In the year 743 BCE, King Ahaz of Judah, the southern kingdom, was preparing for an assault by King Pekah of Israel, the northern kingdom. King Pekah and his allies wanted Ahaz to join their coalition to defeat Assyria which was a threat to both Judah and Israel. However, Ahaz resisted their overtures. When he refused to join them, they made preparations to invade the southern kingdom and remove him from his throne. Ahaz feared for his life and that the Davidic dynasty would come to an end with his demise. So he decides to make an alliance with Assyria, the very enemies of Israel. However, such alliances were against God’s express will.
When Isaiah comes to him, he warns Ahaz that this alliance is against God’s will. He also tells Ahaz that God will give him a sign that all will be well if he simply asks God for help. However, Ahaz declines the invitation out of his fear for his life. Isaiah persists and utters God’s promise anyway. The maiden will give birth to a child. In other words, Ahaz will have a son and the Davidic dynasty will continue. God will be faithful to the promise made to David. There would always be a king of the House of David on the throne of Judah.
Because of his alliance with Assyria, although he keeps his throne, Judah became a vassal state of Assyria, and eventually it too is attacked and devastated by Assyria. All of the inhabitants are sent into slavery, a period that we know as the Babylonian captivity.
Matthew introduces his Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus in which both Ahaz and Hezekiah are mentioned. Immediately after the genealogy, Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus, part of which we hear today. Using Joseph as his point of reference, Matthew tells us that God’s promise to David, and thus to Ahaz, is fulfilled in Jesus. Joseph was of the tribe of Judah and the house of David. God calls Joseph to assist him in fulfilling the promise made so long ago.
Though the story of Ahaz and Joseph are surrounded by different histories and different realities, both stories call Ahaz and Joseph to set aside their own concerns and follow the will of God. Like any call, any vocation, Joseph and Ahaz do not understand it at first. Just as any man or woman has to discern God’s will for them in choosing a vocation, Joseph and Ahaz had to discern God’s will. Ahaz has to make a choice to trust in God’s promise. For Joseph, he is faced with the dilemma that his betrothed is with child. The child is not his. Joseph is a just man and realizes that it would bring shame to his home to take a child which is not his. So he decides to put Mary aside quietly so that the father of the child can claim it as his own.
This is when God intervenes. Of the two, Joseph proves to be the just man, and believes God’s revelation and is assured that taking Mary as his wife will not bring him shame. Indeed, he will be highly honored by God because, like Mary, he has chosen to obey God’s will. Just as it takes the cooperation of a man and a woman to bring a child into this world, it took the cooperation of both Mary and Joseph to bring God’s Son into the world. Together they stand as witnesses of faith. Together they show us the path of right relationship with God. They accept God’s call and are willing to do God’s will.
As we listen to the Scriptures today, it is important that we realize that all of us are called to do the same thing. Just as Mary and Joseph were called to fulfill God’s promise, we too are called to make Jesus present in our world. This is expressed so beautifully by St. Teresa of Avila who wrote: ““Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassionately on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Joseph and Mary gave themselves over to the will of God, even allowing God to use their bodies and their whole lives to fulfill God’s promise. Hard as it may be to believe, God asks the same of each of us. Like Joseph, we will be blessed with great honor if we accept God’s will in our lives.
The Eucharist gives us the strength to do God’s will in our lives. Let us approach the table of the Lord to receive the sustenance that will see us through any difficulties we may encounter in our life’s journey.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator