Monday, March 26, 2012

Ahaz or Mary?

Today—well, actually yesterday—is the feast of theAnnunciation. But since yesterday was a Sunday, it gets moved to today. I love this feast for its presumed precision. March 25, as you might have calculated, is exactly 9 months before December 25. Convenient, huh? I guess, since the Annunciation happened a day late this year, Jesus will be born a day early. Then again, how many of us have ever had a baby on its due date?

As I read the lessons for this feast, I am touched by the irony of the OT reading (Isaiah 7:10-14). Isaiah is told by God to go and tell wicked King Ahaz that he needs to repent and return to the Lord. Ahaz balks. So God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign—any sign –and the Lord will accomplish that sign to prove that his message is true. In other words, God says to the king, “You name it, and I’ll do it. That’s how powerful I am!” but Ahaz again balks, “I will not put the Lord to the test.” It sounds like a holy answer, but it’s really cowardice. Ahaz already knows what’s coming, but he just doesn’t want to face it.

So Isaiah intervenes and proclaims that whether Ahaz wants a sign or not God’s going to give him one—“Look, the young woman is with child and will bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.” I get the sense that both the prophet and God are a little impatient with Ahaz, who is refusing to play along, so they pick their own sign and make it happen. In some sense, the prophecy that “God-with-Us” shall be born is a “you-think-you’re-better-than-us?” prophecy. It’s God saying, “You can’t escape. Resistance is futile.”

Fast-forward 800 years. Jesus is born. He is to be called, “Immanuel—God-with-Us.” This time, he is born to Mary, who simply said yes. Unlike Ahaz, this servant of the Lord is willing to participate in God’s plan. Maybe that’s what makes this birth so different. But beneath it all is our collective refusal to claim the sign for what it is. Mary might be willing, but the world is not. But God doesn’t care, does he? God didn’t send his son into the world to convince everyone that he’s a good God. God’s son wasn’t exactly the answer to anyone’s prayer. But God intervened and sent his son into the world despite our unreceptive hearts.

We don’t always need to be willing for God to work in our lives. Sometimes, he works whether we want him to or not (Ahaz). But sometimes we are receptive (Mary), and, when we are submissive to God’s plan, a wonderful thing happens. God’s work in the world is seen for what it is—and not as a sign of revenge or an expression of sheer power. Instead, when we’re ready for it, God’s work is a sign of salvation. How can we be open to that work? How can we prepare to receive God’s saving grace?

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