1st Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:10-16, & Psalm 80
Reflection: “A Sign from God”
So King Ahaz was in a bit of a pickle. He was threatened by two kings and their armies, and so wanted to protect his kingdom by making an alliance with the king of Assyria.
The prophet Isaiah suggests that God might have other ideas, and so he tells Ahaz to ask God for a sign – but Ahaz refuses. He already has a plan, and doesn’t really want to open the door to another plan – God’s plan, that might be different from his own.
But God is God, and sends Ahaz a sign anyway: a young woman is with child, will bear a son, and he will be called Immanuel, or God is with us. The Divine message says that before this child is eating solid food, the lands of the kings who Ahaz is afraid of will be deserted – they will no longer be a threat.
For us the message seems to be that God’s plan will usually be better than our own human plan, and that we would do well to listen for the higher lesson behind problems in our own lives that need solutions.
At this special time we cannot help but note also that the prophet talks about “the young woman (who) is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel”. My Interpreter’s Bible says that this child will probably be born to either the prophet’s wife or the king’s wife. But even here in this Hebrew testament reading, the name to be given means “God is with us.”
The word “almah” which means “young woman” translates from the Hebrew into Greek as “virgin” and this may be how we get to the virgin birth which is such a central part of our Christian tradition.
Following the prophetic threads from the Hebrew writings into our New Testament Gospels is a journey frought with the perils of human interpretation and differing translations into the many, many languages of this world. We must all do our best to respond to the living word of God as we hear it expressed in our times.
Hymn # 2 VU “Come Thou Long-expected Jesus”
2nd Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
As I said last week, the Bible doesn’t say much about Joseph – but what it does say points to a man who was willing to buck the customs and mores of his culture to “do the right thing”. This was a man whose heart was open to Mary – his betrothed, who came to him already pregnant, and not by him.
Dale is now going to read a story about Joseph, in modern language – so please imagine a very young man, engaged to an even younger woman, teenagers in fact, in Biblical times in a country in the Middle East.
“Hey, Joe, Where you gonna go?” – a Starlight Story by Andrew Gammon.
In every period of our history, in every culture known to us, there have been men and women of incredible integrity – sometimes flying in the face of acceptable behaviour. I speak now of men and of women who know deep in their hearts that the first commandment is to love one another, and to love the Higher Power that directs their lives.
It is clear to me that Joseph was listening to his connection with the Divine, with God. He was hearing the voices of his cultural tradition, for sure, but he was willing to follow what he understood to be right – to be the right, and honourable, and loving thing to do under what for him must have been very difficult conditions.
The shaming of women for what must obviously be a cooperative act, or even when the act was coercive, this shaming still goes on today, and we as a society are still having difficulty grappling with it.
So Joseph can be seen as a way-shower, a leader in terms of what good men think and do. Good men protect women and children. Good men respect the autonomy of women. Good men listen to their wives and work in partnership with them for the good of the family and of their communities. Today we celebrate the Josephs, the good men among us. Thanks be to God for men and for women who listen to the law of Love.
Hymn #574 VU “Come Let us Sing of a Wonderful Love”