God is With Us
“Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be as deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” (Isaiah 7:11)
The king refused God’s request. After all, he too was a king and knew better than pester God for signs. But Ahaz’s humility was fake; he had no clue just how he wearied God. God wants our hunger, sorrow, and desire, not phony excuses. In Ahaz’s eyes, only one king really mattered. He tried to hold on to his seat at the center of things. But that is not where we find ourselves.
Should we ask God for signs? In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor condemns Jesus for refusing to give us signs when he was tempted by the devil in the desert. If only God had turned stones into bread, then humans would have the proof we need. For this cardinal, people seek signs because they are too fearful to embrace true faith.
Do we hesitate to look for signs? After all, education teaches us to view the universe as matter in motion that follows mathematical laws. We learn that what is unexpected always has a cause, even if we haven’t discovered it yet. There is nothing new under the sun, we say. Yet Advent is a time of expectation, of awaiting the remarkable.
Look closer: our lives are full of signs of beginnings. When the robin returns, spring is close at hand. A first cry means the baby is born. To build peace after years of struggle, Nelson Mandela extends a hand to his jailers. A candle is lit in the darkness. Pope Francis kneels and washes the feet of a Muslim girl. Witnessing the presence of the sacred, we sign the cross.
God promised that a child will be born whose life shows how “God is with us.” Who would have thought a son of God would be conceived by an unwed mother, be homeless at birth, a refugee for years, tortured and crucified as a criminal, only to return to his friends after the resurrection? Our horizon shifts. There is much more to reality than what we expect.
When we find our place with the poor, with the child, with the single mother, with the gang member, with our enemies, we are the signs that God is with us. Pope Francis warns us not to close our doors to sinners and imbibe our own righteousness. In his recent letter, he writes, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” God’s kingdom is not a fortress. When we move outside the walls, we share in the freedom of God.
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