I helped police a few Royal visits, I remember I once got the honour of doing the VIP car park, which meant making sure the cars were kept safe and watching royal servants dashing around. It’s not a good memory. From what I can recall, the Royal dog’s bodies got hassle from the great, and the good who rolled up and filled with their own self-importance generally demanded that their position meant they should have a more prominent position in the seating plan etc. It’s not surprising that these people acted the way they did, we live in a VIP, celebrity culture. We believe important, high-profile people are significant.
I was struck again by reading the scriptures set for Advent how different it was for the ultimate Royal visit to Bethlehem. There was no VIP donkey park, the great and the good of Judea were conspicuous by their absence. Even the Magi, who may have been big cheeses in Persia, were despised pagans in Judea. Just think about who was involved
MARY … A young woman, in a culture in which women were generally excluded from anything of significance. It wasn’t just her gender that made Mary a nobody in most of her contemporaries’ eyes, she was also poor. There was a lingering suspicion among many Jewish people that poverty was a sign of God’s displeasure. There was a further question mark over Mary that probably made people cross the street or spit in the road in front of her, that of her dubious morals. I very much suspect that many people felt that Joseph was a mug for marrying a girl who had gotten pregnant by someone else. If it hadn’t been for Roman law, there is a fair chance that Mary’s pregnancy would have earned her a place in front of a firing squad of rock throwers. So, all in all, if you had tried to pick someone less important than Mary in Nazareth, you would have probablyy have had to look under a snake.
JOSEPH …. Joseph wasn’t exactly a celebrity either. He wasn’t a rabbi or a priest, so he wasn’t religiously important. He wasn’t a landowner or a merchant, so he did come with the respect that comes from wealth. He was a simple working man. He had another big disadvantage in the eyes of most Jewish people, he came from Nazareth. It was a despised place. Later a prospective disciple of Jesus let slip the prevailing attitude to Nazareth when he questioned if anything good could come from that place. Whenever Joseph went to Jerusalem and said in his Galilean accent that he was from Nazareth he probably got a cold shoulder in response.
SHEPHERDS …. We tend to think that being a shepherd would have been a pretty well-regarded profession among Jewish people. After all, David had been a shepherd and God himself had used the profession as a metaphor for his care for his people. In Jesus’ day whatever place they had in the past, shepherds were generally despised. The Pharisees looked down on them because living in the fields for long periods with their flocks meant that shepherds couldn’t follow every tiny rule that the Pharisees had decided were compulsory for really spiritual people. The Shepherds were “ritually unclean” and were generally regarded as unreliable to the extent that they couldn’t even give evidence in a court case.
BIT PART PLAYERS …. Elisabeth and Zechariah, Anna and Simeon all have small “walk on parts” in the story of Jesus’ entry into the world. They all have this in common, they were nobodies. Zechariah was a priest, but not an important one, he only got to go to the Temple occasionally and actually got to do something spiritually significant because he won a sort of priestly lottery not because he was highly regarded. None of these people would have commanded much respect or attention.
God reverses our human way of working, he ignores the important, the wealthy, the powerful, and the influential and instead chooses those who seem to be open to Him and dependent on him. I wonder if Paul was in part reflecting on Jesus’ birth when he wrote this …
26-31Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 The Message (MSG)
There have been so many occasions that people have said to me as a church leader, but “I AM JUST A __________” Just a lay person, just an office worker, just a builder, just a shop worker, just a teacher.
The assumption is that somehow being “ordinary” excludes us from God’s plan and being used by God. Yet surely what we learn through the Christmas story is that when God wants to do something extraordinary, he chooses ordinary people. In fact, being insignificant in our culture’s eyes makes us significant in God’s eyes, Paul suggests.
Whoever you are, whatever you do. whatever others think of you, God sees your life as full of potential significance. Your very insignificance in other people’s eyes, or even in your own eyes, makes you as pregnant today with God’s possibilities as Mary was back then. You just need to be open to Him, as open as Mary, Joseph, and the rest were, that’s the only qualification.