As people of faith, we should say often and with conviction: “Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done.” Psalm 115:3
This is what the prophet Isaiah (7:10-14) knows; that’s what King Ahaz knows; that’s what Paul knows; that’s what Joseph, too, knows. There is no stopping our God. No one can resist our God without self-destructing! The Prophet Isaiah, familiar as he is with God and his ways, urges King Ahaz to remain tranquil while facing imminent and very serious danger, and to trust in the power of God.
King Ahaz’ reaction is baffling. Despite knowing God and his power, he opts for reaching a degree of security by asking the country of Assyria for help. The result of this foolish decision is both dramatic and indicative of what befalls those who do not trust in God. Ahaz, who refuses to obey and trust in God, at little personal cost, winds up becoming the vassal, the servant of the king of Assyria, and self-destructs.
In our lifetime, at least indirectly, we might have come across similar cases that baffled us: cases of people who, although aware of God’s power, infinite mercy, and unmatched love, viscerally, opted instead for security from lesser sources—and self-destructed. These tragic cases are the only instances in which God’s salvation plan seems to be slowed down somewhat due to his respect for his people’s foolish use of their freedom. Yet, as our knowledge of God increases, we find out and are asked to believe that he will find a way to reach even the most errand and foolish minds and hearts.
Thankfully, our readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent offer us two most positive responses to God’s unstoppable love and power. Indeed, we marvel at Paul and at the clarity of his vision of God’s majesty.
Contemplating God’s marvels and gifts to all peoples and all nations, Paul surrenders totally, unconditionally to God. He considers himself a slave of Christ Jesus! Romans 1:1 Hence, he does exactly the opposite of what King Ahaz had done. And in the impetus of his self-surrender to Jesus Christ, Paul sees that his humble yet generous adherence to the will of the Lord will soon become contagious and bring many, including Gentiles, into the “obedience of faith.”
“Obedience of faith” is the ultimate acknowledgement that our God is in heaven (and here on earth too) and whatever God wills is done. Obedience of faith is reached with a total surrender to the Lord; but also, by unconditional trust that he will never fail us even when we are facing dreadful situations.
Our God is in heaven. Whatever God wills is done.
That sweeping reminder leads us to the second example of a response given to God in full knowledge of his power and love: Joseph’s response.
Here too we have a clear example of obedience of faith.
Turning Mary in to the proper authorities or divorcing her quietly, are both reasonable options to someone who is, yet, not too familiar with God’s power and love. Joseph considers the more discrete of the two, but then, enlightened by a simple, fragile dream, he makes his surrender to God total and unconditional by silencing the clamors of his personal honor.
There is an existential reason why the Church offers to our consideration these cases of decisions reached by different people directly confronting the boundless extent of God’s power and love. Isaiah, King Ahaz, Paul, Joseph, were all too familiar with human frailty. But they also had evidence of the devastation wrought about by not trusting in God and by going against his will.
The same applies to us: with every important decision we make, we either conform ourselves more and more to Jesus, the obedient Son of God and Son of Man, or we dismantle ourselves little by little. We do not know the real reason why Isaiah, Paul and Joseph chose the obedience of faith; but it must have had something to do with awareness that only Emmanuel, (God with us or, rather, within us), can save us from our sins, by trusting in his power and love and by obeying him.
I wonder if during the worst crisis in his life, Joseph was fully aware of the great honor the angel was bestowing upon him by ordering him to name his foster son Jesus: Yeshua: God saves.
But we know very well what is in that name: Jesus, Yeshua, God saves because we know from prolonged, painful experiences what it means to be fooled into sinning, to feel helpless and incredibly weak. We might even know a thing or two about what it is like sliding toward self-destruction.
That is why we find a great deal of comfort, now, as we prepare for Christmas, and every day beyond that joyous day as well, to know that, in his infinite compassion for our condition, God has decided to be forever Emmanuel, God with us.
Yes, in Jesus, God is with us, with all his power, with all his love.