Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday of Advent

A Few Observations

Today's readings lend themselves to a few interesting observations.

1. Ahaz didn't want to hear what God wanted to tell him. Just for some background here, Ahaz was a king in the southern kingdom of Judah, which had broken with the northern kingdom of Israel and was being threatened by the Assyrians. Ahaz wanted to join the northern kingdom in a coalition with Assyria. He was hoping to save himself and his kingdom, but God had other ideas. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God told Ahaz to trust in Him alone and not to make a deal with the Assyrians. God even told Ahaz that he could ask for a sign to prove that God was telling the truth. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign. He didn't want to hear what God had to say. He wanted to follow his own plans.

2. God gave Ahaz a sign anyway. Again speaking through Isaiah, God said, “...the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” This prophecy can work on several levels. Initially, it may have been referring to the birth of Ahaz's son Hezekiah, which would cement the dynastic line and prove God's protection for Ahaz's family. But the Holy Spirit could see much further than the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah. There was another level of meaning to this prophecy, for it pointed ahead to Someone else, Someone Who would someday come into the world.

3. Today's Psalm response is “Let the Lord enter; He is king of glory.” We should be asking ourselves if we are ready to let the Lord enter into every area of our lives and reign as the king of glory in our hearts and in our world.

4. Paul reminds us in the introduction to his letter to the Romans that Jesus Christ is both God and Man. He is descended from David in the flesh, Paul notes, but He is also established as the Son of God in power. His divinity was definitively revealed in the Resurrection.

5. We are called to the obedience of faith. This is a living faith, an active faith, that does not just sit back and say, “Yup! I believe!” This is a faith that obeys God's command to love Him and to love our neighbor. This is a faith that works. 

6. Some saints and theologians have observed that Joseph's motive for divorcing Mary quietly may not be quite what it appears on the surface. Could Joseph, who knows Mary so well and is certainly aware of her purity, really think that she committed adultery? And if he does not truly believe that, then why, being a righteous man, does he want to divorce her? Could Joseph have another motive? The saints and theologians mentioned above think that perhaps Joseph already believed that Mary's pregnancy was miraculous. They wonder if Joseph felt unworthy to assume the role he was called to play. If so, he may simply have wanted to back out quietly and let someone else take over. The angel's words of reassurance could support this interpretation. The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Why would he be afraid if he thought Mary had been unfaithful? He would more likely be angry. The angel also says, “For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” The Greek word for “for” could also be translated as “indeed.” Read the angel's words again with this slight change: “Indeed, it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Now it sounds like the angel is confirming something Joseph already knows.

7. The angel gives Joseph an important role in Jesus' life. Joseph is to name this Child. This means that he is to take on the role of a father. He will protect and guide this Child as He grows up. He will teach Him what He needs to know. He will provide an example for Him to imitate. He will be Jesus' human father even though he is not His biological father.

8. These readings provide a prime example of how Scripture interprets Scripture. The Gospel contains the prophecy found in the First Reading: “...the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” According to the angel, and therefore according to God, this prophecy originally given to Ahaz through Isaiah really refers to Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. The message could not be clearer.

9. Joseph obeys immediately. He does not hesitate. He realizes that God has truly spoken to him through the angel, and he believes. There are no more questions, no more fears. He takes Mary as his wife and assumes the role of father to Mary's Child. If only we all were that quick to obey God's will for us.

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