Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Advent

 By: Sister Helen Mueting OSB | December 18, 2016

As I looked over tomorrow's readings in preparation for my reflection tonight, the reading from Isaiah spoke to me first. Being a person who likes to hold on to something concrete, I found Ahaz's response to God's request to ask for a sign puzzling. Throughout my younger life, I pleaded with God to show me some kind of sign, something I could hold onto, something concrete that would confirm that I had made the right decision; or that I was going in the right direction. Ahaz blew his opportunity. Why?

The answer seems to lie in what came before this reading. Ahaz had already opted not to trust God's presence in his life. He was living in feer of the armies encamped around him, and had already been making deals with the king of Assyria to bend history to his own making. With deceit and false humility, he says, "I will not tempt the Lord." He says this only to impress God; perhaps because he was afraid to be truthful, to say that he did not believe God was with him. He does not have what Paul calls the obedience of faith. Instead, he is acting out of an obedience of fear. God, in anger, promises him a sign, a child will be born of a virgin and will be called Emmanuel, God is with us. The child will not be Ahaz's own son, but the child will be the hope of Israel.

IN the Gospel reading we just heard, Joseph did not believe when he heard the voice of God. Joseph's dream caused him fear, but not the fear of a lack of faith. His fear was awe that god was really with him, guiding him in the decisions that lay before him. In faith, He accepted God's word and took Mary as his wife. He was living the obedience of faith that St. Paul talks about in the 2nd reading for tomorrow. This obedience does not say "yes" out of fear-but out of belief. 

To see the difference between obedience of faith and obedience of fear, we might look at a concrete example. I am told to do something, perhaps something I don't really want to do, yet I do it out of fear that I might be punished if I don't. Maybe I fear I will lose my job or be belittled and put down. I am obeying, then, out of fear-not faith. Obedience of faith says yes because I believe in who has spoken to me and in what I have been told. Joseph believed in God and in Mary, his betrothed. He may have had questions and apprehensions, but the dream was real. It was God's message to him, and he believed in it. God asked him not to fear and to take Mary as his wife. Without question, he did.