v. 17 I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.
Ultimately this is Isaiah's callenge to Ahaz (the king of Judah) and his people. Wait for and trust in God even though God seems hidden to you. This message easily flashes through the centuries to our own time and our own, personal place. It is the message of Advent, timeless: wait for the God who seems hidden. And hope, for that God will surely come.
It is neither a surprise nor an accident that Advent occurs as winter settles in, and the days grow shorter and colder, and the earth around us seems to go into hibernation, if not death. Advent is the challenge to keep hope alive even under these circumstances, with whatever equivalent we have of Samaria and Aram threatening our borders and with whatever equivalent we have of Assyria as a source of power that may prop us up in the short term but cost us dearly in the long term.
Just in terms of the massive consumerism that confronts us this time of year, Samaria and Aram play out in those endless lists of desired gifts and the not so subtle threat they bring: I may not like you as much if you do not fulfill my wants. I will certainly like you more if you do. Do our loved ones overtly say and even mean such things? Not usually. But is this their effect? It is.
And then there is the temptation of Assyria, playing on our television sets during the endless commercials promising that one thing or another will give happiness to us and to those we love. We can buy our way to fulflled relationship. We are tempted in this direction, and like ancient Judah, succumb to it, even though we know it is a false promise. Relationships built on Christmas consumerism are fragile relationships indeed.
The only other answer seems awfully trite and puny: have a little faith. But that is exactly what Isaiah is saying to Judah. Have a little faith. Have a little faith in yourselves and in the God whose power is what brings true newness (and tomorrow we shall hear one of the great proclamations of that newness).
Buy your gifts if you must (and I put myself in that category--I will buy the gifts that my family wants this year as I do every year) but don't for a second put any trust in them at all. They are not my relationship with those I love. My relationship can only be the gift from God that it is. I have hope in the love that is between us not because of the gifts that we give one another, but sometimes in spite of them!