My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Have you ever been disappointed by God? Ever asked for something from God and not gotten what you want? A few years ago, I was riding with a good priest friend of mine named Fr. Bob Davies. Fr. Davies has, since then, passed away but he used to accompany me four times a year to the Twin Cities to watch plays with some other priests. One time, we were talking about budgeting frustrations that he was having with his two rural parishes. Now, to understand why this next comment is so shocking, you have to understand something about Fr. Davies history. Prior to becoming a priest, he was involved in local and national politics. If you travel to Hampton and mention his name, they will probably remember him best as the county recorder. He was a whiz with numbers and budgets. He was one of the guys that Senator Harkin relied on to work behind the scenes on his finances and make sure he wasn’t overspending. So, as we were driving along Interstate 35 close to where it intersects with interstate 90, you can imagine how surprised I was to hear him say that he thought parishes take budgets too seriously. This is man who, prior to priesthood, dedicated his life to being the guy who said to politicians that they can’t spend something because it would go over budget. But, according to Bob, by being so strict about staying in budget, they missed out on the possibility that God may be calling us to do something more. At the time, I was just a new Associate Pastor but it still struck me and continues to strike me the more I think about it.
Today’s first reading and gospel are a definite exercise in point, counter point. In other words, two people are presented with similar situations and end up with complete different solutions. Both Ahaz and Joseph have to make a life or death decision. Ahaz is in charge of Judah which is situated between two countries that wanted to wage war with two countries on his southern border. Ahaz thinks that he can remain neutral but one of the southern countries is Israel, a sister Judaic country. He has to know that he’s going to get drug into this war somehow, even if he isn’t sure whose side he should be on. Joseph, on the other hand, isn’t dealing with war but with a personal life or death situation. To be engaged at the time of Jesus was a serious commitment. If someone were to have relations with another person, it would result in their death. Yet, since the marriage hasn’t happened, the couple is not allowed to have relations. In both cases, God approaches the men even before they ask. God seems willing to allow Ahaz to keep Judah neutral and will even protect him if he asks. God tells Joseph to marry Mary quickly and protect her from shame. This is where the two stories both diverge and interlock. Joseph does as the Angel tells him and sets up for us what we will celebrate at the end of this week. Ahaz, on the other hand, basically says he’ll deal with things his own way and won’t ask God for help, despite the fact that God told him to do so. You can’t tempt a God who is telling him to ask for help. Since Ahaz refuses to ask God for help, God tells him that he will be replaced by someone who will. As Christians, we believe that this child is the Christ, the one whose earthly father did what the Angel wanted.
We live in a very cynical, pragmatic world. So often, when we need help there is a temptation to believe that we either do it ourselves or it won’t get done. Yet, as believers, we are challenged especially by today’s readings. Miracles do in fact happen. Not everything is so predictable that we can write the story even before it happens. Sure, we need budgets and auditors to make sure that we don’t go off the handle. And, as your pastor, I do my best to make sure that we live within our budget. But, that will never stop me from dreaming for a miracle. Please don’t stop dreaming for that miracle cure or that problem resolved. For, soon we will remember the greatest miracle of all time: the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.