We have come to the last Sunday before Christmas. We are in the home stretch of Advent, a whole season spent in preparation to welcome Christ, to welcome the coming of the Lord. We have prayed, we have fasted, we have given extra to those in need. And so the question our readings pose seems a bit strange. It seems a bit late in the day to be asking this question, because our answer is either presumed in all we do, or it could undermine everything completely.
The question our readings pose for us today is: Yes we have been preparing for the coming of Christ, but do we really want him to come? Do we really want him to arrive? Do we really want to welcome the King, the Lord of life, but more particularly, the Lord of my life?
What does it mean for God to arrive, to take Lordship over my life? One good image we have at Christmas is the Christmas tree. Traditionally, fir trees are used; and they are used because they have a pyramid, conical shape. In this, they mirror the image of the holy mountain. The holy mountain is one of the great recurring images in the Bible. The summit of the mountain is where heaven and earth meet. Symbolically, it is where God and creation unite, and so it is a figure of the Incarnation. The Word of God then begins to spread out from the peak, trickling down and filling out the cosmos, bringing light and life to creation.
We see the same thing with the Christmas tree. It has the same shape. And that is why we always have a star or an angel at the top. The star or the angel represent God’s word blessing and bringing meaning into creation. Often we also see the trickle-down movement of God’s word in the Christmas lights, light flowing down from the light of the world himself, Jesus, God’s Word.
We can see the reality that the mountain of the Lord and the Christmas tree indicate in the human person too. The Word of God breaks into the human heart and in and through the act of faith it begins to take flesh, spreading out in our lives, through our thoughts, through our words, through our actions and our relationships. God begins to take possession of our lives, bringing them to fulfilment, colouring them with grace.
But our readings show this reality in all its complexity. Our first reading has the Word of God coming to Ahaz. He is considered one of the worst kings; however, I do not pity his predicament. He finds himself caught between two great kingdoms who don’t care about Judah, Egypt and Assyria, Assyria who is in league with Israel against Judah. Ahaz is terrified, and then Isaiah arrives and tells Ahaz to trust in God, and not to align Judah with Egypt. And so when Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, Ahaz says, no thanks. Ahaz does not trust God. Ahaz puts his trust in Egypt. Ahaz does not want God to be in control. He does not want a sign that might pressure him into a situation that he does not like. This is why Isaiah tears strips off him. Ahaz’s statement is false humility. It is hypocrisy. Ahaz says he won’t put God to the test, but Ahaz in his mind has already rejected God’s power to help.
But think of what is being asked of Ahaz: his whole nation is under threat; he is being offered protection by Egypt, but Isaiah arrives and tells him to pray more and trust in God and everything will be ok. What would you do? Would you really want God to arrive if arriving meant not taking precautions and going all in on prayer? Would you really want God to take control in this way?
And then we have our gospel. Joseph’s world is falling apart. His wife is with child and he is not the father. This is a disaster. And in the middle of that, God’s word to him is to adopt a baby. Not only is he to adopt a baby, but that baby is to be the one who saves the people, the means by which God will forgive sins. The difference is of course that Joseph is a righteous man. He has prepared his whole life for this moment. He has obeyed God’s commandments and so is practised in recognising God’s word and keeping it. Whereas Ahaz has not kept God’s law and so is terrified by what it could mean for him, Joseph has kept God’s law, knows God’s mercy and goodness and thinks of Mary.
And so the question each of us must ask is: in my heart, do I really want God to come? Have I prepared for that coming by keeping God’s commandments, obeying God’s law given the Church? Have I spent the time in prayer even to recognising when God’s word is breaking in? And if I am asked to put faith my faith in God and even adopt a child, will I really let God rule my life?
Because we must serious. God’s love is a consuming fire. When that fire meets a humble contrite heart, then it will run through our veins, bringing light and life to every aspect of our lives. Let’s pray then that we are open to God’s word like Joseph. May we be like Christmas trees in our families and our communities, visible signs that heaven and earth are in communion, and that true life is pouring into all of creation and coursing through our parishes.