Mamzer

[Wade Grocott lives in Caronport, owns a house in Moose Jaw, and works in Regina. He loves his wife Richelle, and enjoys photography, books and surfing. He is trying to slow down just a bit this Advent but can’t make any promises on that.]

“So they were saying to Him, “Where is Your Father?”
– John 8:19

“They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication;
we have one Father: God.”
– John 8:41

You likely know the story.  An angel comes to Mary and proclaims that she will give birth to God’s son through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Stop there.

God comes and tells you He is going to do some amazing thing in your life, or use you in some profound way.  Perfect start to a story, right?

But then things go off track a bit.  In this story, God is going to miraculously impregnate an unwed teenager, in a time when adultery is punishable by death.

Mmmm, not so perfect.

Controversy ensues as people learn of the pregnancy and the young, unwed couple.  This couple, chosen by God, are shunned by their family and community, and the rumours start to fly.

The Hebrew word for a child conceived outside of marriage is a Mamzer.  (We have a word today for this, although I’m not sure it’s best to print it.)

We know that as a result of this pregnancy Mary and Joseph had trouble finding a place to stay in their travels and that their community wasn’t happy with them.  I wonder if they ever questioned this plan God had.

It makes me consider, too, if these circumstances plagued Jesus His whole life.  The interactions in John above take place when Jesus was about 33 years old. On first read of John chapter 8 their comments seem a bit odd, even out of place.  It makes a little more sense if they are trying to get under his skin to say these things. In this small region and relatively small group of people, word would have travelled.   People ask at a different place in Mark’s account, “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” In that culture it was the norm to refer to someone in this way.  They felt that whose family you were from told a lot about you. However, whenever they referred to someone in this way it would be the father’s name that would be used.  Why do they use Mary’s name instead of Joseph?  In a way, they are saying, “Isn’t this the one whose father is questionable?”  “Isn’t this the mamzer?” He has been living with this for a while.  He has a reputation.

How many people dismissed His teaching and authority because of this?  If you are looking for the Messiah, God’s chosen one to save His people, would you consider the one born in questionable circumstances, whose father’s identity isn’t certain?  Remember this is a group of people who were taught, by God, in order to “be right” with Him, there were specific things you did and didn’t do.  Pregnancy outside of marriage was definitely a “don’t do”.

Why did God set it up this way?

I’m definitely glad I am looking back at the story 2,000 years later, and am able to see the whole story of Jesus’ life, that these questionable circumstances were in part a fulfillment of God’s prophecy, and that Jesus is the one we were waiting for.

Maybe, though, we can take something away from this for our time as we remember the Christmas story during advent, and the weird circumstances that are a part of it.

Do you think God is at work in your life right now?  Is it obvious to you?  For some people the answer would be a definite “yes, for sure”.  For others of us, we might be tempted at times to think otherwise.

Our lives are often complicated, messy.  There are tough decisions and sometimes no easy answers.  Things are unclear at best, scattered and dark at worst.  We have our own questionable circumstances.  If we do feel God is definitely at work, we are often tempted to ask, “God, why like this?  Is this really your plan?”

For some, the Christmas season is a painful one, maybe because of the loss of loved ones, other problems, or feeling like there isn’t much to celebrate.

Is God there, and even at work, when things are messy, when we can’t figure out what He could be up to?

I love it that God meets us where we are at when we ask Him to (and sometimes even when we don’t).   We don’t have to clean up the messy things, forget about our circumstances, or get somewhere else.  He comes to where we are, like He came to the shepherds in the field to tell them Jesus had been born.

The physical road doesn’t always get easier, but Having Him there and knowing He is at work in the messiness, and even chooses those things to be in our lives sometimes, makes it possible to take another step.

When you think about and wait for Jesus birth this advent, may you remember that life is often messy, that God is at work in the mess, and that is often precisely where The Saviour can be found.

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