Nomads has started a new study, using the book The Journey, by Adam Hamilton. We had 4 questions on the board, related to the study. They were as follows: 1. I can be? 2.Regardless of? 3.Can I refuse? 4. You’re an angel. There was a short video presentation that closely followed the book. It was showing scenes from the Holy Land and discussing the fact that Jesus was born in a small town near a larger one. Apparently the small town of Nazareth was, at that time, where the poorer folks lived. There was a bit of discussion about how some even lived in caves, which could easily be carved out of the soft limestone, usually starting with an existing cave and enlarging it. Some traditions hold that the bottom portion of the house where Jesus grew up was a cave, and it may also have been where Mary was visited by the angel.
The video also spent some time discussing the fact that the name Nazareth came from the Hebrew word for branch. There are a number of old testament passages that talk of God raising up a righteous branch to lead Israel. So it was appropriate for Jesus’ mom to come from a place named with that in mind.
In addition, they talked of the spring that the town was built around. Springs were referred to as living water. So that may have been a source of inspiration for Jesus, when he talked to the woman at the well.
In any event, Nazareth was a humble place. It fits with many of Gods actions in the old testament that He would choose a rather humble place to be the place where His son would grow up. Had He gone to someone from the rich in Sepphoris, she might well have refused such a risky assignment. In addition, it would have been much harder for the offspring of someone of privilege to relate to the common people. It might have been even harder for them to relate to him. God seems to have a pattern of using very humble folks to do His work, if only because they have to depend heavily on Him, having few resources of their own.
That brings us to Mary herself, with the observation that as a mom, she would have had much to do with shaping the character of Jesus. She seems surprised but not terrified by the appearance of an angel, perhaps while she was drawing water from the spring. The author talks at length about the meaning of “full of grace” as well as the differences between the protestant and Catholic ideas about her. He also discusses different interpretations of the meaning of virgin birth. Then he went into the question of whether Mary really wanted to be Mary. She was certainly not promised a bed of roses. Even at the beginning, she had to know that people would most likely not believe her story, and she risked being stoned if Joseph called her on it. Even the angel predicted great sorrow in her life. And yet she was quick to accept this most difficult assignment.
That led to our first question; I can be___? How often does God come up to someone and say I want you to do X? Don’t we first have to adjust our own self-image? I think of Moses saying, but I’m not a good speaker, you don’t want me! That’s the second question. The third is, can I refuse? Well, it didn’t work out too well for Moses or Jonah, who literally tried to run away. If Mary had said, I’m too young or whatever, would it have changed anything? Food for thought.
The last part in the book went into the angel Gabriel and discussed how the term used for angel can also simply mean messenger. The author then went into how certain people played a messenger role in his life and we need to be open to that. In recent news there was a mention of therapists being angels in the life of Gaby Giffords as she recovered from a brain injury. That is all well and good, but I think we would do well to recall that angels are beings created separately from human beings, who mostly inhabit the unseen spiritual world. It is something of a pet peeve of mine when people try to conflate humans with angels. Yes God uses people around us sometimes to deliver messages, and those who are loving remind us of Him. But elsewhere it talks of angels in quite different ways and 1/3 of them are evil. We do better to keep in mind that though they can appear in human form, their essence is different and their role in God’s world is different from ours as well. It always seems when people start referring to other people as angelic, that they are implicitly denying the existence of a spiritual world that is certainly affirmed in the Bible.