Ed Cyzewski is a gracious and welcome presence on the Internet. He uses his site to host the voices of others and elevate the discussions that tend to turn to arguments. I am honored to be the host of his words today.
Do you remember that story where the religious leaders accused Jesus of being demon possessed and born out of wedlock? That always struck me as a little insight into the effects of small town life and the kind of shame that Mary faced on a regular basis thanks to that visit from an angel.
News about the “scandalous” birth of Jesus traveled far and wide.
If you’ve never lived in a small town before, you may not know about the way bad news, let alone a scandal, can spread.
We lived in a small Vermont town for four years, and I rarely needed to read the newspaper to learn about the latest round of bad news. If there were rumblings over the ownership of a local store or the tempestuous relationship between a pastor and the sexton, I just needed to show up for work or go out for a pastry. News spread quickly among people long before Facebook became a powerful force for sharing news in a network.
If you can imagine living in a small town in the ancient village of Nazareth, and most of us can’t really, we might think of a Jewish culture where sex outside of marriage was shameful and reason for exclusion. If it happened, it was either covered up or a source of lifelong shame.
We’re not quite in Scarlet Letter territory. This is far worse. We don’t know how often women were stoned for committing adultery, but among a Jewish people determined to keep the Law perfectly in order to leave their nation’s checkered past behind, it certainly brought some devastating consequences.
Enter Mary, a lowly peasant, most likely a very young woman, if not young “teenager.”
She had everything to lose if she was found pregnant before her wedding day. Although Joseph didn’t turn her over to be killed, she certainly accepted a life of shame.
Isn’t it something that the person called “favored” by God, chosen to bear his son into the world was also destined to carry a life of shame—to say nothing of the grief of watching her only son suffocate to death on a cross as a criminal.
God showed up in the life of Mary.
She was favored and blessed.
She looked forward to future generations with the eyes of faith, trusting that they would call her blessed.
She was anything but blessed during her lifetime.
Who knows how many years she lived in shame around her relatives and close friends. Perhaps she and Joseph preferred to remain in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus in order to escape the knowing glances by their former friends.
Let us pray this Christmas season for God to come. His presence is more valuable than any gift.
But what happens once God shows up? What happens to those he favors and calls blessed?
Does life get easier or better or simpler?
Perhaps the arrival of God in our lives and his blessings is the start of a lifelong struggle and pain. The catch is that God is there with us in the pain, difficulty, and questions.
“God with us” is not a remedy to our problems. It’s the good news that God is present with us in our pain, that he can use us just as we are, and that the troubles of this life are not the end of the story.
Future generations may even call us blessed.
Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus and the author of Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity (A Kindle Best-Seller), A Path to Publishing, and Coffeehouse Theology. He blogs about imperfectly following Jesus at www.inamirrordimly.com and tweets at @edcyzewski.
Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.