First Sunday in Advent: God's Alternative

By Simon Barrow
November 29, 2015

Advent, the season of expectation, begins today

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. A conflict that has become even more bitter in recent months.

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 behaviour.

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.

As the world watches refugees fleeing the wars of Syria and Iraq, and our government debates whether to bomb Syria, we know that we are being asked to seek that other way.  To make room at the inn, to welcome refugees,  to act for peace and work for reconciliation.

That’s where we will find Jesus – and not just at Advent or Christmas.


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

*Make  Room at the Inn This Christmas :

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