First Sunday in Advent: God's alternative

By Simon Barrow
November 30, 2014

Advent, the season of expectation, arrived for us in 2014 on Sunday 30th November.

In biblical times it started with an unexpected messenger (angel) announcing an ordinary event in an unlikely place to a lowly person.

A woman called Mary, living in a town called Nazareth, is told she will give birth to a son, Jesus, who will be God’s person to change the world. “Yeah, right… “.

Why on earth would God choose a backward place and an unknown person to begin the drama of incarnation – the divine disclosed for us in human flesh?

In conventional terms, when God is thought of as almighty and inscrutable, things don’t happen like this.

They especially don’t happen like this in barns in places such as Nazareth. Surely a mansion or a cathedral in a major world capital is where we would expect God to come to us?

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” asks Nathaniel incredulously in St John’s Gospel. “Come and see…” replies Philip.

That continues to be the invitation today. But where shall we look for this God who is revealed in and as Jesus? Where do we anticipate finding and meeting God-in-the-flesh in today’s complex, bustling world?

Modern Nazareth is a predominantly Arab and Muslim city in a Jewish state, embroiled in immense political and religious conflict.

The Holy Land has often been anything but in temporal terms. It has seen much injustice and violence. To receive God in Jesus somewhere specific is not about claiming territory, it is about a change of heart issuing in a change of behavior.

The nativity invites “alternativity” in the way we see God, each other and the world. Then it encourages us to put that alternative view into practice – as hospitality, sharing, forgiveness, peacemaking and right-doing. That’s where we will find Jesus – and not just at Advent or Christmas.

* This is the first of a series of popular Advent reflections that will appear on, a site run by our partners Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church

* More on Bloomsbury here:
* More on Advent:
* More on Christmas:
* Make the 'Christmas truce' permanent:
* We are also promoting ALTERnativity this year:


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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