Sunday, Dec. 22, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Mass readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24.
Advent begins its final week with the stories of two men, both “sons of David,” Ahaz, of the Old Testament, and Joseph, of the New Testament. They stand in contrast to one another in every way.
King Ahaz was one of most weak and wicked kings of Judah. He began to practice evil, sacrificing his own children. “He even burned his own son as an offering,” we are told in 2 Kings 16. When Ahaz hears that his enemies are uniting against him, “his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). He was desperately afraid and planned to forge an alliance with pagan nations and ask for their help.
But God does not want his people to seek help from other nations: He will be their help. The Lord sends Isaiah to tell Ahaz, “Do not fear” (Isaiah 7:4) and invites him to ask for a sign to reassure him.
Ahaz has no intention of changing his plans. His mind is made up. In false piety, he pretends that he has too much reverence for God to “put the Lord to the test.”
Isaiah is disgusted. “Is it too much little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?”
He will give a sign anyway — a great prophecy, and one that hails the coming of the Savior in an unmistakable way: “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
Then, 700 years later, another descendent of King David will be invited to change his plans.
The righteous Joseph becomes aware that Mary, his betrothed, is with child. He has given it great thought and has determined that it would be best to “divorce her quietly.” But just as in the case of Ahaz, this is not God’s plan. Another messenger is sent, this time an angel, to reassure Joseph with the familiar words, “Do not be afraid.” And then Joseph hears the words of prophecy that he would long have been familiar with, the words spoken by Isaiah to his ancestor long ago. This time, the prophecy is being fulfilled in his family, in his own home.
Joseph receives the message with humility and obedience, the “obedience of faith,” as Paul calls it in the second reading. He changes his plans and “did as the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” Unlike Ahaz, who sacrificed his son, Joseph becomes the protector of the Child Jesus and is willing to leave behind everything he knows, moving to Egypt to spare him from Herod’s evil plot.
Are we willing to pivot when God invites us to look at things his way? Mankind was on a set course, careening toward total loss, when the submissive assent of two humble people allowed eternity to plunge into history and change the direction of our destiny.
Advent is moving swiftly toward its end, but it is never too late to lay aside our disobedience and distrust — which can sneak into our lives in a million small ways — and embrace the way God reveals his will to us even if it seems counterintuitive. We will never, ever be sorry that we did.
Claire Dwyer blogs about saints, spirituality and the sacred
everyday. She is editor of
SpiritualDirection.com and coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix,
where she lives with her husband and
their six children.