Speaking to the Soul: Out of Nowhere

by

Week of 2 Christmas, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 117, 118 (morning) // 112, 113 (evening)

Exodus 17:1-7

Colossians 1:15-23

John 7:37-52

For those of us who just watched Christmas pageants or heard the Christmas story about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, it’s hard to remember that, for most people who encountered him, Jesus really came out of nowhere. The gospels of Matthew and Luke famously disagree about where Jesus came from and how he got there. In Matthew’s gospel, Mary and Joseph were living in Bethlehem, and after Jesus was born they fled to Egypt and then settled in Galilee to escape persecution. In Luke’s gospel, Mary and Joseph were living in Galilee, but Jesus was born during their brief trip to Bethlehem for a census. After presenting their baby at the Temple in Jerusalem, they returned home to Galilee.

The people in today’s gospel, on the other hand, seem to know nothing of the story that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They know only that he is from Galilee . . . a marginal, back-water region. While some people in this passage think that Jesus is God’s prophet or the Messiah, others use his Galilean origins against him. They argue, “Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” (If the author of John’s gospel knew a story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, surely he would have included it here.)

The Pharisees and other religious authorities are determined that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because he is from Galilee. When Nicodemus sticks up for Jesus, they reply with a dig at Nicodemus himself: “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” The Pharisees can’t handle the idea that a prophet could come out of “nowhere”, out of the regions that get no attention or honor in their scriptures.

How do we respond to the Jesus who comes out of nowhere? The gospels of Matthew and Luke respond by crafting stories that locate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The people in the gospel of John respond either by dismissing Jesus because of his origins, or by opening themselves to the possibility that God could visit his people from Galilee instead of Bethlehem after all.

Wherever we place the birth of Jesus, perhaps we should remember that Jesus is most likely to enter our lives in an unexpected way, whether from neglected regions or from untraceable origins. While the Pharisees tell Nicodemus to “search” for the Messiah in the scriptural map, perhaps we would do better to let Jesus find us from whatever angle God chooses.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with education, young adult ministry, and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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