Thursday, December 8, 2022

Who Could Have Anticipated?

I wish I could share Kelley Nikondeha’s whole chapter on Mary. She approaches the young girl from Galilee with a perspective I’ve never thought of before. It’s within her whole premise: that the first Advent was born out of a land and a people burdened by trauma and tragedy. Overlaying the history of the region with cultural norms and a heavy dose of pessimism against the Romans, Nikondeha presents a Mary among women who most likely experienced verbal, physical, and even sexual abuses at the hands of soldiers stationed around Nazareth. Women at the time had so few rights (girls even less), and up against an Empire, Judean men didn’t stand a chance either.

Nikondeha describes village life in Galilee as “Tense and taut. A toxic mingling of woe, want and waiting for the next act of aggression created cycles of inescapable trauma for all the inhabitants. It was the last place anyone expected to be on God's map for a peace campaign.” (p. 41).

Life became a resistance of its own. Each day’s perseverance and hope in God’s future justice was an act of rebellion. Messianic expectations blossomed during this time (as we saw with the Maccabees in week one). But what actually began to unfold in the Advent story astounded everyone who took notice.

To recap, first, “God came to an ordinary priest, bypassing the high priest and elites, to begin a new kind of peace campaign. Next, God reached towards Galilee to find a suitable collaborator in the ongoing peace operation. In a culture and set of stories where priests and patriarchs were given celebrity status . . . No one anticipated this move—the place or the person God would approach next—least of all the girl in Galilee.” (p. 39)

Mary’s stability and hope have been tossed about, pushed by force through years of violence and trauma. We can’t pretend to understand. Not feeling safe in your own town, in your own home, in your own body. But millions across time and place, even in this last year know what that kind of fear and uncertainty feel like.

So, when the Angel Gabriel suddenly appears to Mary, she finds herself, for perhaps the first time, being pulled towards something. It shimmers like peace and shines with God’s grace.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant[f] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

-Luke 1:26-37

The Christmas carols and serene Nativity scenes paint Mary to be “meek and mild.” She may have been unimportant within village life, but if we look at what comes next and the way she ultimately responds, we clearly see a girl shaped by courage and strength.  

And while Mary is intelligently cautious and inquisitive in the presence of an angel, Nikondeha reasons, “Maybe only a young rebel would be willing to accept such a mission.” (p. 52)

The very site of trauma and tragedy was to become the first Earthly dwelling of the Incarnation. Not by anything she had done, or been done to her, but by the Spirit’s overshadowing. “From deep pain would come impossible goodness for the world.” (p. 51)
For nothing is impossible with God.

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