December 20, 2010
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
I looked at this lectionary this morning and immediately thought, What kind of sign is this? Young women get pregnant and have kids all the time. As for naming him Immanuel, people often look at their life experiences and see them as being evidence that God is with them or is not with them. Take a look at postcards 13 and 14 from the postsecret project. So really, is this a sign of any import? And then, as they say in teacher parlance, I made a text-to-self connection. (Or maybe it was text-to-world?)
In 2001, I went to Cuba with a group from my college to study Cuban music and dance. As part of a final research project, I interviewed a woman in her twenties to gather her impressions about relationships between men and women. She insisted that we have the conversation outside, for fear that someone would overhear her or that our conversation
might be recorded. So we talked quietly about relationships and her own hopes and fears. She told me that she did not want to get married. She never wanted to have children. None of her friends were married, and
none of them wanted to be. She told me that it was so difficult to make a living, to live in a decent place, and to have enough to eat, that none of them wanted to bring a child into the life and world that they inhabited. In that community and in that society, if the young woman is with child, it is a sign of hope for the future. It is a sign of courage to give your child over to a world that you trust will be better than your own.
And yet, I look at the community in the Bronx where I teach high school and it seems like such a different situation. Last year, I personally knew of 5 girls who were pregnant in our school of 350 students, and there were probably many more than that all told. To me, these young women with child look like a sign of despair. They seem to speak of women who believe that there will be no opportunities for them after high school, that their only value is in their bodies and their ability to have children.
The young woman is with child. Is this a sign of hope or despair? How do we interpret this sign in our times?