The image of the stubborn king who refuses to know and do what God wills stands in sharp contrast to the young woman who responds with a slightly puzzled but generous commitment to give her whole being so that God’s plan may be carried forward in her time. By virtue of having been anointed King, Ahaz was obliged to listen to the will of God as it comes through the prophets and signs of the times – but he rejects the opportunity to know what it is that God is planning. In a fit of pseudo piety he protests that he won’t “tempt the Lord” by asking for a sign from God. Mary, a seemingly ordinary Jewish woman doesn’t ask for a sign so much as ask about the ordinary laws of nature: “how can this be” that she will become pregnant since she is not having a sexual relationship. In both cases the “sign” of God’s active labor in the human condition will be made obvious by the birth of an unlooked for child. The child will serve as an incarnated expression of God’s intent to undo all the harm to the human condition that humanity has been capable of accomplishing.
Jesus’ human response of perfect alignment and co-operation with God’s will give to us both a sense of the dimensions of God’s desire for our complete joy and perfection and the capacity to co-operate with him in the fulfillment of that will for ourselves and each other.
I think for many of us our imagination of God’s will is threatening. Like Teresa of Avila we can protest to God something on the order of “no wonder you have so few friends” when following what we believe to be God’s desire can seem to bring great difficulty, suffering or challenge. There is no question that if we look at the historical record, God’s spokespeople and friends are challenged by difficulty, and are often rejected by the mass of sinful humanity (including closest family and friends). But such suffering does not allay the stunning freedom and peace – and often material flourishing - that can also come with doing God’s will in our world, and the promise of total joy for eternity.
Another problem for people of good will, may be that the message of God’s will for most of us does not seem to come with angelic appearances or even a recognizable prophet shouting at us. Or perhaps it does but our imagination of angels and prophets is a bit narrow. God’s will cannot be impossible for us to hear if God wants us, in freedom, to fulfill it. It has to be made available to us in media that we can grasp and understand – but the media may demand a kind of attentiveness and humility. I may have to put up with an “angel” who is some colleague, friend or other messenger that doesn’t fit my category of angelic. Or it may be spoken through a prophetic voice that just happens to be the person I like least, or don’t want to hear from. Such messages may come from hardship moments in our lives when the message is the “turn signal” from bad choices (being fired from a job or a hangover from too much drink taken leap to mind as easy examples). God does not will to harm us. God’s love absolutely wills our full human flourishing – but God also wills the full human flourishing of our neighbor and expects His friends to will that as well, by the way we live our lives in justice, mercy and love as Jesus did. The suffering and death of Jesus is not the end of his story. Even Jesus’ resurrection is not the end of his story. Today’s feast announces that Jesus has opened a whole new story for humanity that includes glory for each and every one of us – the glory of God made visible in each one of us. How can we not respond like Mary – turning away from the will to our own power made visible in Ahaz’s stupidity – and say “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”
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