Poor Joseph, we say. He's on the margins of every Christmas story, every depiction in art, every medieval dramatic rendition. Leave it to Barth to find theological significance in Joseph's marginality: Speaking of the Virgin Birth of Jesus, Barth says that "The male has nothing to do with this birth. What is involved here is, if you like, a divine act of judgment. To what is to being here man is to contribute nothing by his action and initiative. Man is not simply excluded, for the Virgin is there. But the male, as the specific agent of human action and history, with his responsibility for directing the human species, must now retire into the background, as the powerless figure of Joseph. That is the Christian reply to teh question of woman: here the woman stands absolutely in the foreground, moreover the VIRGO, the Virgin Mary. God did not choose man in his pride and in his defiance, but man in his weakness and humility; not man in his historical role, but man in the weakness of his nature as represented by the woman, the human creature who can confront God only with the words, 'Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according as Thou has said.' Such is human co-operation in this matter, that and only that!" (Dogmatics in Outline, p 99). There's a great Christmas sermon in that partial paragraph.
There's more going on: The first man was made from dust, and God produced a woman from him. The woman is the glory of the man, and from that glory comes the second man, the heavenly man. From the first Adam God produced woman without a woman, but He made the Last Adam came from woman without a man. That Jesus comes from a woman without male contribution seems to underline the eschatological nature of his origin.
Plus, of course, the Christmas story is death to every heroic culture, every form of machismo, which depends on the belief that man can save himself, often without women, or that man's role is to shake his fist at the heavens. As Barth makes clear, Christmas, and hence the gospel, stand utterly opposed to every hint of male bravado and pride. Had the church thoroughly grasped, taught, and lived this, would feminism have ever been necessary?
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, December 26, 2003 at 08:44 AM
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