Monday, December 20, 2010

"Advent" Faith: Wading Into the Waters of the Mystery and Ambiguity of God's Plan for Our Lives and World

Today's readings from daily Mass (Isaiah 7:10-14 and Luke 1:26-38) provide us with a stark contrast in two faith approaches: the approach of Ahaz, King of Judah (from approximately 732-716 BCE), and the approach of Mary. King Ahaz's reign over Judah was characterized by an almost complete departure from observance of the covenant formed by God with Abraham and Moses. Ahaz introduced a number of pagan practices in the royal court and even sacrificed one of his sons! Instead of depending on God alone for protection, Ahaz engaged in political intrigue and formed an alliance with the Assyrian King Tigleth-Pilesar III. In today's reading from the prophet Isaiah, Ahaz is confronted by the prophet who, in all probability and in high irony, dares the King to ask for a sign from God. The prophet and God know full-well that Ahaz will not ask for a sign because, quite frankly, he has no need of one; he has already decided that he is going to put his faith in his own agenda and political maneuverings! What is so interesting, however, is how he responds to the prophet when prompted to ask for a sign: he states, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!" Ahaz puts on the air of piety and religiosity when, in all sincerity, he has long since abandoned faith in God's mysterious ways and exchanged this for faith in his own agenda!

Contrast this with the response of Mary when she receives the message of the angel that she is to give birth to a son and will name him Jesus. Note that Mary's response is not at all like the surfaced, superficial, pseudo-pietistic response of Ahaz! Rather, it is reserved, curious and perhaps a bit cautious, and, finally, completely opened to the mystery of God's plan for her life and the ambiguity of the mystery. Her response is reserved because the glad tidings that the Angel brings no doubt comes quite unexpectedly and is even a source of a bit of trepidation! After the Angel tells her of God's plan for her life, she moves into a space of curiosity and perhaps even a bit of caution: never before has such an announcement been made to a person and, furthermore, to become pregnant outside of marriage (especially in a state of betrothal) was grounds for being stoned! However, once the Angel explains that the power of the Holy Spirit will bring about the conception and that the progeny to be born will be God's own son, she than opens herself to accepting the mystery and, even, ambiguity of God's plan for her life. This is hinted at when she states, "May it be done unto me according to your word." In other words, Mary is saying "yes" to the mystery of God's plan and very definitely does not have an "infused knowledge" or precise awareness of exactly what this plan entails!

Mary's response to God's mysterious and ambiguous plan for her life illustrates what "Advent" faith is all about. While we may not receive a message from an angel, we can be assured that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are meant, like Mary, to "conceive" Christ anew this Christmas season and beyond for the sake of our lives and the life of our world. However, this requires that we surrender an over-adherence to our own agenda, a "pseudo-pietistic" or surfaced religiosity that may purposely or inadvertently limit the growth of God and Christ in our lives (such as the notion that only the ordained are called to be fully Christ-like), and be willing, ultimately, to wade into the deep and often-times impenetrably dark waters of the mystery and ambiguity of God's hope for our lives and world. Pat, TOR