Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent
The Lord will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. (Is 7:14)
A recent Pew Research Study reported that 79% of people believe that our lack of trust is making it impossible to solve our problems. (Declining Trust | Pew Research Center) This includes trust in institutions like government, health care, corporations, and even the Church.
Unfortunately, this lack of trust spills over into our trust of God. Not trusting God makes it especially impossible to solve our problems. On the One Dollar bill is a motto that says, “In God we trust.” Do we? Do we really trust God with all decisions, all the time? Or are we more aligned with the other motto, Novus Ordo Seclorum, which might be translated as “A New Secular Order”?
There are two men featured in the Advent readings, King Ahaz and Saint Joseph. They both had a decision to make. One trusted God, the other did not. One created a kingdom. The other destroyed a kingdom. Both can teach us the importance of trusting God in our decisions, and lay claim to the promise of the angel Gabriel, “Nothing is impossible with God.” (Lk 1:37)
The first man is King Ahaz. Ahaz is the king of Judah. He is being threatened by two neighboring kingdoms. To hold onto his power and position, he narrowed his decision down to two options. Do I make an alliance with the kingdom in the North or the kingdom to the East? With an alliance, he reasoned, his position would be secure and his own kingdom would be strong enough to fend off the other.
The prophet Isaiah warned Ahaz. An alliance with either of these kingdoms would pollute the religion of the Jewish people. He begged Ahaz to refuse to make one of these unholy alliances. Instead, he tells Ahaz to consider a third option, God’s option. Trust that God will protect his chosen people. Ahaz resisted. Isaiah continued. If you don’t believe me, “Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” (Is 7:10-14)
He would not ask the Lord for help. Not only did he not ask, but he also feigned a certain level of false piety, “I will not tempt the LORD!”
Against Isaiah’s pleading, Ahaz formed an alliance with one of these two nations. This move temporarily secured his position as king but defiled the temple faith. It wasn’t long before the kingdom was overthrown and the people were exiled to another country. Ahaz did not trust in the Lord but rather trusted in a foreign kingdom. He placed his own desire to keep the power above the desire of the Lord to keep the faith.
In the decisions in our life, we sometimes are like Ahaz. We conclude that we must choose between one of two undesirable options. “Either I choose this bad situation or this other equally bad situation.” We don’t ask God for a third option, for God’s option. We don’t trust God to help us in our lives. We don’t even want to ask the Lord for a sign that there is a third option. Our minds are made up.
We lose the faith and find ourselves in exile or captivity.
The second example of trust comes from Saint Joseph. Joseph is betrothed to Mary. Like Ahaz, he had a decision to make. His dilemma: Mary was found with child. To maintain honor and cultural expectations, he also was considering two options, both unpleasant. One was to have her publicly humiliated by stoning her to death. The other was to divorce her quietly.
God then speaks to Joseph in a dream and gives him a third option. “Take Mary your wife into your home.” (Mt 1:20) At that day and age, that would have cultural suicide. Upon waking, Joseph had to decide whether he is going to trust the cultural norms established for pious Jews, or is he going to trust in God, who spoke to him in a dream.
If he trusted in the norms, everyone would understand, a quiet divorce was the honorable way to handle this embarrassing and unfortunate situation. If he trusted in God, then he may be the object of scorn and ridicule. He trusted God, and a new king was born.
Ahaz and Joseph evaluated two alternatives and decided upon a proper course of action. God offered an unforeseen third option. Ahaz was closed to God’s option. He did not even ask the Lord for a sign. He did not want to risk losing his status. In the end, his kingdom was destroyed, and the people were placed in captivity.
Joseph was open to God’s option, risking his honor and position in the community. In the end, because Joseph was open to new possibilities, a new kingdom has been established with Christ as Lord.
In your life, if you feel stuck between two bad options, look for a third option. God’s option. Don’t be afraid to ask God for a sign. Listen for God’s voice speaking to you, in the circumstances of your life, and even in dreams.
Next weekend, we celebrate the most magnificent unforeseen third option. The birth of Jesus. The world is broken, and the offenses against God, the people God loves, and God’s creation are legion. If we were God, our two options would be this. Either I send a meteor to destroy all of the wickedness of the world, or I put up with their folly, insult, and sin and watch them suffer. Instead of destroying the planet, or tolerating the infidelity, God chose a third, unforeseen option. He came to be with us, and filled the world with grace upon grace. He showed on the cross that trust is hard, but in the end trusting God is the only way to new life.
Trust in the Lord like Joseph. Trust in the Lord like Mary. Trust in the Lord like their newborn baby. Trust that with God, nothing is impossible.
May this holy week bring you many blessings.