by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
In a theater production of the Advent story, Miriam of Nazareth would take the leading role. All eyes are on this young woman who has accepted God’s call to carry out the most important and challenging vocation in history – mother of God-with-us in the person of the child she will conceive, birth and educate. What an impact this entire event would make with the help of a modern script and professional actors!
The village of Nazareth would be the backdrop as her story unfolds – a remote town in Galilee, itself a distant outpost of the vast Roman Empire of the first century. Who would have dreamt that the yearned-for Messiah would come from such a place?
This teenaged girl is alone when a messenger from God appears and announces that “God has looked on her with favor” and that she is to conceive and bear a son who will be called great, “Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give him the throne of Israel’s great King David”.
Miriam is no fool, however. She questions the messenger: “How is this going to happen, I’m not married?” The answer satisfies her and evokes a statement of complete trust and submission to the will of God: “Let it be done to me.” An amazing gesture for a single young woman in a small town where everybody’s business is known!
The messenger also tells Miriam, as proof of his veracity, that an elderly relation of hers, Isabel, is also pregnae nt because “nothing is impossible to God”. So she goes running up into the hill country around Nazareth to visit the old lady – and perhaps to check out the messenger’s information? As one can imagine, the encounter between the two women is dramatic and very tender.
Isabel affirms the truth of this incredible story with, “Blessed are you who have believed there would be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to you by the Lord.” At this Miriam breaks into a lengthy prayer of praise, glorifying the “One who has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” Even more impressive, the prayer also reveals this young woman’s understanding of God’s option for the poor. “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts … brought down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly … filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
The drama continues. Miriam, now married to Joseph, an upright tradesman, gives birth to her son in impoverished circumstances and holds in her heart poor shepherds of that region, imposing visitors from the East, and a holy old man in the Temple doing homage to the child. Then she and Joseph are forced to flee their country with the child. A corrupt King Herod has heard about this “newborn king” from those visitors and, terrified at the thought of a rival, has ordered the killing of all babies under the age of two years.
After the death of Herod the little family returns to Nazareth and lives a quiet, normal life there while the baby “grows and becomes strong, filled with wisdom and has the favor of God upon him.” Miriam and Joseph bring the boy up into early manhood whereupon he begins his three-year vocation of proclaiming and living the good news of God’s kingdom breaking in on human history. The scene of Jesus taking leave of his mother can well be the final one in this theater.
The Advent play ends there and we are left to reflect on what it says to us in Advent of 2021. Its ordinariness teaches us something about waiting. The Promised One finally appeared after centuries of expectancy; he becomes known gradually, all in God’s time.
So too we “wait in joyful hope for the (second) coming of the Lord.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.