John Michael Gutierrez, PhD
Good morning can I help you with something? I’m Miriam the owner and manager of this workshop. Hello Lukas. Theophilus sent you. I’m sorry I don’t know Theophilus and we don’t need any additional help at this time.
What’s that? You’re here to talk with me about Jesus. You’re writing up a narrative story about him for Theophilus and interviewing as many eyewitnesses as you can locate. Ok, Lukas. Well in that case you might say you have come to the right gate. As his mother some might consider me a reliable eyewitness. What if I tell you one of the first events that involved me. It was a long time ago but in all honesty I can see/hear it as if it’s happening right now.
Like you, a man (it turns out he was an angel) appeared at my family’s gate. He was standing, like you, with his hands behind his back. Knowing now what he was about to say, to ask me I think I know why he had his hands behind his back – he had his fingers crossed. He said his name was Gabriel, a messenger sent from the LORD. He took a step forward. He held out his hands. Taking my hand off the gate, I took two steps back. He spoke “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Gabriel continued “You mustn’t be afraid, Miriam. You have found favor with the LORD. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
I took more steps back. What sort of greeting was this? I was stunned, perplexed. I couldn’t even begin to grasp why the LORD would speak to me. I couldn’t even begin to grasp why the LORD would want to use me – for something like this. For a moment, maybe even longer, I wondered why I had even opened the gate. That’s it. He’s at the wrong gate in the wrong village. This is Nazareth, for heaven’s sake. I’m Miriam betrothed to a craftsman from this village – Joseph Davidson.
Then it occurred to me. Oh my! This might be a house-call. I know Israel’s LORD is gracious, compassionate, faithful in shepherding us. The LORD is for Israel. If Israel’s traditional stories of experiences with the Lord tell me anything, they tell me the covenant LORD does come visiting. But having the LORD “with” us doesn’t much feel like good news sometimes. Was the LORD, the Holy One, coming to hold us accountable? Considering the conditions in Judah at that time, who could blame him?
And Gabriel kept using that word “favor”. I thought if this is “favor” then don’t do me any more favors. You can stop right there. I can assure you being “highly favored” that involved information about me, a virgin, getting pregnant with and giving birth to the Son of the Most High, the Davidic king, the Messiah was not on my to-do list that day. Clearly this “favor” was not dependent on my circumstances. As long as I could remember I had simple dreams of marriage, raising a family, teaching our children Torah and it’s practices, a kitchen with good smells filling the air, living in a village I knew well and as often as possible going to Jerusalem’s festivals. Having any child outside of marriage would involve our families in shame, dishonor, and public disgrace in Nazareth. How would I behave in light of my position in the Davidson family in this village? What does my family, my faith expect of me? My father and my mother would be deeply hurt. And I thought about when I would tell Joseph. Talk about a conversation stopper. Pregnant! I knew if I had to say that word I would be in the construction business building a wall between us. I thought “how could he not blame me?” Our betrothal wasn’t going to go as planned, not as I had planned anyway, and not as things were supposed to go. Jewish religious traditions are strong. A pregnancy before marriage, well, it’s proof that the betrothal had been damaged, a violation of trust. A public divorce in this village was going to be messy. What would I have to struggle with beyond the gate of this courtyard? Would I have to surrender honor to do this? Word of the pregnancy would burn like a wildfire through our village. I wasn’t going to feel favored walking through the village with an unwed belly the subject of stares.
With everything on the line, my reputation, my marriage, my very life I asked Gabriel “How will this happen? I didn’t believe I was the ideal candidate for what seemed to me to be “mission impossible”. Gabriel crowded me. I backed away again. Angels can be most unwelcome visitors at times especially when they give a rapid-fire, mind boggling answer “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God”. Although a virgin, the LORD’s sheer creative power would conceive a child with me who would be ‘holy’- set apart, special, mysterious. Could this “impossible mission” really happen this way? Was I going to be the bearer, the mother of the Son of God? The LORD will become human in this baby to be named Jesus. I was going to hold him in my arms, lay him in my lap, look into his face, feel him grip my finger as he took his first steps.
The courtyard was silent. I closed my eyes. It seemed as though time stopped for an eternity as the possibility for me to say “no” hovered in the air between us. Saying “yes” will most certainly be a scandal, putting me between a rock and a hard place. Some wags might always call him “Joseph’s and Miriam’s son”. But looking out of the doorway, I opened the gate into my heart. I looked straight into Gabriel’s searching eyes and nodded “Let it be as you have said it will be.” This is it. Look no further. The LORD will fulfill the messianic promise he made to Israel through our ancestors Adam, Abraham, Moses and David. Gabriel stopped fidgeting, shuffling his feet. A smile formed as his face lit up. As for me, I was overwhelmed because the LORD chose me to have a share in his story. Yes I was confused, nervous. I was agreeing to something that seemed unthinkable in this village. I was accepting something without understanding fully why or how. Uncertain I could handle what was coming, I was overwhelmed, astonished by grace. But as Gabiel said “Nothing will be impossible with the LORD. Nothing”.
Certainly, I am the woman who is the God-bearer bringing the Son into the world, but I have also had to learn how to be a disciple, a servant who hopes to embody faith and faithfulness. So Lukas let me explain because after years of reflection I’ve gained a more even-handed understanding of the purpose and events of Jesus’ birth. I had to learn my son was my Lord, my messiah and the family he would give birth to would need to become my family also. The Lord, the one God of Israel was his father and they have a unique relationship and I have had to work out my relationship with them.
As I said earlier I now understand that my so-called “favoring” was not, in fact, dependent upon or determined by the circumstances of life in Nazareth or Israel, for that matter. As it turns out “the LORD is with you” was a promise of deliverance for individuals, for Israel and for the Gentiles. Like so many others in Israel, I too longed for the messiah’s arrival. In looking back to those years I expect there were very many people whose hope in the messiah sank very low indeed. Of course, there was a popular script for the Messiah – dazzling political/military victory, intimidating and showy. But rising out of the threads of Gabriel’s tumbling messianic announcement was a LORD mysterious, deeply wise who would only be discovered in the simplest of places, simplest of acts and simplest of human beings. May I assure you, Lukas Jesus was ordinary looking and ordinary acting. I didn’t anticipate the kind of messiah he needed to become. I didn’t realize that following him at times was going to be so difficult. Over the years I have subtracted so many parts from the common highlights of the triumph of the messiah. In other words, Lukas, I didn’t anticipate the messianic triumph would come from the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit after a crucifixion and a resurrection. Little did I realize that from his birth in Bethlehem to his cross in Jerusalem, how many moments there would be of joy and pain, confidence and uncertainty, clarity and confusion. O Lukas, how little did I realize that watching the One to whom I gave life spiked to a cross, twisting in pain, wouldn’t feel much like favor. A disciple’s challenge of trusting the Lord overwhelmed me at times. A disciple’s way of the cross pierced my heart through sorrow, suffering. A disciple’s way of the cross confronted my Jewish expectations and through my struggles I came to terms with this reality – the Messiah’s mission was to die and be resurrected for the sake of others and for my sake.
But back to the courtyard. Gabriel turned to leave. He paused telling me my elderly relative Elizabeth was six months pregnant with a boy. And then with a twinkle in his eyes and a wry smile he told me he had another stop to make. Joseph Davidson has been doing a lot of dreaming in his sleep recently so he was going to pop in on one of them. He was going to wrestle with him, persuading him to accept this mind-boggling reality – and to marry me.