Indiana Jones faced one last test in order to reach the Holy Grail. He was in a hurry: his father had been shot and reaching the Grail was the only chance Indy had to save him. He had his father’s notebook about Grail legends in his hand that described the tests and he’d passed the first two–barely. The last one seemed to be impossible: he was looking at a great chasm with a doorway on the other side and no apparent way to cross: the whip wasn’t going to help him here. The drawing showed some men toppling into the chasm and other seeming to walk on air, and Indy knew that it would take a leap of faith to cross over. He ended up putting his hand in front of his eyes and taking the step forward. He found himself standing on a bridge that blended perfectly with the surroundings, and soon he was on the other side. He was in a crisis, he was shown a promise of success and he was able to act on that promise.
In today’s scripture, we have two men who in crises, who are given a promise and called to act on that promise. King Ahaz in the first reading was in great trouble: two neighboring kings had allied to depose him, and he was negotiating with one of the local superpowers to help him. He was working from a position of vulnerability, weakness. Ahaz wanted to make the best of a bad deal, to preserve a future for himself. Isaiah called Ahaz to ask for a sign from God: a renewal of the promise that God made to the house of David. But Ahaz knows where his faith is, and it isn’t quite where it should be. In order to make the deal with the superpower, he will probably have to offer a sacrifice to their Gods, and asking Isaiah’s question will make him look like a hypocrite. Ahaz wants to make any deal he can, and putting faith completely in God will limit his options (so he thinks.) We know that Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, refuses to have faith, much less act on it. God fulfills the promise anyway: the son predicted for the king is the son who will succeed him, Hezekiah, who will keep the Davidic kingship going for the future. Look at this: although Ahaz is not faithful, God is faithful.
Let’s look at the flip side of Ahaz: Joseph. Joseph is in trouble because he’s just discovered that his fiancee is pregnant, and he knows the child is not his. He is in a dilemma because he doesn’t want to turn a blind eye to Mary’s presumed adultery, but he doesn’t want to accuse her publicly since that would subject Mary to death by stoning. He wants to be flexible, to make the best of a bad situation, to make a practical choice, salvage his own personal honor and perhaps his ego. Then the angel appears to Joseph in a dream and makes the Great Promise, that Mary’s son will be the Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy beyond hope and expectation. Joseph is called to have faith and act on it. He does. It should be noted that without Joseph, Jesus would have been born without a father: a non person in that time and place, a person who could have no public role. Joseph will give the child the promised name, an honorable name. Joseph is the model for the rest of us.
So here we are: called to have faith and act on it. We know that whatever happens with us, God will be faithful, but we can help the promise of God’s love be completely realized by our help, just as it was in Joseph’s case. But what is it we’re acting on?
The promise we’ve heard about all of Advent as we’ve heard these stories of Christ’s first coming is that just as that coming was better than could be hoped for, the Second Coming of Christ, our great hope, is going to be better that we could hope for. Paul starts his letter to the Romans in today’s reading by setting the scene, he says this is where we are now: a people who know the fullness of Christ’s mystery, birth, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, sending the Holy Spirit, and in light of that we are called to spread the Good News to all people.
Joseph was able to make a leap of faith. We know God is always faithful, even though we may not be faithful at times. Can we make leaps of faith in our own lives? When we’re in a tough place, can we trust in God’s faithfulness? Can we embrace the Joy of the Gospel?