|During this Advent season, we find ourselves journeying into God and the mysteries of the incarnation. While the stories may seem familiar as we encounter them each year, may we draw new life from these ancient texts, which continue to bear seeds of faith and hope for us.
The first reading begins with Isaiah’s prophesy of Emmanuel – God with us. The prophesy comes to Ahaz, a king in the midst of threats of warfare all around him. God offers a sign to confirm that His help is all that Ahaz needs – but Ahaz claims he needs no such sign. It seems to me that Ahaz is acting like those relatives that tell you, gee, you didn’t need to get me anything. But of course, you know you do! Ahaz is playing it cool. His faith is being tested.
Isaiah’s prophesy is subtle and difficult to comprehend at the time – after all, the birth and growth of a child would require time and great patience. It was probably not what Ahaz wanted to hear, particularly if he was worried about how to keep his enemies at bay. But the promise given portends the ultimate form of security – God dwelling in the midst of the people. “Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.”
Paul’s letter to the Romans lays claim to the fulfillment of these prophetic words. He writes as one who has joined himself to the risen Son of God, receiving apostleship “to bring about the obedience of faith.” This obedience is due to the one who has raised Jesus from the dead, and who has called us to holiness. We cannot do this of ourselves. Like Ahaz, we are called to open our hearts. “Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.”
In today’s gospel, we see the obedience of faith being modeled in Joseph. The angel who appeared to him in a dream said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid….” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel commanded him. Joseph received an explanation from the angel, but I am sure that he still had some unanswered questions. Some have speculated that Joseph’s fears may have been rooted in consciousness of his own inadequacy to play this role in salvation history. Could any of us not be daunted by the prospect of being the spouse to the Theotokos? Somehow, Joseph was able to act on the word that was given to him. Matthew explains that this was part of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophesy, but it is not clear that Joseph acted on such knowledge. In the midst of crisis, we cannot always connect the dots. But we act and move, as we must.
We are called to the obedience of faith. This usually requires choices to be made without a complete understanding of their significance in the unfolding plan of God. Not many of us get an angelic message to guide or confirm our choices. Instead, we must rely on daily encounters with God that come through the scriptures, the sacraments, and prayer. By listening and discerning – often in silence and stillness — we are given the privilege of participating in the life of God to which we are called, overcoming our fears through love that grows to displace them. Like other forms of incremental change, we may not recognize it until time has passed, but when we do, it gives us hope. “Let the Lord enter; he is the king of Glory.” Thanks be to God.