Meditation is an interesting endeavour. By its very nature, meditation involves a repetition of ideas, concepts, and quotes. However, meditation is not simply reciting memorised phrases. Meditation involves digging deeper into a concept and unpacking it in new ways connected to earlier understandings. This process is guided by the Holy Spirit. Remember, one of His “jobs” is to teach us and guide us into all truth. Scripture sets us up for this kind of meditation in the very structure of its writing.
Genealogies are an example of literature being intentionally developed for meditation across Scripture. Matthew begins the New Testament with a genealogy of Jesus that is meant to connect us back to the history of Israel. Dr. Tim Mackie refers to these links to previous passages and stories as “hyperlinks.” Hyperlinks are the underlined, blue-letter words in documents or websites, where if you click on the word, you are hyper-jumped to another page more focused on that specific idea. Scripture is not the internet or a computer, but these “hyperlinks” are still there, especially when you already know the passages and stories being linked.
Now, you might look at Matthew 1:1-17 and say, that’s a lot of names… and you would be right. The meditation process means you read and think on things over and over again, taking different pieces and applying them to your understanding of the passage, precept upon precept. Genealogies are filled with names that are intentionally included to make a point about the narratives they are a part of. As I noted in the Preface, when we get repeated words/phrases/images, we can notice the differences to derive meaning. Genealogies are no different. There are additions, retractions, etc. that if we’re paying attention, draw some attention to a point or theme to understand what we’re studying.
So for this week, I wanted to highlight the inclusion of women in Matthew’s genealogy. The addition of five women provides an interesting commentary on the narrative that will follow the genealogy. These women and their stories are generally well known because of their inclusion in these lists. Tamar (Genesis 38:26), Rahab (Joshua 2:9), Ruth (whole book), and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). We are meant to think of these narratives in our minds for us to utilize them in our meditations on the arrival of Christ.
Each of these women are victims of some sort of injustice, oppression, or hardship and yet, their continual pursuit of Yahweh’s will for their lives leads them to be members of Jesus’ lineage and figures of faithfulness. For brevity's sake, we won’t detail their stories, but I wanted to take this link of women and faithfulness that Scripture gives us to discuss Mary.
Meditations on Advent include meditations on Mary and her response to God’s call. No older than a teenager, this Mary is greeted by Gabriel, who gives her this message about a child who will be given to her. In our song this week, there is a line that I would like to highlight, “Walking down the aisle at eight months.” The song also highlights the challenge presented to Joseph in having a pregnant fiance. The scandal of Jesus’ birth (scandal of grace anyone?) is where we need to begin thinking about the role of women in this narrative of the Messiah.
The first news of the Messiah comes to a teenage girl. Now, it is not news to anyone for me to point out that women’s perspectives, experiences, and voices were not valued in the same way we might think today. I do not want to submit the idea that women were totally devalued because that is an oversimplification, however, the narratives that Matthew is prompting us to remember highlight the point that men in the Bible have struggled to value women. Each of the women given prominence in this genealogy are engaged in a struggle of some sort with men who are obligated under the Law to care for them.
Mary is presented with an opportunity that will see her both carry the Messiah and be seen as faithless and scandalous due to the appearance of sexual promiscuity (whether they believe Joseph was involved or not). The repetition of highlighting women is happening, but differently. In this case, Mary is supported by those closest to her. Joseph has every right under the Law and customs to have Mary stoned. But even before he is visited by Gabriel, he chooses to be benevolent, kind, and gracious toward Mary, despite her appearing to have been “involved” with another man. Also, her family rejoices with her (especially the little guy in Elizabeth’s womb). There is no fight or concern whether this young lady is to be cared for, despite the perception of scandal.
Women are playing a prominent role in Jesus’ story and lineage. They are playing prominent roles in spite of the cultural norms and ideas about women. The first witnesses of the risen Christ are women. Consider that the narratives about Jesus’ birth almost certainly come from Mary’s personal testimony to the Apostles. Mary even plays the role of a prophetess in Luke 1:46-55.
The question for us is this: Are we willing to say yes to our God? Even if it makes us look like fools? Even if it makes us appear to be scandalous? If the sacrifice is especially challenging, will we give up what we once knew to join God’s people like Ruth and Rahab? Even if we are holding to God’s law, holding those in power to fulfil their duties and responsibilities to those under their care? Jesus’ example of how to be truly human is vastly different than the current expectations of the world and living in line with God’s family expectations will look strange to the world. It is a difficult thing to lay down our ambitions and reputations before God’s throne, but I encourage you to think of the women we have discussed in this post. The sacrifices they make, the risks they take, the reputations they are laying down. Each of these women and their stories are a fulfillment of the prophecy from Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the snake.
For Jesus to come, a woman needed to say yes to this perception of scandal. A woman needed to say yes to becoming pregnant when no man would know her intimately. Mary is the first to receive Christ. Mary is the first of us who, to this day, hears the message of the coming King and says,“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Our song, while maybe a romanticised or contemporized take on Mary and Joseph, is a good reflection on the willingness of both to lay down their own interests in pursuit of the kingdom of God. When we refuse to lay ourselves down, we are denying the King His rightful place in our lives and the world. Before Jesus was even conceived, Mary chose to take up her own cross to follow Yahweh, be obedient to His call, and become the temple of the living God.