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Today we meet two sons of David, two descendents of the great King of Judah—King Ahaz and a humble, construction worker Joseph. Both are presented with seemingly insurmountable circumstances in the plan of God but each responds radically differently.
Ahaz was the young king of Judah who inherited a difficult situation. The Assyrians were the mighty power of his day, eight centuries before Christ. The smaller neighbors wanted to make alliances with Ahaz against Assyria. Make a deal with Assyria and his neighbors would be instant enemies. Make a deal with his neighbors and the big bad Assyria would be an instant enemy. This was certainly a seemingly insurmountable circumstance for a freshman king who not only wanted to save his kingdom but his own hide.
In comes the voice of God through the mouth of Isaiah—who tells the king to dream big, to think beyond the present circumstance “as high as the sky”, to reach down within “as deep as the netherworld.” Isaiah is reminding Ahaz of the only alliance the king should be concerned about—the one made with his father David nearly 300 years prior. God’s covenant still remains with the sons of David and the Kingdom of Judah (cf. 2 Sam 7:14-16).
Ahaz’s reply represents a voice that is common today. Maybe God was around before or is far away, but not right here and right now. Ahaz refuses to dream big. He refuses to let the power of God move him beyond his insurmountable circumstance. He refuses to let the plan of God take hold in his life.
We move seven hundred years later to another descendent of King David—Joseph, betrothed to Mary. Marriage in those days was two parts—the consent then six months to a year later moving in (it seems nowadays we get that backwards). After betrothal, the two were considered married even if they did not live together. Having found that her son was not his, Joseph came up against an insurmountable circumstance. Remain with Mary and he breaks the Jewish law to turn in an adulterer. Break up with Mary and he betrays the genuine love and concern he had for her. This was certainly a difficult circumstance for the just and righteous man Joseph.
In comes the voice of God through the angel—who tells Joseph to dream big, to think beyond the circumstances, to reach down deeper than the psychological, cultural, and religious parameters of his day. Joseph’s response enables the power of God to fill his life and not only his life, but the life of all humanity. What Ahaz refused Joseph accepted. When the plan of God was inhibited by Ahaz, it was fulfilled in Joseph. The words of the angel bring us back seven hundred years prior—“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Even Isaiah did not dream this big. Isaiah was hoping for the son of Ahaz and the guarantee of the continuation of the Davidic kingdom. By Joseph’s response, the kingdom of God would be guaranteed through all eternity in Jesus Christ.
By dreaming big, by moving higher than the parameters set by social, economic, political standards, or digging deeper than our personal inhibitions, the plan of God and the power of God will take root in our lives. Yet often we think that the plan of God is something far removed and has nothing to do with the details of the day to day. This is the temptation of Ahaz—to think that the promise of God is a distant memory. Yet the power of God is so powerful that it even concerns the nitty gritty of life. Dreaming big means we must be faithful like Joseph in every moment—even those that aren’t spectacular.
In 1939, there was a priest from small town Pennsylvania who was called up to help serve the Catholics in Poland. In 1941 he was caught and imprisoned behind the Red Curtain. For the next 22 years he was moved from one prison to another and spent several years in a work camp in Siberia. By special arrangement between governments, Fr. Walter Ciszek returned to the US in 1963 to the great surprise of his superiors and his family. Yet while he was in prison he often asked himself what the plan of God was in his life, where the power of God was. As time passed, he realized that the plan of God was not a theory in a distant future, but was truly present in the details of the every day. He writes in a superb book called “He Leadeth Me” of this realization:
“The plain and simple truth is that his will is what he actually wills to send us each day, in the way of circumstances, places, people, and problems. The trick is to learn to see that—not just in theory, or not just occasionally in a flash of insight granted by God’s grace, but every day. Each of us has no need to wonder about what God’s will must be for us; his will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as he sees them and sends them to us.”
This is our prayer today as we enter the final week of our Advent preparation—that we might dream big to let the power of God and the plan of God in the little moments of every day.