Both readings in today's liturgy remind us of a truism of the spiritual life that often escapes us, namely, God always makes the first move!
In the first reading, Ahaz, is invited by God to ask for a sign. "...let it be deep as the nether world or high as the sky." Talk about an open invitation!! It turns out Ahaz is way too fearful to ask God for anything. Apparently, he believes that asking God for something directly would be an affront to God's majesty. So, he refuses to ‘tempt' God. Or, perhaps he believes that his relationship with God is so weak that he can't even imagine that God would bother to respond to a request from him. In frustration, Isaiah gives Ahaz a sign from God anyway, "the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel."
In our gospel reading from Luke we read that God once again makes the first move. God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary with a request. Like Ahaz, Mary is surprised and a bit perplexed but, unlike Ahaz, her response is one of trust. She opens herself and accepts God's invitation to her to be the mother of His Son. The world has been transformed by Mary's openness to hearing and believing in God's invitation.
Even with us, God is the one who makes the first move. God invites us to welcome the birth of Jesus within us. God invites us to bring Christ into the world through our lives of faith and our good works. Many of us feel like Ahaz, unworthy of such a task or fearful that God might abandon us in our efforts. But, Mary shows us the way. Trust in God, be open to His call and God will accomplish the rest.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.