“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee.” (Luke 1:26)
Cities are burdensome places and I don’t know that I could do without them. Have you ever been to a city you loved but couldn’t live in? Have you ever done the work of choosing a favorite city?
I wonder what your list would include. Perhaps the city where you first tasted that favorite dish. Maybe you’d list the city where you fell in love or the city where you first saw the sun set over some mountainous glory. On my list would be the city where I saw a waterfall, listened to jazz in a tea lounge, and where I heard the terrible roar of an answer to prayer.
If I were an angel, one of God’s dispatched messengers, I’d have a list of places to visit. I’d have tried to convince the good Lord to send me to a number of places, and Galilee would not have made the list. An unimpressive place, nothing interesting happened in Galilee, particularly Nazareth, the town of the Galileean province. And yet, God sent Gabriel to that place.
Galilee as a Roman province was a soil-rich place, “never destitute of men of courage,” and full of people. The area was a trade-heavy area, but Nazareth was not on the main road. Never mentioned in the first testament, it was an almost forgotten place. Nazareth in particular, Galilee in general.
I wonder if we can consider the places God has dispatched us to as little Galilees. We’d rather not be in every one of them. A meeting with that one detestable person, a long torturous commute in traffic, the blinding loneliness of being distant from loved ones–the list of places God has us is long. And they are Galilees. God has placed us, sent us.
That does not change the reality “on the ground.” It doesn’t change the smell of your neighborhood alleys or the dreadful silence of living nowhere close to anything interesting. The place is the place. Our location is ours. And God’s. Indeed, where we are belongs to the same God who eventually says spirit-lifting things to the world. But God goes to forsaken places, uninteresting places, terrible places, and God sends us to those places.
Of course, it is also good news for us when we are in those places–the fact that God comes to us there. We don’t have to live in a certain neighborhood to see something spiritual, to capture something essentially divine. God doesn’t pick the best community in the country to send his gifts. Indeed, God goes where you wouldn’t expect the Holy One to go.
I wonder if we can see God’s persistent, surprising ability to go where we wouldn’t as a gift in Advent. God goes to where we would ourselves love to leave. In the spiritual darkness, in the strong stink of our sin, in the hopeless decoration of mental illness, in a boring, lifeless place. Whatever our Galilee, God comes.