by Catherine Heinhold
returned Maryknoll lay missioner
Advent is a season of waiting – waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. As people of faith, we believe that God will be faithful. We know from experience, however, that this does not mean we will not encounter difficulty, defeat, and suffering. So what does God’s faithfulness actually mean?
The people in today’s readings find themselves in difficult situations. Ahaz, the king of Judah, under pressure of attack from would-be allies, found himself tempted to rely on an earthly power (Assyria). Isaiah relays the word of the Lord, that Ahaz should trust in God’s faithfulness, and that he may even ask for a sign from the Lord. Ahaz does not want a sign, but God, through Isaiah, gives him one anyway – that a young woman would conceive, bear a son, and name him Emmanuel. Today’s reading ends here, but the story continues: Ahaz refuses to trust in the Lord and instead trusts in Assyria, placing his kingdom under subjugation. So then what happened to God’s promise of faithfulness?
In today’s Gospel reading, Joseph also finds himself in a sticky situation. When Mary’s pregnancy is discovered, he believes that the right thing to do under Mosaic law is to divorce her. He wants to do the right thing, but he does not want Mary to suffer. We can imagine his anguish at the situation. Like Ahaz, Joseph receives a message from God, this time from an angel in a dream who explains the situation and promises that the child to be born will save the people from their sins. Matthew connects this message to the message Isaiah gave to Ahaz – a promise given that in fact has not been broken (despite Ahaz’s lack of faith), and is about to be fulfilled in a new and more complete way. And the promise is this: God with us. Emmanuel. Not God-who-will-fix-every-difficulty-and-prevent-all-suffering-right-now. God who will be with us, who will live with us, who will rejoice with us, who will suffer and die with us. This is God’s solidarity with God’s people…
This reflections was prepared by Catherine Heinhold, a returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner, for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns Advent reflections series.