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"Advent: Formed by Galilee"

In a culture that gives celebrity status to patriarchs and warrior kings like David, God looks for a suitable collaborator in the ongoing peace operation and finds … Mary, a young girl from Galilee!

“The Flight to Egypt” by Sliman Mansour
“The Flight to Egypt” by Sliman Mansour

Luke 1:26-38

July 9, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright The last time we were together we started our reflection on Advent with the story of Zechariah, a common priest who straddled the line between serving in the Jerusalem Temple and a village in the hill country. It was an unusual place for God to begin. Now God doubles down. In a culture that gives celebrity status to patriarchs and warrior kings like David, God looks for a suitable collaborator in the ongoing peace operation and finds … Mary, a young girl from Galilee!

 

When we read Luke’s account, he says six months after Gabriel visited Zechariah, Gabriel returned. By this time Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was experiencing growing back and belly pain, swelling feet, weird food cravings, and heartburn. The angel’s promise was clearly coming true! This time he was dispatched to a town in Galilee called Nazareth. Usually, we skip right over that information as just so much geographical trivia. Kelley Nikondeha won’t let us! She writes, “Galilee was nothing like its southern sister, Judea. Judean life, to the south, centered on the Temple and Torah, on Davidic history and hopes. This was not the case with the villages of the Galilee. [Those in the] northern region, known for its resistance [to] invaders … were considered lesser Jews because most weren’t circumcised and didn’t worship regularly in the [far away] Temple, and because many had intermarried with non-Jewish people.”[2] “Something was always happening in Galilee,” Nikondeha continues, “altercations, protests, uprisings. The mix of grief and hope manifested itself … across the agitated landscape. Some turned to armed resistance to defend their homes against foreign forces, others to banditry to cope with economic distress. A toxic mingling of woe, want, and waiting for the next act of aggression created cycles of inescapable trauma for all the inhabitants of Galilee. It was the last place anyone expected to be on God’s map for a peace campaign.”[3] And Mary had grown up there. The region’s propensity toward resistance had been fed to her like the local spices mix. “While the men in her community took up arms to protect their lives and land, she might have composed songs like her namesake, Miriam of the Exodus [story], did centuries before. Imagine her songs of grand reversals and unlikely victories, songs she sang when the men returned from their forays and the village gathered [to celebrate]! But she was one girl among many living amid precarious times in a precarious place.”[4]

 

So what is Luke telling us when he reports that Mary is from Nazareth in Galilee? Nikondeha compares her to Ahed Tamimi, a young girl who became famous in 2017, from a small West Bank village near Ramallah. Ahed grew up marching. She was ten when her cousin was killed by soldiers; eleven when her mother and brother were arrested. “Her spine of steel hardened further over the years, and when soldiers came to her front yard after shooting another cousin, she got close enough to land a slap. The next time the soldiers came, it was to take her to prison.”[5] Activist and poet Lisa Loden captures the scene: “Imprisoned, indicted your short life already a smoldering mountain of trauma, loss, injustice ready to erupt … Your narrow shoulder(s) bear the weight of generations too heavy for young flesh.”[6] Nikondeha spells out the comparison: “Like Ahed Tamimi, [Mary] was shaped by her place of origin. She saw soldiers riding into town, terrorizing her neighbors in the name of peacekeeping. She witnessed uncles humiliated and cousins hurt … She watched women taken by force to be punished in unspeakable ways. She experienced the push and pull of war and resistance that shaped the villages of Galilee.”[7]

 

But this is an Advent story, so God will bring light into the darkness of Galilee. Violence, trauma, and resistance may have been formative forces for Mary, but they wouldn’t be her whole story. God would not allow it. Her story takes a turn when Gabriel shows up! The NRSV that I read the scripture from this morning obscures something important. In the KJV, Gabriel forcefully says, “Behold, thou shalt conceive … and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus!” Nikondeha says a better translation of the exclamation, ‘behold!’ might be ‘Pay attention! Don’t miss this!’”[8] Gabriel wants her to understand the implications of his message. If what he is saying comes true, and Elizabeth is proof he is trustworthy, then Mary, this girl from Galilee, will give birth to the son of God, one able to contend with Caesar and reshape the world according to justice! But here’s the thing: A few verses later in the KJV, the young rebel Mary replies, “Behold … be it unto me according to thy word.” Pay attention! Do not miss this. The girl from Galilee is ready!

 

Gabriel tells Mary that “nothing will be impossible with God!” Can you imagine that? For Mary that meant God could unite the tribes in the north and south in this divine peace project and erase the prejudice and animosity that had long festered between them. God could establish justice. That would mean the end of mass crucifixions, family separations, land confiscation, and lost inheritances. That would mean protecting women from rape by soldiers and sexual abuse by neighbors. That would mean men would no longer fear beatings by those in power or being whisked off in the middle of the night. It would mean hope. What would that mean in your life? What impossible things would God’s Advent promise? Growing up in Galilee shaped Mary’s answer. How does growing up in Appalachia mold yours? What do we need that only God can do? What role are you ready to play? Amen


[1] “The Flight to Egypt” by Sliman Mansour [2] From The First Advent in Palestine, page 40 [3] Ibid, pages 40-41 [4] Ibid, page 42 [5] Ibid, page 50 [6] From her unpublished poem, “Captive Sister” [7] From The First Advent in Palestine, page 51 [8] Ibid, page 52
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