Embracing God’s promise

| Father Dan Haugan | December 19, 2019 | 0 Comments


The Thanksgiving week snowstorm caused me to do something I had planned to do for months: set up all the bells and whistles on my TV.

Being a Neo-Luddite, I had resisted, or more truthfully was scared, of all that went into getting my Netflix account to play through my TV. I asked a very techno-savvy parishioner of mine to help so I could binge-watch “The Crown” during the imminent snow-nami. After a few episodes, I began to reflect on many of the other kings and queens in history, especially the kings and queens found in the Bible.

Ahaz, mentioned in the first reading for this fourth Sunday of Advent, was a king. His small kingdom of Judah was smaller than the present State of Israel. He was being attacked on all sides and was trying to buy protection from his stronger neighbors. The prophet Isaiah instructed Ahaz that this plan would never work. He told Ahaz that his trust in a military alliance would fail and he should rather put his trust in the providence of God.

Isaiah told Ahaz that God would give him a sign that trusting in him was the right policy.

The sign was that a young woman, likely Ahaz’s wife, would bear a son with the symbolic name Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

King Ahaz wanted nothing to do with Isaiah’s plan to trust in God alone. He rejected it by saying, “I will not put the Lord to the test asking for a sign.”

In reality, Ahaz considered the prophet’s advice to trust in God alone greatly impractical, just the kind of nonsense you would expect to hear from a preacher. In reality, King Ahaz was the type of person who retains the outward forms of belief in God, but is very careful to keep the Lord at arm’s length.

Many people throughout the world report that they have had a “personal experience of God.” Their lives have been permanently altered by such an experience in such a way that they give themselves over completely to faith in God.

However, there seem to be just as many people for whom their encounter with God elicits no change in their lives, because they are unwilling to face up to the radical demand that belief in God would make on them. They continue living as before, with their experience of God soon becoming for them a faded memory.

As Isaiah’s prophecy was translated into Greek for circulation among the Jews in the Mediterranean countries outside of Palestine, the Hebrew word for “young woman” became in Greek “a virgin.”

By the time the Gospels were written, Christians saw in Isaiah‘s promise a sign of something more wonderful than the prophet had ever imagined, the birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

The text is cited by Matthew in this sense in this week’s Gospel.

Jesus was born of a virgin, not because normal conception and birth are second rate, but rather, as a sign that he comes not from within humanity (like us), but from outside of humanity, from God. Jesus is the true Emmanuel. He is God made human, he is God’s personal pledge that he is with us.

Jesus is the one who even now is longing and yearning for our souls. He came that we might have life, and have it superabundantly, a new life in him. For us to encounter Christ, we must open our souls to him. God’s purpose will be accomplished regardless of our decisions, but our decisions are crucial nonetheless. To refuse to open the door of our souls by keeping God at arm’s length like King Ahaz is to shut out of our lives the one who alone can give our lives real meaning, give us strength to surmount every suffering, and ultimately give us fulfillment and peace.

Keeping God at a distance means missing out on the best chance for happiness we will ever be offered. It means failing to appear for that personal rendezvous with our destiny to truly become the person God made us to be.

For the remainder of Advent and into this Christmas season, let’s let God into our lives and embark on life’s greatest adventure.

Saying yes to him places us by the side of the virgin of whom Isaiah wrote, without knowing it, and whom we encounter in today’s Gospel, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Two thousand years after Mary opened the door to God by saying yes to becoming the mother of his Son, she continues to inspire us to say YES to God.

Father Haugan is pastor of Holy Spirit in St. Paul.

Sunday, December 22
Fourth Sunday of Advent

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Category: Sunday Scriptures