Sunday Scripture readings, Dec. 18, 2022: Fourth Sunday of Advent
1) Is 7:10-14 Psalm 24:1-6
2) Rom 1:1-7 Gospel: Mt 1:18-24
A message for all of us who find ourselves in difficult situations: God is with us
Have you ever found yourself in a complicated situation without good options?
In our first reading, King Ahaz faces such a complex set of problems that modern historians have not untangled it. It involved nations, alliances, plots, threats, attacks.
In the Old Testament course that I teach, his predicament is the knottiest piece of history we have to deal with. Even the name given to it — the Syro-Ephraimite Crisis — is complicated.
God was concerned about Ahaz. He sent the prophet Isaiah to tell him: “Remain calm and do not fear; do not let your courage fail.” Apparently, Ahaz did not respond to this reassurance. Perhaps he felt it was easy for Isaiah to deliver these words. After all, Isaiah didn’t have responsibility for the country’s survival.
Isaiah brought Ahaz a warning too. “Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm!”
Now (in today’s reading) Isaiah tries a different approach. He tells Ahaz that God is willing to give him a sign to guide him. But Ahaz isn’t interested.
“I will not tempt the Lord,” he replies. That sounds humble and pious. But, as one commentator explains, Ahaz is feigning reluctance to ask God for a private revelation: “The king is actually attempting to conceal his doubts and fears.”
Ahaz seems afraid of many things: a distant emperor who might come and take over, neighboring kings who are moving their armies toward him, internal pressure groups. Maybe what scares him most is the idea of putting the whole mess in God’s hands.
God, however, does not give up. Although Ahaz refuses to ask, Isaiah promises him a sign anyway. A child will be born who will be named Emmanuel, which is simply the Hebrew for “God is with us!”
This is what God wanted Ahaz to know: I’m with the people I have called. I’m with you, Ahaz.
It isn’t entirely clear, but it seems that rather than sitting tight and trusting God to act, Ahaz made an alliance with the empire that eventually came and did the country great harm.
There is a message here for all of us who find ourselves in difficult situations. “Emmanuel.” God is with us. God is with you and with me.
This season marks his most astonishing coming to be with us. Let’s not do an Ahaz and keep him at a distance. Let’s welcome him into our complicated lives.
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.