Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
If a prophet or an angel came to you, and told you to ask God for a sign of His hand on your life and plan for you in salvation history, what would you say?
It’s a big question to consider; we may just be too stunned to say anything. But if a person in your life said something similar, to ask them for a sign that they love you and are with you, what would do say? In this case, clearly, this depends on who the person is to us and what our relationship with them is.
If this is someone we love and trust and feel we can rely on, we know we can be open and honest. We can ask anything, and we can also question them with love and respect. We know that this person will be true to their word, will give what we ask of them, and that the plans that they have for us are for our good and the good of the relationship, and will overflow into blessing others outside of us as well.
But if this is someone that we have closed ourselves off to, someone we do not desire to be dependent upon and are reluctant to trust, we’ll be much more guarded and hesitant. We may tell them to keep their sign and leave us alone. And if the breach in this trusting relationship is our fault, even if the person is trustworthy, we may guiltily feel that we should not ask them for anything, and may feel we need to prove ourselves worthy to them and rely on ourselves to impress this person rather than accepting their love and blessings freely.
We see these relationship dynamics play out in the scriptures today, in how Mary and Ahaz respond to their angelic and prophetic messengers from God. Ahaz the king is told that God will protect his people from their enemies, and directed to ask God for a sign; any sign, as deep or as high, or as big as he can imagine. But in Ahaz’s response, we see his pride in refusing to trust and cooperate with God, perhaps his guilt for having failed to trust God until now, his desire to vindicate himself, and his reluctance to have God in the picture at all. But God is not so easily put off; He will do what He has promised, and if a sign will not be named, He will name His own sign. Such is the love and faithfulness of the God of Israel.
Contrast with Mary, the girl from Nazareth, who is told that through her God will bring His own Son to earth, to rule the house of Israel and save His people from their sins. In Mary’s response, we see the relationship of honesty and trust. We see her humility before God, her desire for complete understanding, her faith that the God of Israel will do as He says. In the sign God promised Ahaz, we also see the relationship with God that God desired from Ahaz; this stature of humility, trust in His faithfulness, and love. And it is within this most beautiful relationship of faith that the Son of God becomes incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, what would you tell that prophet or that angel? Do you see yourself in the mirror of Ahaz, or the mirror of Mary? Or perhaps somewhere in between?
As Christmas approaches, and we wrap up our gifts (signs of our love) for loved ones, let’s pray about what gifts of love we will exchange with God. Like Mary, let’s ask God for a sign to better understand how His gift of Himself to the world came to pass and what this means for us. And let’s offer God the gift of a humble heart and the desire for a deeper relationship with Him.
Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.