Our Advent readings have dealt with the question of hope – how do we hope, and trust, in God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love when evil, darkness, and chaos seem ascendant in the world? We’re wrestled with the vision of radical peace and how God invites us, like Esther, even when God seems absent, to be part of God’s unfolding reality in the world by speaking out and acting up. Last week we heard the testimony of Isaiah and John the Baptizer calling us to surpass our narcotized idea of how God acts in the world. They proclaim that God is made manifest explicitly and implicitly, through divine action and through our actions – small and big – today.
Today we turn to the beginning act of the Christmas Story. We hear of Joseph and his response to the unfolding unplanned pregnancy that we name a miracle, and he most probably didn’t. Matthew alone tells of Joseph’s story (Luke in his telling focuses on Mary). The words of the angel, meant to clarify and encourage, harken back to the prophetic poetry of Isaiah 7 in which a young woman is promised to give birth to a son to be named Emmanu-el, which means “God with us” in Hebrew.
Isaiah wrote that poetry in the 7th century when God seemed to be anywhere but with his chosen people. The city was surrounded, defeat seemed imminent. In that encircling doom, he speaks of a child to come, of life continuing despite appearances, of God with and among the people even when they think themselves discarded and despised. Is this woman a virgin? Or just a maiden, as in a young woman? We usually focus on the double entendre in the word used in the scripture and the consequent veracity of the story of Mary giving birth miraculously. Was she truly a virgin? Or was she just a young maiden? Is Jesus created from divine DNA or an unwanted, or unplanned, pregnancy explained through a now-hard-to-believe miracle? But maybe our modern scientific line of thinking misses the narrative point?
Jewish tradition sees Isaiah talking about either a leader to be born or the vision that life will continue even when all seems lost because God-is-with-them, despite appearances. Wouldn’t that be the same miraculous way that Joseph might imaginatively interpret the disruption of his fiancée’s surprise pregnancy? Could it be that these stories intend more to invite us to a prophetic imagination rather than a history to be memorized and repeated?
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What shimmers in your attention to these readings?
- How is God with Isaiah, Joseph? Us today?
- How do you need prophetic imagination to see today – your life – our vocation – more clearly?
Download the text study guide we use for our class discussion @CAPCOakland [HERE]