The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Behold
It was right there in front of him, but Ahaz did not want to see it. He did not want to behold the work of God. He would rather decide his own fate and that of his Kingdom, then trust in God. Ahaz was the King of the first reading, from Isaiah 7. His Kingdom was the Kingdom of Judah, the southern of the two Hebrew Kingdoms. Here is what was happening: in the middle of the eighth century before Jesus, the powerful nation of Assyria was threatening to conquer its neighbors. The Northern Kingdom of the Hebrews, the Kingdom of Israel, had made a pact with Syria to go to war against Assyria. Israel was in an alliance with pagans, the Syrians. Ahaz considered joining Judah to this alliance, or possibly making and alliance with Assyria, and then conquer the Northern Kingdom and become king of all the Jews, like David and Solomon.
This is when the prophet Isaiah came to him and told him to stay at peace and trust in God and behold His Wonders. Ahaz balked at this. He had his own plan. So Isaiah told him, “If you want proof that my message is from God, ask for a sign, and God will provide it.” Ahaz might have appeared to be holy and pious when he said, “I will not tempt God,” but actually what he was saying is that he didn’t want anyone telling him what choices to make. He certainly was not going to allow some prophet to determine his policies.
Ahaz probably believed in God to some extent, at least as far as was politically necessary. But he wanted to do what he thought best. He was not going to take this religion stuff too seriously. Besides, if Isaiah was able to perform some miracle, Ahaz’s hands would be tied to doing what the prophet said. So like a spoiled child, Ahaz held his ears and screamed. He did not want to behold whatever God had in store for him.
There is a temptation that we all have to react as Ahaz reacted when confronted with the action of God in our lives. We have a temptation that we rather trust in our own ability to find happiness than be exposed to God and be forced to reject the pseudo joy of the world. For example, a number of years ago a young man told me that he had avoided Church because he knew that if he started taking his faith seriously, he would have to change his life. He said it took him years to realize, his immoral lifestyle did not bring him happiness. When he finally took the step to return to the Lord, everything changed. Others told him that he wasn’t the same guy. He agreed. “That’s right,” he said, “I’m happy now.” Perhaps all of us to some degree or other have avoided God. Perhaps there are times that we think that embracing God in our lives would cost too much. And, consequently, we ended up avoiding happiness. There is a temptation to act like Ahaz in all of us.
Back to that first reading. Isaiah told Ahaz that God had a far greater enterprise then the immediate political situation Judah was in. God was concerned with saving all His people for all time. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and name him Immanuel.” Seven hundred years before the angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary, the King of Judah was told how God would accomplish His plan to be with His People for all time.
Only Ahaz did not want to behold. He did not want to trust in God.
In direct contrast to Ahaz, today’s Gospel presents Joseph, a man who was also faced with a dilemma. He was betrothed to a beautiful young girl and anxiously awaiting the time that she would be ready to leave her parents and become
his wife. Following the custom of the day, the first stage of marriage had taken place when Mary was still very young. That was the betrothal ceremony. From that point, Mary was his wife, even though she still lived with her parents. The marriage would be completed with the celebration of the entrance of Mary into Joseph’s home. That is when they would have the big wedding feast, like Jesus would later attend with his disciples at Cana. There would be a great banquet and dancing and celebrating the new life of this couple and the new lives they hoped to bring into the world. It was exciting for Joseph, but then it all came crashing down. Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant. Now, the reading says that Joseph was an upright man, a just man. According to the common interpretation of the law, he could have declared that Mary was unfaithful, guilty of adultery, and had her put to death. In our own times we have seen the abominable examples of people putting their wives, daughters or sisters to death for the slightest breaches of modesty, and thinking that they are doing God’s will. Joseph could have had Mary killed, but he was a just man. He had a real relationship with God. The girl was young. He couldn’t fathom God wanting her dead. He would just send Mary away. Joseph was open to the will of God. And because he was open to God in his life, because he trusted in God rather than his own plans, his own thoughts, Joseph was able to behold the wonders of God’s love in the world.
Unlike Ahaz, Joseph chose the way of faith. He chose well. What must it have been like for Joseph to hold the King of Kings in his arms? What must it have been like for him to experience the Love of God become flesh in Jesus? What must it have been like to live with Mary, the polar opposite of Joseph’s fears, not a sinner, but the one who never sinned? What must it have been like to for Joseph to live in a home filled with the wonders of God? We know that Joseph protected his family, leading them to Egypt to avoid Herod. We know that Joseph returned to Nazareth where he cared for Jesus in his infancy and childhood, even teaching him how to be a carpenter. Joseph had to have been a very happy man, for happiness is found in the presence of God.
“Behold!” the Church tells us on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Behold where happiness is found. Trust in God, we are told. His wonders are beyond our imagination. Trust in Him and behold His wonders, and live in His happiness.
This week we will be giving tokens of our love to the people who mean so much to us. We will be giving out Christmas presents. We can give those we love all sorts of things, but we cannot give them happiness. Only God gives happiness. And He gives happiness to those who trust their lives to Him.
And a virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and his name shall be Immanuel, which means God is with us.
Behold the Lord.