In Our Youth
Several years ago, I helped out at a parish’s 8th grade Confirmation program. Near the end of the 8th grade Confirmation program, the priests, deacons, and a couple of the catechists would interview the 8th graders to see how much of the faith they had retained over their years of Catholic education. I was one of those—I shall not say whether I was yet ordained or just a seminarian—but I was one of those that was asked to interview the 8th graders.
We had a standard list of questions: name the persons of the Trinity; name the seven sacraments; and so on. But as I asked one young man these questions, I realized that something was amiss. I felt called by the Holy Spirit to ask him a very basic question: “Is Jesus God?”
The young man responded by saying, “Well… He’s the Son of God…”
Ok, but is Jesus God? … This isn’t a trick question.
“Well, I’m not sure… I don’t think so….”
I was taken aback. Nine years of Catholic education and this young man didn’t know from head-to-toes that Jesus is God? I started asking all of the children: Is Jesus God? And about 70-80% of them did not know.
I tell you that story not that we may lament—although there is a place for that. But to point out that for many of our youth—even for some of us—we were never explicitly taught that Jesus is God. Jesus is God!
And that’s very important. Because if Jesus is God, then what He says is very important. His life is very important.
And we would need to know how to defend that.
So, for example, the world may ask us to prove it. Prove that Jesus is God. How would we do this?
We could point to the miracles—so many miracles—that were performed: walking on water, turning water into wine, healing the sick, knowing others’ thoughts, raising the dead, Himself dying—dead as a doornail—and returning on the third day.
And these miracles weren’t done in a vacuum. They had witnesses. And not just “believing” witnesses; some of these miracles were done in front of unbelievers who became believers: Thomas, for example, or some of the Pharisees, or a roman soldier or two, for starters.
Another proof that we have is that Jesus fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies; He’s the only one that I know of—of all the major religions’ founders—who was pre-announced and by many and multiple times and not just proximately to His birth but some prophecies were seven centuries prior to His coming!
In Our College Years
So, for example, in today’s first reading we hear about how a “virgin shall conceive.”
I once went to a secular university and there I took a class: Introduction to Christianity. During that class, I learned that the Hebrew word for virgin is “almah” which means “young woman.” The professor went on to say that this prophecy isn’t about a virgin and so on. And, I must admit, that college professor shook my faith. (And how could I refute that? I didn’t know Hebrew!)
What the professor didn’t tell me, however, was that the Jewish people themselves would translate that word, almah, into the Greek. And the word that they chose from the Greek is “parthenos” which means “virgin.” There are, of course, other words that they could have chosen for young woman, but the Jewish people showed us how they understood their own prophecy when they chose the Greek word for virgin.
Why is this important? Because who cares if it’s just a young woman that conceives a child? So what—that happens all the time! But if a virgin conceives—well, now that’s a whole new ballgame!
Matthew, the inspired author of the gospel from which we read today, himself understands this and notes Gabriel, the archangel’s prophecy to Joseph: “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her”—not by a man, but by God. And if God conceives Jesus, Jesus certainly shares in the nature of the One who conceived Him.
So, despite the doubts that I had in college, I would still discover that Jesus is God.
In Our Adulthood
Thus far, then, I have noted that in our youth, sometimes we are not explicitly taught that Jesus is God. Then, sometimes in our high school or college years, a so-called expert shakes our faith and leads us to doubt that Jesus is God.
Sometimes, however, the difficulty comes in adulthood and we again face the question: “Is Jesus God?”
Take, for example, the two men outlined in our readings today. On the one hand you have King Ahaz. On the other hand, you have St. Joseph. Let’s briefly talk about these adult men.
The year is 735 BC and people of Israel are split into two kingdoms, North and South, with King Ahaz the king of the South. The North is plotting with another country to take back the South. King Ahaz, well aware that war looms on the horizon, cries out for help. God answers and says that He will help him. Ahaz, however, feigns modesty and says he doesn’t want to trouble the Lord.
I say Ahaz feigns modesty because Ahaz already sought out a savior—that is, a pagan country next door—and has formed an alliance with them. In other words, Ahaz doesn’t want a sign from God because Ahaz doesn’t want to change his plan.
Joseph, by the same token, is also worried. He had a plan, too, and this—that Mary has come home from visiting Elizabeth and comes home pregnant—this isn’t Joseph’s plan. We can imagine Joseph laying awake at night, searching the stars, praying “Lord….”
In this, Joseph is different than Ahaz. While both experience disappointment, Joseph still believes. He still holds on to the fact that “nothing is impossible for God!” After all, hasn’t God done miracles in the past? Has He not shown His mighty arm again and again—the flood, the plagues, the Red Sea, the manna, the walls of Jericho, the chariot in the sky, the prophets from of old?
“Do not be afraid” Gabriel says to Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.”
(I like to use that line on our Protestant brothers and sisters: “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home!”—there it is, right there in Scripture!)
And we need to hear those lines as adults because, really, as adults we too face difficulties: a little like Joseph, perhaps our lives didn’t pan out exactly as we had expected or wanted; perhaps we have experienced disappointment or even the crushing of our hopes and dreams; perhaps we are confused by what God wants and why would He give me such a Cross in life?
But this is where we must be like Joseph and less like Ahaz. Be not afraid! And ask for a sign: pray: ask! Let your prayer be as deep as the netherworld or as high as the sky!
Is Jesus God?
All of us, therefore, at one time or another in the course of our life must answer this very basic question: Is Jesus God?
Is Jesus God in your life? Not just on Sundays, but when you’re at work or struggling at home. Do you pray to Him as God, letting your prayer be deep as the netheworld or as high as the sky? Don’t be like Ahaz; don’t be afraid of what God will do to your plans. God is with us—Emmanuel—God is for us, God is with us!
Do not be afraid, He says to us. You have so many proofs. Let Him prove it to you again. As the Psalmist says, “Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.” Let Jesus into your heart. Bring Him your prayers. “For nothing will be impossible for God!”