The answer for many people, even religious ones, is “a lot.” In the eighth century B.C., King Ahaz of Jerusalem was terrified. Jerusalem was besieged by enemies. He didn’t know how long he could hold out and he was contemplating either surrender or a military alliance with another power.
Speaking on God’s behalf, Isaiah instructed Ahaz that he was to do nothing of the sort. Trust God; all will be well.
Ahaz was probably doubtful, but Isaiah gave him an absolute blank cheque: ask for any sign you want, as high as the heavens or as deep as Sheol. Ahaz timidly refused the offer on the rather flimsy excuse that he didn’t want to put God to the test.
Isaiah was not to be put off — he informed Ahaz that he was going to get a sign anyway. A young woman was going to conceive and bear a child, and it would be named Emmanuel — God is with us.
The name was intended to be a comforting and hope-giving sign, assuring Ahaz and the people that God had not forgotten or abandoned them. This was clearly a sign intended for the lifetime of Ahaz — in fact, in the very near future. At this point in history, it was not a prophecy of any great messianic event in the distant future. The crisis passed and Jerusalem was spared — for the time being.
Driven by fear, doubt and impatience, we are often tempted to take matters into our own hands. We frequently make a mess of the situation, for fear is not a reliable guide.
A time of crisis is a call to centre ourselves and focus within, listening to the still, quiet voice of God. When we respond to challenges with faith, patience and love, things usually sort themselves out. Even if they don’t, we will have the courage and the tools to weather the storm. When we make God the last resort rather than the first, we are in for a rough ride. We can take comfort from the psalm: “The Lord is the King of Glory,” and this King has promised to journey with us.
Paul focuses on faith as the lifeline that binds us to God. Paul’s graced call cast the net far and wide, bringing all to God, even the Gentiles, through faith in the Risen Christ. Throughout the Scriptures, countless individuals — such as Ahaz — were commanded to have faith and trust in God. This faith would be their support and shield.
It is a hard lesson to learn because when the going gets rough, our faith and trust are sometimes the first victims. Faith is not doctrine; faith is absolute trust in God and a willingness to put oneself completely in God’s hands.
As so many of the familiar supports and certainties in our world crumble or disappear, we are called upon more and more to be people of deep and abiding faith. No power on Earth can take our faith from us.
Joseph faced a crisis that required he show the same deep faith and trust. Having discovered that his betrothed was with child, we can only imagine his inner turmoil. He prepared to put the whole situation behind him and move on with his life, but then came the visitation in the dream.
The angel of the Lord reassured him, informing him that the child was conceived by means of the Holy Spirit. There was no further explanation given, and none asked, but the angel did reveal that the child would save the people from their sins.
Matthew and his community gave second life to Isaiah’s prophecy. Most humans would have demanded explanations and confirming signs. The angel was asking a lot — far too much for most people. But Joseph was a man of true faith — he awoke and did exactly as the angel had ordered.
God’s work is accomplished through faith-filled men and women who are willing to do what is asked by God without doubts or attempting to control things. Perhaps we could be one of them — no telling what God might accomplish through us.