In the first reading, God sends the prophet Isaiah to bring a message of Good News to the troubled and fearful King Ahaz, who is facing a looming crisis. God invites Ahaz to have faith and rely completely on him. And to strengthen the weak king’s faith, he offers to grant him a sign; no matter how small or great, deep or high, God will accomplish it. But the king has a plan of his own. He has already decided to turn to human alliances, so he refuses to let the King of glory, the Lord, Emmanuel, enter his life to deal with the crisis that he is facing. Despite the king’s refusal to turn to him, God grants an extraordinary sign anyway, prophesied through Isaiah: “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” – a name which means “God is with us.”
In the Gospel, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, unlike Ahaz, through their obedience of faith, allow the Lord, the King of glory, to enter their lives – and this is the turning point in human history. St. Matthew confirms that the birth of Jesus Christ, which we will celebrate very soon, is the definitive fulfillment of the oracle of Isaiah (cf. CCC 497).
It is remarkable that God comes to us, he comes into our world, whether we want him to or not. He comes – one could even say he invades – but he does so without imposing himself upon us, for he respects human freedom. In his measureless love for us, he desires to intervene in our lives to help us. But we must allow him to enter; we must welcome him as our strength and our peace. This is the challenge of obedient faith. The question is, do we put into practice what we sing in today’s Responsorial Psalm: “Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory”? Do we let him enter, or do we make purely human plans for ourselves and push him out?
As we strive to learn better how to “let the Lord enter,” the Lord himself guides us, revealing his will to us in many ways: through the sacred Scriptures, in the promptings of the Spirit, by insights we receive in prayer, in the wisdom and guidance that comes through the Church and in the lives of the Saints, and through the people he has placed in our lives, in our family and community. Sometimes the direction the Lord gives us can seem confusing or threatening. We may be afraid of saying “yes” to him in faith, afraid of living in total reliance on him. When he asks us to take on a new task, for example, or a great responsibility, we may have doubts about our ability to live up to its demands. It is tempting to hold back, like Ahaz, and to claim that it would be too much to expect the Lord to help us in this unfamiliar place, and to meet our every need. It does not seem practical or realistic to take such a leap of faith! But to be obedient to the Lord, to “let the Lord enter,” we must trust in him and take a new step. It is not the words we say that indicate our humility and obedience; it is the decision of faith and the actions that flow from that decision. Faith means following the direction of the Lord, despite our fears.
St. Paul is a man who lives by faith. In the second reading, he explains to the Romans about the mission entrusted to him: to spread the Name of Jesus and to bring all the Gentiles to obedience of faith. As we ponder this passage today, we are the “Gentiles” whom Paul is inviting to have faith in the Name of Jesus. Paul specifies what kind of faith we need – not simply “faith” but obedient faith. This is the faith that moves us to take action, to go against our self-will, to take the risk of trusting the word of God and putting it into practice – that is, to be like Joseph and not like Ahaz. Obedient faith is living faith. Paul himself is an excellent example. He was given “the grace of apostleship,” he says, in order to proclaim the Gospel. He does not simply bask in the favor he has received, nor does he let false humility stop him from going forth. He lives his faith, giving witness to Jesus in all he says and does. This is our call as well. With the examples of St. Paul, St. Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin Mary before us, we renew our commitment to “let the Lord enter”: to listen to him, to welcome his word, and to do what he asks of us as we await his coming.
How does my pride weaken my trust and faith in the Lord? In what ways am I like Ahaz, who puts his hope and trust in human means and not in God? How can I draw spiritually closer to Mary and St. Joseph in the remaining days of Advent?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.