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LOVE. That’s the theme of the fourth and final week of advent. After an invitation to hope, reminder of peace, and call to know the joy of God’s salvation, we hear of how Divine Love enters into the messiness of life like in Israel, and also how it messes up what we thought was right like in the life of Joseph. God’s way and love – are ultimately mysterious.
Isaiah 7:10-16 is the 2nd part of a story about an encounter between the prophet Isaiah and the Judean King Ahaz. (Read the whole text Isaiah 7:1-16) It’s located during the Syro-Ephraimite conflict of 734-733 BCE when the Kings of Israel (also called Ephraim) and Aram attempted to invade Jerusalem (in Judah) to replace Ahaz with a puppet ruler who would support their collation against Assyria (see Isaiah 7:1, 5-6; 2 Kings 16:5-9). In a time of national terror, Yahweh sends Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz of divine protection, to hope against all the evidence. The prophet offers the king a sign to bolster his confidence, telling him that God will stop at nothing to secure the king’s faith. The promise is that a young woman (is it the queen?) will give birth to a child, who will be a beacon of hope in a time of national distress. In the Ancient World siege warfare, when a city was attacked, resulted in severe food shortages and starvation, often with small children disproportionately suffering. Yet the prophet says that a child will be born, and that by the time this child is weaned (3 or 4 years of age) that there will be plenty of food to eat (honey), implying that the siege will be over. The child is a sign of God’s promise to be with the people – even in their seeming defeat.
Matthew 1:16-25 tells what might be an all too familiar story. It follows the long genealogy of Jesus in 1:1-16, which contains the awkward report that Joseph didn’t “father” Jesus. Joseph is described as righteous. That means he must divorce his unfaithful wife who has somehow gotten pregnant before their marriage and first sexual union. The Torah law doesn’t allow him to simply forgive and forget the wrong done by Mary. He righteously moves to divorce her quietly, to avoid publicly shaming her. But before he can do so, he has an unexpected encounter that changes his mind and life. The baby has 2 names – Emmanuel, meaning God with us, pointing back to Isaiah 7. And also “Jesus” a Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which sounds like the word for salvation. The name is a sign. By naming the child, Joseph publicly accepts him as his son, adopting him. Loving God and leads Joseph to love this child, a love that changes the life of him – and many others.
Questions for Going Deeper
Monte is heavily indebted to the entry for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Fasting on the Word. Year A, Volume 1 for this blog post.