Fourth Sunday of Advent
"Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the nether world or high as the sky!" (Isaiah 7:10)
I don’t know how many times I have asked God for a sign. I usually do this when I can’t decide what to do. Sometimes, my confusion of what to do is over small decisions. For example, should I take on a good work that is being asked of me or should I do another kind of good work, one that I feel more able to do? What is good and what is better? There are certainly good reasons why you should choose one good work over another. In cases like this, asking God for a sign is like flipping a coin to see what I should do.
Other times, the decisions I face are big ones. Some decisions have major, life-changing consequences. Some decisions that people have shared with me are truly major ones. For example, should I ask this woman to marry me? Should I accept this proposal for marriage? Should I change careers, move away and begin over again, should I give up my job and work for the Church? These are decisions that will affect many people in our lives. Also, once the decision is made, it becomes very difficult to undo what is already done. So asking God for a sign seems to be a helpful way to guide us in making good decisions.
However, the signs that God gives us are not always so clear at first glance. For one thing, once we receive a sign from God, we are expected to understand it and follow it. In our first reading, Ahaz, the King of Judea, did not want to ask for a sign from God, even thought God had told him to ask for one. Ahaz wanted to remain in the dark. He may have been afraid that God would require much more faith from him than he wanted to give. So he said, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!" But God would not take "no" for an answer. God gave him a sign anyway: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel." Later on, when Jesus was born of the Virgin, Mary, Matthew was able to say in our Gospel reading: "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’."When God gives us a sign, God does not disappoint us!
The old saying, "Be careful for what you ask for, you may just get it" applies when we ask for a sign from God. So many times, signs from God appear to be difficult to understand, and even more difficult to accept. Why should Mary say "yes" to God’s invitation to become a Virgin-Mother? Why should Joseph receive Mary as his spouse when he clearly did not father Mary’s baby? Why does God always seem to ask us to do the impossible?
Advent is all about recognizing the signs that God has sent us and saying "yes" to God’s invitations to do the impossible. The Angel Gabriel told Mary, "Nothing is impossible with God." Too many of us want God’s signs so that we can choose the easy path, to make the easier choices. But God does not work that way. God wants only the best for us, and sometimes the best for us is discovering the Divine in our midst. So, let us sing with all our hearts and all the faith we can muster: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.