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Turning Points

This morning we are thinking about three people who met with the unexpected. Ahaz King of Judah who is threatened by a new and powerful alliance of two of his enemy neighbours, Joseph confronted with a pregnant fiancé and Mary who is dramatically told that she will bear a son, indeed the son of God.

In knowing how to react to these events Ahaz, it seems to me, is the best off of the three because he has at hand the prophet Isaiah, a messenger of God. Isaiah is sent to meet Ahaz and give him advice on how to resolve the impending conflict. Ahaz though refuses to listen to Isaiah and so, in an extraordinarily confident way, Isaiah says “Look if you won’t listen to me ask for a sign, ask the Lord your God to show you that what I say is true - it can be anything you like, no matter how impossible or unlikely just ask and it will surely happen." Ahaz, in a rude and complete rebuff says, “No I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test." He knows that Isaiah is telling the truth but he does not want to hear it!

More than five hundred years later the prophecy that Isaiah gave Ahaz comes true:

“Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel”

When Joseph discovers Mary’s condition he is affronted and decides to break off the engagement.  Even so, he shows himself to be a just and a sympathetic man (for his time) by planning to dismiss her quietly so sparing her from the publicity and humiliation that coming before the courts would have involved. Before he can do this though, God intervenes and an angel appears to Joseph in his sleep affirming that he should take Mary as his wife and that her son is from the Holy Spirit, not from another man. When he wakes, Joseph’s mind is clear and he takes Mary as his wife.

Our fourth Advent candle celebrates the Virgin Mary who as Luke tells us was visited by the angel Gabriel : “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favour with God, and now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will call him Jesus." Mary’s response is found a few verses later:

“Here I am the servant of the Lord!”

The importance of Jesus being “incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” is not only that it fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah that a Messiah will be born of a virgin but also it shows the combination of God’s power to come to earth with Mary’s purity. Power and purity, a unique mixture for a unique world changing event. The poet Elizabeth Jennings in her poem “The Annunciation” captures something of the marriage between the power and the purity by focussing on what Mary’s thoughts might have been at that time.

The contrast between the response of our three characters is fascinating : Ahaz refuses totally to do what God asks him, Joseph equivocates before being persuaded by an angel and Mary facing the most frightening and unexpected situation of them all accepts wholeheartedly, fully and with wonderful grace.

Let us pray that faced with turning points in our lives that we may accept God’s will for us not with the rebuff of Ahaz, nor the anxiety of Joseph but with the gracious and loving acceptance of the Virgin Mary.

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