be wet and the fleece dry.
If you’ve ever heard the term, “laying out a fleece” in reference to trying to figure out the future, this is where the term comes from.
Anyway, the point is that generally people were encouraged to put their hope and trust in God without seeking a sign.
Enter Ahaz, king of the ancient kingdom of Judah.
The nation to just to the north, the kingdom of Israel, had recently been conquered by the ancient military superpower of the Assyrians and King Ahaz was feeling the heat himself. His military advisors were torn on what to do: ally with a neighboring country to fight or simply beg for mercy from the Assyrians.
Ahaz didn’t know what to do.
So, in walks Isaiah the prophet, or perhaps we should say, over walks Isaiah the prophet.
Let’s pick up the story in the text (Isaiah 7:10-16)
From what I can gather, it seems the king was out and about around the ancient city of Jerusalem and is confronted by Isaiah.
Imagine if you will, the two of them apparently in the midst of a group of people when Isaiah challenges Ahaz to ask God for a sign.
“Not so fast,” says Ahaz. “I know I’m not supposed to do that.”
“Too bad,” Isaiah declares, “you’re getting one anyway!”
Isaiah proclaims, “a young woman is pregnant, she’ll name her newborn son Immanuel—and before the boy is even out of diapers, this threat you’re so worried about will be gone.”
What’s so interesting is that many scholars think that when Isaiah was speaking, he basically picked out a pregnant woman from the crowd of on-lookers and said,
“Hey, here’s a reason to hope. Before this woman’s child is born and grown, the threat will be over.”
Because God is with you. That’s what the name Immanuel means, “God with us.”
When the king was tempted to put his faith and hope in the kindness of strangers or in military might—Isaiah wanted the king to understand that he need not hope in others—rather he could simply hope in God and trust in God’s presence with them.
Perhaps you’re sitting here hearing these words and thinking to yourself, “hey this sounds somewhat familiar.”
You’ve probably thinking of the verse in the book of Matthew, where when writing about the birth of Jesus, the author quotes this encounter.
To Matthew, this real-life encounter between Isaiah and a pregnant women hundreds of years ago, was also a premonition of what was also to happen via the birth of Jesus. Though, rather than just a sign of hope and reminder of God’s presence for these ancient people, according to Matthew, the birth of Jesus was a sign of hope and symbol of God’s presence for the whole world!
Writing to God’s people hundreds of years in the future, Matthew was sharing the same message as Isaiah. Do not put your trust in strangers or in military might, rather hope in God and trust in God’s presence.
If we fast forward a couple thousand years to our current time and place, we don’t necessarily face the same threats as King Ahaz way back then, or even those of Matthew’s contemporaries. There’s no threat of invasion, there’s no pressure to enter into hasty treaties, the world isn’t collapsing around us.
Or is it?
Last Tuesday, we had three significant, perhaps historic announcements made in our nation.
Articles of Impeachment
Inspector General Report on origins of Russia Probe.
And that was just this last week.
Lest we forget, the seemingly impending doom of climate change, the rising threat of global recession, the increasing challenges of wealth inequality.
But, before we can worry about what’s happening in the nations politics or the world’s weather, we’ve got to figure out in our own life, in our own family how we’re going to earn enough money to get by, how we’re going to afford our medical bills, how we’re going to be able to send our kids to college.
Our nation in turmoil, our climate in crisis, our family finances insecure—King Ahaz has got nothing on us.
So, we look for a sign, something, anything on which to hang our hope.
A political leader, a technological revolution, an America-First ideal.
A new job, a new pay raise, a new opportunity, a new…anything.
Anything, something, whatsoever we can put our hope in.
But it’s in the midst of our uncertainty, our beleaguerment, our despair that God walks in and says,
“hey, it’s right in front of you, I’m right here in front of you. I’m hear with you, and I’ll always be with you. Hope in this, hope in me.”
A couple weeks ago I was having breakfast with Nellis and we were talking about ideas for message topics. She talked about the idea of celebrating the every day miracles of life, about being grateful for the small gifts of living.
I sort of think that’s what Isaiah did.
He looked around him, he saw a woman carrying within her a new life, a new person and he said,
“hey, see, look there; amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, God is still here, God is still present, God is with us—if we just look around, if we just open our eyes—we’ll see God, even in the face of a young pregnant woman.”
Let me be real and say, hope is hard.
"Hope does not come naturally to human beings. On the evidence of our senses, despair is perfectly rational. Entropy is built into nature. Decay is knit into our flesh. By all appearances, the universe is cold, empty and indifferent. There is a certain bleak dignity in accepting the challenge of a hopeless cause."
But, we want there to be more, we want a reason to hope.
The problem is we are tempted to put our hope and trust into things, into circumstances, into situations.
Instead, God comes to us and says, “hope in me, I’m with you—and I’ll never leave you.”
This is the good news we celebrate at Christmas.
This is what the birth of Jesus signifies for us.
When we put our hope in God, when we lean into God’s presence, things won’t magically get better, our problems won’t simply disappear—but we’ll have a reason to keep going, to keep living, to keep hoping.
This season of Advent, this time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the future return of Jesus to this earth at the Second Coming, hope can’t wait in your life.
 Lisa Wilson Davison, Preaching the Women of the Bible, 55.
 Michael Gerson, The Washington Post, 12/5/19