Our world is swimming in the ocean of signs; in fact, we can be called a generation of signs. We all look out for various signs to enable us to either act or refrain from acting. Individuals, groups, and organizations have and make use of signs to communicate certain information. A red light along the road stops all vehicular and human movements. An apple with the upper part bitten off is a direct reference the Apple company. The image of a woman on a door in a public place communicates the presence of a restroom for females, while a picture of a man on a door communicates the opposite.
On the new media landscape, there are so many signs (icons, emoticons, and emojis) that signify one feeling or the other. We also have natural signs that point to some realities other than themselves. For instance, smoke indicates a fire, the nature of the clouds often signifies the outcome of the weather. Our Jesus Christ gave a reflection on a natural sign in his background when he says: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.” (Matt.24:32)
God knows our limitations in knowledge and that could be the reason why he often communicates to us using signs. From the Bible will discover that most divine communications are through signs. God used the sign of the rainbow to seal a covenant and the decision not to visit the world again with a deluge (Gen.9:12-13).
Abraham received a sign from God using the countless stars in the sky showing the greatness of his posterity (Gen. 15:5). Moses’ staff became a sign of God’s abiding presence for the Israelites in their struggle for liberation from the Egyptians as well as the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire (Exodus 4:2-4; 13:21-22). God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute, who eventually became unfaithful, as a sign of the infidelity of the people of Israel to Him (Hosea 1:2; 3:1-4). Our Lord Jesus Christ called Jonah and himself signs for the Ninevites and to his generation respectively (Luke 11:30).
The First Reading (7:10-14) tells us about God’s instruction to Ahaz, the King of Judah to ask for a sign. Ahaz could not ask for a sign as he claimed that he did not want to put God to the test (Deut 6:16). He was actually in doubt about the power of God to deliver him from Israel and Aram. He rather trusted in the alliance he was forming with the Assyrians even when the prophet Isaiah assures him that the attack will not happen.
Often we are like Ahaz. We put our trust in men than in God. Ahaz was using a religious canopy to shield his faithlessness. In fact, the real act of putting God to the test is to doubt His power especially to save us. God goes further to give a sign to Ahaz. The sign does not seem to have relevance to the issue, but it is profoundly significant: “ a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
How does this sign resonate with the “Ahazic” situation at the time? The resonance is in God’s determination to make the impossibility possible. God seems to be telling Ahaz “saving you from your enemies is very simple for me to do but I am about to do a thing too deep to the imagination. A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name will be God-is-with-us (Emmanuel)”. This message shows that she is a virgin, and after conception, she remains a virgin, and without the physical action of a man, the virgin conceives.
Attempting an application of the “Ahazic” sign to our lives, we discover that the two enemies represent the devil and the world (see Eph. 2:2-3) and the target is Jerusalem which represents our souls. We are contending with the world that has an agenda that is troublesome for us (John 16:33). We are also fighting with our enemy the devil whose agenda is to steal kill and destroy (John 10:10a). Like Ahaz some of us appear to be helpless in the face of these enemies and like him also, we have a weak Assyrians as alternatives.
Today the Gospel Reading (Matt.1:18-24) draws our attention to another sign in the person of Joseph. Joseph stands as an excellent sign to all Christians. We can understand Joseph more when we place him side by side with Ahaz in the First Reading today. Both had puzzles confronting them; Ahaz contending with two enemies and Joseph contending with the fact that his bride-to-be (a virgin) was pregnant. However, their approaches and reactions to their situations differed. Ahaz lost hope in God while Joseph trusted and obeyed. The gospel calls him a righteous man. We also can identify his humility, civility, and obedience. For us Christians, Joseph stands as a productive guide and a sign of faith and trust in God and attentiveness His words, righteous living, and obedience of faith as St. Paul recommended in the Second Reading (Rom.1:5).
This last Sunday of Advent invites us to look out for that “Ahazic” sign that will bring us to God so that God can be with us. When God is with us, nothing can be against us (Romans 8:31). Many beautiful and destructive signs in the world are contending with this “Ahazic” sign.
It is very unfortunate that the current signs around us today are not calling our attention to the Emmanuel we are waiting to receive in our hearts but to consumerism, excessive shopping and decoration and all other externalities of the season. Pope Paul VI in while promulgating the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium Et Spes), enjoins us to scrutinize the signs of the time. This scrutiny will help us to discover the real sign we need especially within this last week of Advent when we expect the Savior to be born not in Bethlehem but into our hearts.
The deepest and the highest sign is the coming of the Messiah. He is coming to your heart, and you need to make room for him. Have a graceful last week of Advent and may the “Ahazic” sign lead you to a blissful Christmas.