Ahem, Ahaz, Amen
Three major players in salvation history showed up this week-end in the Liturgy of the Word and I would like to share with you some personal reflections on them and perhaps apply what is learned from them to the lives we try so hard to live. Isaiah, the great prophet of Advent is heard from again (as he will be at the Mass of Midnight when he foretells that “the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.”) Continuing to spread his message of hope and realistic expectations, he introduces us this week-end to a leader of the tribe of Judah, Ahaz by name. The first reading from the Mass tells us of the Lord’s attempt to get Ahaz to ask for a sign, any sign from the Lord, His God. Ahaz declines the Lord’s generous offer and one might think this was done out of humility, fear, uncertainty, whatever. In fact, Ahaz, does indeed want something – military help in staving off an invasion of the tribes of Israel and Syria. His mind is far from reflecting on what he might ask of God short of more munitions, warriors, etc. So, the offer spurned by Ahaz, is given to him anyway – a baby! Can anyone think of anything or anyone less powerful than a baby? Innocence, yes, but how is one to stave off one’s enemies by the birth of a child, especially one whose name will be “God With Us” or Emmanuel. Judah remains vulnerable but, ahem, Ahaz is told that the sign he so desperately seeks and wants will be a child.
The Gospel introduces us to Joseph, foster-father of the Lord, husband to Mary, chosen by God for a special purpose since he was of the Davidic line. Ahaz is one up on Joseph because at least he says something in Scripture. Search hard as you will, you can not find one word uttered by Joseph. In fact, he appears as a silent player in only two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel and then recedes into the wings of salvation history. Joseph like Ahaz has a real and immediate problem. The woman to whom he is engaged has told him that she is pregnant and it is certainly not his child but she also tells him of how she came to be aware of the life she was carrying – an angel appeared to her. Wait one second, angels to the rescue part two – Joseph is told not to be afraid but to take Mary sooner rather than later as his wife and the angel denominates that the child’s name will be “Emmanuel” or “God With Us”, what the Lord said to Ahaz long ago. Ah, but Joseph too carries a serious vulnerability. His religion and religious faith allows him only two options, neither particularly attractive: divorce Mary, call off the engagement, shame her since she is with child and will soon be showing, or have her identified as an adulteress and stoned to death. That’s what Joseph’s law required of a just man of faith. But he loves her and even though very vulnerable to public opinion, he decides to do as the angel says and he takes her more quickly as his wife. All of this caused by an as yet unborn child.
All of us feel particularly vulnerable at times, worrying about things which are only known to us, worrying about keeping or getting a job, worrying about our homes which are underwater or too highly leveraged, worried about the influence of secular society on our life and that of our children and those we love. Angels don’t appear to us but the Lord does not abandon us, He speaks to us, encourages us, tell us to hope and wait, never to feel abandoned but forever faithful. And what brings all this reality together for us this week? A baby. Amen.
More to come.