Signs of Ambiguity

An Advent Meditation on Matthew 1.18-25

Mary is pregnant. The child is “from the Holy Spirit.” However, for Joseph, the only reasonable explanation is that Mary, his betrothed, has been adulterous. Rather than subject Mary to a trial, potentially death, Joseph, in compassion, chooses to end their relationship quietly. At that moment, a sign is given. An angel appears announcing that Mary’s child of heavenly origin shall be named Jesus, “God saves.”

At times, we might look for signs. In moments of uncertainty, perhaps anxiety amid life’s transitions…

In our families and the raising of our children or in the increasing care of our aged…

In our closest relationships, particularly when things fare not well or when we are not well…

In our finances when in the throes of economic shifts.

Signs that point to a pathway of new possibilities or that clarify our choices or that hint of a coming turnaround.

In all of my searching, I have learned that signs – by their nature, capable of being read and misread or unread – are ambiguous. So, in the case of Mary and Joseph. The child, who was sent to save, was born, but God’s people remained bound by the oppressive yoke of Roman rule.

Nevertheless, the image of a child, whose is-ness is now, but whose fullness is in the future, always points to tomorrow. Thus, a fair, faithful “reading” of a sign involves our capacity and willingness to engage the present moment whilst keeping watch on the horizon for what will come. To embrace this moment as the is-ness of what we have and to recognize all that may come is not yet. To give birth today to an idea, a dream, a vision and to nurture it for a larger life tomorrow.

Seeing what is and envisioning also what might be is an act of hope. Perhaps that’s the point. Hope is what a sign, however ambiguous, means.

© 2022 PRA

Illustration: The Dream of Saint Joseph (1642), Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)


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