Prophecy packs a political punch

Gospel for December 18, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Advent

By Glen Argan

The drawing near of Christmas echoes in the Gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent – the account of St. Joseph’s decision to take Mary as his wife despite her “disgraceful” condition as pregnant and unmarried.

It takes an angel appearing in a dream and a carefully massaged translation of Isaiah 7.14 to convince Joseph that Mary is a virgin and that he should still take her as his wife.

Thanks to Joseph’s obedience, the story will continue as it should.

isaiah1The translation of Isaiah 7.14, now correctly presented as “young woman,” was in the past oftentimes presented as “virgin.” More importantly, the story is truncated so that it appears as a warmly prophetic harbinger of the coming of the messiah.

In fact, there is nothing warm about the Isaiah story. It is an account of conflict between God and his prophet on one side and King Ahaz on the other.

The Lord prompts Ahaz to ask for a sign, but the king says he will not because he does not want to put the Lord to the test. An odd response given that it was the Lord himself who asked to be “put to the test.”

However, Ahaz’s failure to respond to the Lord’s command brings a dire consequence deleted from Sunday’s version of the story. Judah will be invaded and conquered by the Assyrians. The line of David will fall, and the people of Abraham will be devastated.

The king has placed himself above the prophetic word, and the consequences will be massive and irredeemable.

Centuries later, Jesus will become the God With Us who brings a salvation far greater than that of an earthly messiah. But the earthly Israel never regains its former glory.

The full Isaiah story shows the political punch of the prophetic word. Kings and kingdoms fall because of the failure to respond to the word. Peace is no more; lives are wiped out. God is not with us when his word is ignored.

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