Today’s readings are about promise and fulfillment, fear and courage, cynicism and trust. Just five days before we celebrate the birth of Christ, the readings remind us that the coming of Christ was no accident, no twist of fate. Rather, the coming of Christ was the fulfillment of a promise made long before.
The first reading tells us about the Prophet Isaiah’s encounter with Ahaz, the King of Judah. Isaiah is trying to give Ahaz a spine so he can face his enemies who are at the gate. He assures Ahaz of God’s care and tells him to ask for a sign of God’s favor. Ahaz can’t imagine how God could make a difference in this crisis so he begs off with the words, “I will not ask. I will not tempt the Lord.” Isaiah, in disgust, responds, “…the Lord Himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” The fear and cynicism of Ahaz result in the destruction of his Kingdom.
In the Gospel, we hear the story of Mary’s encounter with the Angel of God. The angel tells her that God has a plan for her that boggles her imagination. She is told that she will bear a son “who will be called holy, the Son of God…and who will rule over the house of Jacob forever.” Though she is unsure how these things could possibly happen, her personal courage and complete trust in God move her to respond, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke clearly sees that the promise made by God through Isaiah is fulfilled in the “yes” of the Mother of Jesus.
These readings call us to realize that God’s promises are best fulfilled in the hearts and lives of those who are open to Him. As we prepare for Christmas let our prayer be, “Lord, help us welcome you with trust in our hearts whenever you come.”
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.