Today’s first reading has always puzzled me—King Ahaz seems to be saying something pious by refusing to put the Lord to the test. But apparently this refusal “wearies God.” What does this mean?
I finally looked it up, and the context makes a big difference. Without going into the messy diplomatic details, there is a simple reason King Ahaz isn’t interested in receiving a sign from God: he has already decided to put his trust in the king of Assyria instead. He doesn’t think God is strong enough to save Judah from the military threat it faces.
Despite his exasperation, Isaiah responds by speaking of God’s generosity, even when the gift was to arrive far in the future. And although Ahaz doesn’t want a sign, God promises one anyway: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. Neither Ahaz nor Isaiah will live to see this sign fulfilled. Emmanuel—”God is with us”—was born over seven hundred years later.
This is generosity on God’s scale: Ahaz wanted a military victory and to retain his power; what God promised him instead was the salvation of the whole human race.
This generosity seems to be a pattern with our God. How many times have I prayed for something, not gotten it, and been surprised with a different, more magnificent gift than I could even have imagined? Often. However, like the people of Israel in the reading, I have had to be patient.
We mothers spend a lot of time being patient in little ways—three-year-olds dressing themselves and teenagers in the bathroom come to mind—waiting to see the fruits of our labors takes much longer. A child’s life is not completed in a day, or a decade. And even as our children grow, many of the effects of our work and prayer on our children’s behalf aren’t visible to our earthly eyes.
Advent is a time of waiting—and a time of hope. It’s a time to focus on practicing the patience we need so much as moms. It’s a good time to remind ourselves that just as Isaiah’s prophecy was worthy of trust, we can trust in God to continue to pour out his generosity on his people, including ourselves and our families. And while his gifts may require patience, we can be sure they will be more than we ever could have asked for.