It’s strange to think that Christmas is all about celebrating an intrusion into our lives. Viewed from the broadest possible perspective, it was an invasion of our world by God himself, disguised as an infant in a human womb. It’s such a strange occurrence that many people refuse to believe it – even those who were anticipating it.
In the movie, “The Nativity Story”, a young virgin woman named Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is told by her parents that they have arranged her marriage. She is to be married to a man named Joseph (Oscar Isaac), to whom she is then introduced. Despite the fact that such arrangements were common among her Jewish people, Mary is upset by this and feels that she is losing all control of her life.
Things soon get worse. Mary is visited by Gabriel (Alexander Siddig), an angel who brings her a message from God. Gabriel tells Mary that she is about to become pregnant, and her baby boy will be the Messiah, the savior of her Jewish people that had been promised for centuries.
Many Christians today think that the Jews should not have been surprised. After all, their scholars had studied prophecies over and over, which explain that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, the city of the great Jewish king, David.
But although many people wait on God to do something in their lives, they often fail to grasp it when God actually does act. In ancient times, the Israelites prayed for God to free them from slavery, but they were reluctant to follow God’s chosen savior and leader, Moses, even after he led them out of captivity. Later, when God sent the prophet Samuel to commission a new king for Israel, he never expected God to have him choose David, the smallest and least impressive of his family.
And no one expected God to choose an ordinary teenage girl to be the mother of the coming Messiah.
Mary’s parents agree to let her go visit her cousin, Elizabeth, for a few months. There, Mary learns that Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo) has also received a promise of a miraculous birth. Far past childbearing age, Elizabeth is also preparing to deliver a son. The same angel had spoken to Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, and told him that God would cause Elizabeth to bear a child, to be named John – the same John who would later baptize Jesus.
Seeing the birth of John, and the love Elizabeth shares with her husband, Mary feels a little less alone, and a little less afraid. She can see, right in front of her, that her future can work out. That God can arrange it all just the way it needs to be, in spite of her doubts.
She returns home, only to face the shock and outrage of her family and friends, when they see her enlarged belly. No one believes her story of an angelic visit. Instead, they believe she has violated God’s written law against fornication, a crime for which Mary can be stoned to death. Joseph, admirably, casts no stones, but simply breaks off the marriage arrangement and leaves, swallowing his pride and abandoning his own future plans.
No one expected to have their lives disrupted this way. To have their family shamed, their wedding canceled, and their lives at risk for harboring a woman who had desecrated God’s law in full view of the community.
But God wasn’t surprised.
So often, the reason people can’t believe in miracles is that they don’t believe that anything can change. When disasters strike, they assume that everything is lost, and beyond recovery. They’re so focused on the destruction of today that they don’t believe in the possibility of a tomorrow.
But Mary has seen a tomorrow, through Elizabeth’s life. So she can now cling to the angel’s message, in spite of the disappointed and scornful stares of her family and her neighbors. She knows that God is doing something, even if she can’t understand exactly what it is.
Joseph soon hears from the same angel that Mary’s story is true, that she will bear the Messiah, whom they are to name Jesus. He finds Mary and renews his promise of marriage, telling her that he’s received the same message she heard.
Mary now has a true ally. Someone to share in the secret promise of God’s activity among them. Something that only a few people hear of, and far fewer actually believe.
Throughout history, God has done the unexpected. If you’re waiting for God to act in your life, take another look around. Has God acted on your behalf in the past? Has he provided you with a home or a job when you desperately needed one? Has he sent people to rescue you when you got yourself into some deep trouble? Has he provided you with trustworthy friends, family or neighbors that you can count on to cheer you up in the worst of times? If you’ve seen God act in the past, you can trust that he’ll continue to help you in the future. And if, like Mary, you’ve seen him act in the lives of those who trust in him, you know you can entrust your life to him as well, and watch him do things in your life that you would never have expected.
God is a God of miracles. Watch for them.
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Thursday, December 17th, 2009