Dawn of Christianity

Church at Dawn

Mary’s pregnancy presented Joseph with few options; as a “righteous” Jew he wished to follow the Law, save personal face and still have compassion on his betrothed.  But a dream changed his mind. Joseph received God’s will in his sleep.

How did Joseph really know the message came from God? How could anyone believe in a virgin giving birth?  This week, Matthew’s gospel cites a quotation from Isaiah and gives the answer. While Isaiah only referred to a teenage girl expecting a birth, Matthew (along with Luke) presented the impossible; a virgin birth was the means for God to live among his people!  (They will call Him “Immanuel”, which means “God is with us” – Matthew 1:23)

Later, St. Luke uses a meeting between two pregnant women in order to connect to two of the most important movements in first century Judaism: the followers of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus.

John (and his lineage) represented the end of the Old Testament prophets. He was an unusual desert wanderer who preached from conviction and reckless abandon; his speech and lifestyle summed up the prophetic tradition in Judaism.

John’s elderly father, Zechariah, represented Judaism and its priestly tradition but its ancient character stifled novelty. However, John’s elderly mother, Elizabeth, represented the open, trusting tradition of the female in Judaism.  Just as the elderly Sarah became the mother of Isaac and the old Hannah became the mother of Samuel, Elizabeth could receive and rejoice in the birth of a son, even at an old age.

The Blessed Virgin Mary represented a new revelation. God was entering the human stage not only with a new message but in a completely new way! Through Mary, the Lord was visiting His people.

So, the scene was set. Mary travelled to the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth. Here Luke turned tradition on its head. Instead of the elderly woman receiving honour from the younger, the tables were turned; Mary was honoured (along with her Son). [Luke1:42-45] Because of her age, Elizabeth should have been the one who received the attention of maternity. But Mary received praise because she believed in the new revelation.  Now Elizabeth (and her son) too believed because the Spirit acted.

There are themes of exaltation and humility here. Through the figure of Elizabeth, Luke humbled the old tradition in a time that honoured ancient revelation. Through the figure of Mary, he exalted the new revelation. Through the meeting, he bridged the old to the new. From this moment on, Luke would exalt Jesus and diminish John’s role. For Luke, the time of Judaism had passed; the time of Christianity had dawned.

How do we sometimes cling to the old, yet welcome the new? How does that attitude affect our faith?


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