Meditation and Questions for Reflection or Group Discussion
1st Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14 Responsorial: Psalm 24:1-6
2nd Reading: Romans 1:1-7 Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24
Advent, A Season of Signs of the Coming of Emmanuel, God-with-Us
Ask for a sign from the Lord. (Isaiah 7:11)
Things were looking bad for King Ahaz of Jerusalem. He was barely holding back an attack from the armies of Aram and Samaria. The situation became so desperate that Ahaz decided to appeal to the king of Assyria for help. “I am your servant and your son,” he wrote. “Come up and rescue me” (2 Kings 16:7).
Hearing the news, the prophet Isaiah urged Ahaz to reconsider. He knew that bowing to Assyria would mean adopting the nation’s false idols and sinful traditions. “Ask for a sign from the Lord,” he begged the king (Isaiah 7:11). Let God help you.
But Ahaz refused. He didn’t want to risk God’s wrath by seeming to dare God to prove himself. Besides, he thought, God could not possibly be so good as to rescue him—especially not after all the ways Ahaz had disobeyed him in the past.
Like Ahaz, we too can fear that we have to deal with the challenges of life all on our own. But God is always giving us signs of his presence and his help. Some are subtle, like a beautiful sunrise, and others are more obvious, like the faithfulness of a friend. And then there’s the dramatic sign that Isaiah gave Ahaz: “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Emmanuel. God-with-us. A living, breathing sign of God’s love and protection. A personal, undeniable sign of God’s commitment to his people. A promise that he has seen our need and is ready to help if we turn to him.
At Mass today, you’ll be surrounded by signs: statues, a crucifix, an altar, and maybe a crèche. And of course, the greatest and most intimate of all signs: Jesus, present in the form of bread and wine. He is a sign you not only see but one you can taste and touch. He is the sign that redeems, heals, and restores. So don’t be like Ahaz. Welcome this sign. Take it into your heart and soul.
“Jesus, thank you for every sign that you will give me today.”
Questions for Reflection or Discussion:
1. The first reading includes a powerful Messianic prophecy regarding the coming of the Lord: The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.
- How does Ahaz’ weak response to the Lord speaking to him reminds us that we too can take for granted the wonderful revelation of God’s love for us that we have in the coming of Jesus?
- How would you describe your own response to this revelation that we celebrate during this grace-filled Advent and Christmas season? In what ways has this revelation had an impact on your life?
2. In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist asks these questions: Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD? or who may stand in his holy place? The answers the psalmist gives are very challenging, as well as convicting: One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. He shall receive a blessing from the LORD, a reward from God his savior. Such is the race that seeks for him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
- Are you challenged by the answers to the questions posed by the psalmist? Why or why not?
- What role does faith in the Lord play in allowing us to ascend the hill of the Lord, stand in his holy place, and seek the face of the God — especially in knowing that Jesus’ hands are sinless, his heart is clean, and he died on the cross for our sins? What role does the Sacrament of Reconciliation play in this as well?
3. The second reading begins with these words: Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God. He goes on to describe the “gospel of God” as the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. He also tells those he is writing to, and us, that we are all the beloved of God and called to be holy.
- What do you think St. Paul meant when he said he was a slave of Christ, Jesus called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God? In what ways are you a slave of Christ … and set apart for the gospel of God?
- What can you and your family do during the remaining days of Advent to open yourself more to the graces that flow from the birth of our Savior, and his work of salvation through his Cross and resurrection from the dead?
- St. Paul tells those he is writing to, and us, that we are beloved of God and we are called to be holy? Do you believe this? Why or why not? What are some ways you have experienced God’s love in a real and personal way?
4. In the Gospel reading, the time has come at last for the Messianic prophecies, especially the one in the first reading, to be fulfilled. However, Joseph is initially presented with a monumental problem: Mary, his betrothed, is found with child. Joseph’s fears are eliminated when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” … he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
- What impact on your faith does knowing that the Messianic prophecies have been fulfilled by Jesus?
- Joseph’s initial reaction was that he was being unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. How do your own reactions to the unexpected mirror or contrast with Joseph’s initial reaction?
- When you have fears regarding what God is asking in your life, do you believe God wants to give words of assurance to you just as he did for Joseph? In what ways has he done this?
5. The meditation ends with this reflection on the meaning of the word Emmanuel: “Emmanuel. God-with-us. A living, breathing sign of God’s love and protection. A personal, undeniable sign of God’s commitment to his people. A promise that he has seen our need and is ready to help if we turn to him. At Mass today, you’ll be surrounded by signs: statues, a crucifix, an altar, and maybe a crèche. And of course, the greatest and most intimate of all signs: Jesus, present in the form of bread and wine. He is a sign you not only see but one you can taste and touch. He is the sign that redeems, heals, and restores. So don’t be like Ahaz. Welcome this sign. Take it into your heart and soul.”
- What can you do at Mass to allow the signs mentioned in the meditation to have a greater impact on your life?
- How often during the day do you rejoice that God has sent his Son to you and that you have a Savior who is always with you, who is “Emmanuel. God-with-us”? What steps can you take so this will be a greater reality in your life, and you will be more open to “signs” of his presence and actions?
Take some time now to pray and thank the Lord for the many signs he gives you each day of his presence in your life and his faithfulness. Use the prayer below from the end of the meditation as a starting point.
“Jesus, thank you for every sign that you will give me today.”