Two characters take central stage in today’s Advent drama. One is a man of power, the other might be seen as a ‘blue collar worker’, a carpenter.
Ahaz had forgotten or ignored his role as king of Judah. He had become just another politician seeking political alliances that he hoped would turn to his benefit. Yet he was trembling at the approaching threat from 2 other powers, and Isaiah was sent by God to calm him down and to remind him that he must have no fear. Isaiah told him that he could have any sign from God as to why he need not fear the impending threat, but Ahaz did not want a sign. Isaiah offered one anyway – a future one to be born of a young woman will be a sign that ‘God is with us’. Before this one can choose the good and refuse evil, these two threatening powers will be brought to nothing.
Joseph had his own fears. A future that seemed solid was now crumbling, but he had his religious laws to guide him. His choice was good, and it was clear cut, until it became muddied by a dream. Joseph hadn’t been looking for a sign or agonizing about which way to go. The way was clear, but then he got an unasked for sign – an angel in a dream dictating his course and admonishing him to have no fear. Joseph acted on the sign, even though it was contrary to what his religious tradition had trained him to believe. He accepted the rightness of a situation that had appeared all wrong – what a turnaround.
Some people are always seeking signs or claiming to have received them. Others shy away from any such notion or would consider them unwelcome. Perhaps, Ahaz did not want a sign, because his confidence was not in Yahweh, but in his own political wheeling and dealing. Perhaps, Joseph did not even consider asking for a sign in his dilemma, because the religious law was clear. The sign for Ahaz did not seem to make any difference in his life. However, for Joseph the sign turned around his life.
On July 22, 1206, Dominic was praying for guidance when he received a sign. What we have come to call the ‘Seignadou’ was a major moment in his life, and offered him some clear direction. While some receive spectacular signs, they are almost unnoticeable for most of us – perhaps that is why we often miss them. How might I receive a sign? Might it be with indifference like Ahaz, or might I accept it with its life changing conseqences like Joseph?
While Isaiah speaks of one to come named ‘God is with you’ – we don’t know of anyone who was called by that name. Both Mary and Joseph were told by the angel that their child would be named Jesus. Perhaps we can say that Immanuel, ‘God is with us’ is less a name and more a disposition signifying the presence of God in a person or event. Jesus became that embodiment of ‘God is with you’. The one who fears not embodies the Immanuel, the one who can receive the sign, like Joseph, and allow life and one’s dearly held positions to be upturned by it embodies the Immanuel. The call to each of us is to embody the Immanuel, as the Word continues to become flesh.