choose faith and live the sign of Emmanuel
Fourth Sunday of
We live in times and between
generations of varying faith. Many of the children of baby boomers,
the children’s children of older generations, are hard pressed
to believe in any literal account of the virgin birth we hear from Matthew’s
Gospel, but they are not necessarily faithless. Meanwhile, many who
claim religion and practice piety may demonstrate little to no likeness
of God in our world. Like our readings for today, there are people who
will claim religious faith and live without it, and others who will
risk their very lives on unseen mysteries of love and goodness in the
face of grave evils. In the end, we are all called upon, like Ahaz,
Paul, Mary and Joseph, to live the likeness we profess, to trust the
mysteries of life and to bear Emmanuel, God-with-us, to the world.
In the first reading, Ahaz,
king and heir to King David’s dynasty, is called upon by the Lord
to “ask for a sign of the Lord your God,” and is given as
vast and expansive a scope for asking as Divine Mystery herself. The
question seems vague, but implies a request for the Lord to show fidelity
to the covenant relationship with the Hebrew people, through the king
himself. Ahaz responds saying, “I will not ask, and I will not
put the Lord to the test.” He does not ask because he does not
have the faith or the trust to ask. Worse yet, he uses piety as an excuse.
The prophet Isaiah then addresses
Ahaz as a king who wearies both God and the people with his cowardly,
faithless response. If the king will not bear witness to God’s
faithfulness and be a sign of God with his people, then a child of his
line will. Emmanuel or God-with-us is the sign of fidelity God has from
the beginning and forever with God’s creation.
St. Paul, in contrast to
King Ahaz, pronounces himself “servant,” which means “slave”
of Jesus Christ, and “set apart for the Gospel of God.”
He has no fear in claiming the “grace and apostleship to bring
about the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of
his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
This “obedience of faith” is about awakening all of life
to its true likeness, the image of God. The word “obedience”
means “to listen” and is not so much about blindly following
rules as it is about listening with the heart of faith to God at the
heart and in the womb of all of creation.
Joseph and Mary in Matthew’s
Gospel account witness to this kind of faithful listening. In the face
of horrific consequences Joseph trusts in life — the life of Mary’s
womb, the life of his dreams, the life of Divine Mystery woven through
all. This is not an easy naiveté or an overly optimistic sensibility.
This is pure, hope-filled faith in the mystery of good and love and
choosing to act likewise, while paradoxically facing the dark and the
unknown before him. Joseph could have dismissed his dream as nonsense,
his betrothed as faithless and sinful. He chose to live the likeness
of God’s goodness within himself. He chose perhaps a more difficult
road, but a more honest and joyful one in the end.
On any given day we are placed
in circumstances or find ourselves encountering something which requires
three things from us: suspension of disbelief, trust in Divine Mystery
and to not be afraid. Any event that happens whether we perceive it
as good or bad is an opportunity for us to choose faith and live the
sign of Emmanuel. Like Joseph in our Gospel reading and the communities
of faith down the ages, having faith in Divine Mystery is not an easy
thing but a necessary one to living honest, joyful lives. In the end,
though, it comes down to the promise that God is faithful as God-with-us.
God gifts us with generous fidelity no matter what we choose.
Leduc is the program co-ordinator at Queen’s House Retreat and Renewal Centre in Saskatoon.