Over the last few weeks in Advent, we’ve been reading these texts that talk about the coming of the kingdom. Isaiah spoke of a vision for the end when he let God’s imagination show him a world without the evils of war. John the Baptist shouted about bearing good fruit, worthy of repentance, to set the world right. And Jesus reminded us last week to look and listen for the signs of the kingdom: miracles of healing, wholeness, peace, and life. And this week, Joseph has a dream to fulfill Isaiah’s vision of God-with-us.
We’re familiar with the story. Joseph, who is betrothed to Mary, discovers that she is pregnant. That leaves Joseph with really only one logical reason that this could be: Mary has been unfaithful to him. His plan is to dismiss her quietly. I think that’s important to note: the quietly part. Joseph is a genuinely good man. He doesn’t want to disgrace Mary or her family by publicly humiliating them. But he’s also a man of his time, and he doesn’t see bearing the shame of a wife who is already pregnant.
Matthew 3:1-12, Isaiah 11:1-10
Back when I was little and we lived in Virginia, our neighbors had a fig tree. It grew right next to the fence, and every summer we would be allowed to pick the fruit whenever we felt like it, because there were way too many figs growing on that tree for the three people next door to eat. I remember, as a kid who grew up in a neighborhood far from farms of any kind, how special that tree was because of how it magically made food.
And then there were these other trees in our backyard. Big, tall pine trees that dropped their own kind of fruit. The fruit they had were these hard, round, spiky balls we called “gumballs”—a name I still am not sure if it was real or just what we called them. They dropped every time a stiff breeze came by, and most of the backyard would be covered in them to the point that running barefoot was like running through a minefield.
Even as a child, I could tell what good fruit looked like.