Signs and cues from God figure prominently in today’s readings and today God is seemingly quite clear about what he will do, but this is not always the case. The friends of God are continually asking “God what do you want here?” and praying for the strength to be faithful to the answer. Isaiah opens with the historical dilemma of King Ahaz in a military pinch as forces align against him spelling the end of Judah. Ahaz is told to ask for a sign that all will be well, and when he refuses to ask, Isaiah gives it anyway.
Isaiah seems to foretell that Ahaz will bear a son and thus his kingdom will continue. The early church saw an even greater prophecy here, that of the Virgin Mary bearing the lasting son of Israel whose kingdom will know no end. In the end, Judah will be largely destroyed, and the truth that God is “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us,” will be difficult to accept. God is with us, but often not as we anticipate.
Ahaz was afraid. Death was at the door of Jerusalem. We can be very afraid too and sometimes this leads us to asking God for specific signs of his love that are outside of the designs of his providence. We want this person to be healed, this job to be secured, that love to last, etc. Our list of requests for God’s love and presence “with us” are often very pointed and personally tied to our heart’s needs and stresses. This is especially exhausting when God seemingly does not respond as we think he should. We can even lose faith. Ahaz himself never knew nor saw in his lifetime the sign that God is definitively with us in our fears, pain and struggles. That sign is Jesus, who is God the Son, born of a virgin, become fully man, who has lived, walked, cried, wept, laughed, loved, been betrayed, suffered horrifically and died. God has entered our human existence and not remained distant. He has heard our cries, entered the tears himself and given them a different ending through his resurrection from the dead. Through the sacraments he formally unites us with his new ending and calls us daily through prayer to hope and trust in him. This trust is not easy, because people still die and jobs are still lost.
This trust asks that we abandon in some ways, requests that leave no options for God to be God and to do or allow what God wishes. It doesn’t mean that we do nothing, only that in the end, we follow God with Paul’s “obedience of faith” trusting that God is still love and in absolute control, regardless of outcomes. Secondly, it is following God’s lead in his ways of truth and love regardless of the cost. Joseph accepted Mary into his home following the invitation of love through a dream and was not afraid. God would work this out. You and I too will be asked to follow love’s lead, always in accordance with a truth bigger than ourselves, spoken through the church. Love may ask us to forgive, serve, obey, move on or speak. We may not see the fruits of it either. Like Ahaz, the fruits of love may come long after we are gone.
QUestions for Reflection
1. Where in my prayer could I give God more freedom?
2. Where is the “obedience of faith” difficult?
3. What is love asking of me this Christmas season?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.