Advent 2022

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Fearlessly Trusting the Promises of God

Fourth Sun 1 (1)What does it mean to fail to trust God? If someone put me on the spot with that question, I doubt I’d have much trouble answering. I’d think of all of the failures and the disappointments, of all of the pain and the suffering we experience, that can so readily call into question the presence of God’s love and mercy in our lives.

For those inclined to a similar response, today’s reading from the Book of Isaiah likely strains comprehension. In it, God practically dares Ahaz to ask for something, anything from the unsearchable depths of the grave, to the highest heights of heaven (Isaiah 7:11). Even in the face of the promise of the Lord, however, Ahaz demurs, offering the pseudo-pietistic retort that he does not wish to test God. This paradoxical dynamic of the absence of trust often coming with the moments where one is closest to God repeats itself throughout Sacred Scripture; one need only think of the many shortcomings of the Disciples in the Gospels, for example, to be reminded of this fact.

It is sobering to imagine the bitterness that must come with such a failure. One such episode that I often return to is Moses’s ascent of Mount Nebo. Moses knew that he would not enter the Promised Land due to his own failures to trust wholeheartedly in God (see Numbers 20:12), and as he looked out over it, God said; “I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross there” (Deuteronomy 34:4). Imagine standing atop the mountain, and seeing before your own eyes what God had been willing to grant you, but for your hesitation; and yet “Moses the servant of the LORD died there, in the land of Moab” (Deuteronomy 34:5). Even so great a servant of God as Moses once faltered, with tragic effect.

Why is it that God’s coming closer to us can so easily push us away? My feeling is that it is perhaps easier to trust God when the stakes seem lower to us, when the door that opens into life is seen but hazily. Today’s gospel reading reminds us, however, of the radical consequences of the Incarnation that we relive anew each Advent season; Emmanuel, “God with us.” The question has been posed; Christ says he is “standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you” (Revelations 3:20). This Advent season, may we dwell on what it means to fearlessly heed God in the moment of consequence.

James Coady GRD '23

James is a student at Yale Divinity School.