Christmas on Location: Nazareth

Do you believe God is still active in the world? Walter Brueggemann said: “Few of our people imagine God to be an active character in the story of their lives.” Many of us may believe in God. But there’s a lot of room within that phrase, to “believe in.” Does God exist, but removed from daily life? Is God occasionally involved? Or is God intricately involved in the world, even in ways we can’t always see?

This week, “Christmas on Location” moves from its starting point in the most common sense place — Jerusalem — to the least common sense — Nazareth. A village of only about 300 people, 64 miles north of Jerusalem, Nazareth was not remotely the kind of village any first century Jew would expect God to give life to his messiah. Moreover, to a teenage girl of the most ordinary status.

Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s news stands in stark contrast to Zechariah’s doubt. But it doesn’t mean she didn’t have a moment of pause. This was a real girl in a real village, and she was being given real, risky news. A new king? In Mary’s world, only one person got to choose who reigned as king, and that was Caesar. And it was common sense that Caesar had no intention of sharing his power.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, Mary is venerated as particularly holy; people even pray to her, and in some Catholic cultures Mary is at the forefront of the sanctuary while Jesus is in the margins. On the other hand, protestants sometimes fail to give Mary due credit. The truth is probably in between: Mary, like other human beings before her (Moses, David, Elijah, etc.) was an extraordinary person to whom God gave a special revelation, and through whom God brought forth a special grace. Don’t forget — Mary knew and eventually followed Jesus longer than any other disciple. But it doesn’t change the fact that Mary was as real as real gets.
When Pastor Aaron visited Nazareth last month, he was able to see the home which historians believe belonged to Mary and Joseph. It was a humble, small stone home (little larger than Yoda’s). No carbon scoring where Gabriel’s brilliance shone. No sense that Mary deserved special treatment.

So what do these ordinary people mean for us today?

It comes back to how you answer the question at the top: Do you believe God is still active in the world? Moreover, do you believe God can be active in the world through you?
And that question raises another: Are you, an ordinary person, willing to play your part in God’s extraordinary story? Could Mary have ever known the breadth of the impact that this moment with Gabriel would ultimately have? Even after having watched Jesus grow up, seeing him acquire followers and perform miracles…could she have known that 20 centuries later billions of people would still call Jesus “Lord?”

And the life of that extraordinary man, the Son of God incarnate, started with the obedience of an ordinary young woman. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.“

For reflection:
– What stands out the most to you when you read this encounter between Gabriel and Mary?
– If you were Mary, how do you think you would react?
– Why do you think her hesitation isn’t considered doubt (as Zechariah had doubted in the previous story)?
– Where might God be calling you to be part of God’s story of redemption, right here in your ordinary, everyday life?


Photo: Hulki Okan Tabak, Unsplash

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