Fourth Sunday of Advent: Hope in the Midst of Tribulation
- Isaiah 7:10-14. At a time when the Davidic dynasty was threatened severely, even with the loss of the throne, Isaiah promised survival but through God alone.
- Romans 1: 1-7. Paul has been designated to announce the Gospel – Jesus Christ, “descended from David according to the flesh but… Son of God… by his resurrection.”
- Matthew 1: 18-24. A tradition centering in Joseph recalls Jesus’ virginal conception as announced through the prophets.
Thoughts for Your Consideration: By John Gonzalez
We are coming towards the end of the Advent season. The readings call to mind the Divine plan which called for the birth of the savior. Isaiah offers his prophesy regarding the birth of Emmanuel to King Ahaz of Judah as a miraculous symbol of Divine hope for a period of great national stress. Paul describes the mystery of the incarnation as part of the gospel creed and the hope for the early Christian community in Rome. In the Gospel reading according to Matthew the miraculous circumstances regarding the birth of Jesus are narrated to us through the eyes of Joseph who is both righteous and compassionate. Joseph struggles with the social implications of this event but through the power of faith that graces his intuition he is able to identify the great salvific hope that will be born to them.
These readings set up for us the exciting context for celebrating Christmas. They describe to us the foretold birth of Christ and we can get excited over the message in preparation for the festivities of the week. But if we take the time to contemplate each of these readings and appreciate the dire situation from which each of them where written in we will be feeling something other than excitement. Instead we may end up with a healthy amount of anguish and trepidation for what is to come. In all three cases (King Ahaz, Joseph, and the early Christian community in Rome) each is being given a message of hope that can only be accepted in faith as they each are asked to take their first step into the deep unknown. At Christmas we celebrate the foretold gift of hope, a gift in the midst of a suffering world, a gift that will challenge all of us to have faith in a hope that is not of our own making and which places us in the midst of the social suffering of our world.
Let us explore the situation of King Ahaz. Ahaz, the King of Judah, reigned in the midst of social upheaval. The armies of Syria and Northern Israel formed an alliance against Assyria. Ahaz would not join the alliance and so the two armies strategized to take over Jerusalem and set up a puppet government which would concede to the alliance. Ahaz was rightfully concerned that a war against Assyria was folly. So instead of joining the alliance with Israel and Syria he contemplated forming a military alliance with Assyria. Here is where Isaiah comes in. He counsels Ahaz against forming an alliance that will eventually reduce Judah to rubble. Instead Isaiah’s advice to Ahaz is to wait out the crisis and “remain tranquil and do not fear.” Scripture Scholars suggest that Isaiah analyzed that Assyria would finish off with the two rebel states of Israel and Syria soon (which they did) and felt that it would be folly to place oneself into a relationship of submission to the Assyrians. In this situation Isaiah offers Ahaz a prophesy of hope regarding the birth of Emmanuel. This prophesy was to symbolize two things. For the interest of Ahaz it symbolized the preservation of the Davidic lineage. But it also signified hope in the midst of tribulation, new life in the midst of impending destruction. Ahaz does not concede to Isaiah and engages the Assyrians. The Kingdom of Judah has lost faith, “unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm.” The birth of hope is instead brought to bear with the astounding faith of another member of the Davidic lineage, a lowly carpenter who faces a troubling pre-marital situation.
The central message of each of these readings is that hope is alive in the midst of our own social or personal tribulations. As the year 2010 draws to a close we face many social upheavals that can leave us without any faith for the future. Our global economy, domestic social welfare, political and military conflicts are all in turmoil. Where can we identify our hope in these times? Do we now compromise our faith with other organizations or ideologies out there that give us some semblance of comfort and stability? Like Ahaz, should we close in on ourselves with a narrow definition of community or nation and out of fear submit ourselves to the policies of those who appear economically and politically strong? No, Scripture has never presented that as a solution. Our faith is in God, the God of the poor and the suffering, the God who promises justice, mercy and forgiveness time and time again. The non-violent prince of peace is our true hope, our way to address the violent and unjust challenges in our world. It is a path wrought with suffering as we promote policies of fairness; justice and compassion to all our brothers and sisters who need our help. It is a path that will bring us ridicule as we tirelessly advocate for peace and nonviolence to a world that is nurtured in conflict and violence. It is an unpopular path but according to the prophets it is the only sure path we have.