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  • Ross Moughtin

How God changes the script.

Well, we finally made it. After over 40 years of failed expectations, after four daughters and nine granddaughters, we finally made it. Our youngest grandchild was cast as Mary in her school nativity. It’s not, I think, that my daughters and their female offspring were deemed unsuitable by central casting to play the mother of Jesus. As far as I was aware, there were no challenging behaviours, no veil-ripping tantrums. Instead we found ourselves portraying various farmyard animals or angels or occasionally a shepherd. Sometimes we made narrator. But never a Mary. The reason for this familial failure is simple. They were the vicar’s daughter. And for five of us, a vicar’s granddaughter as well. Life can be tough. I recall in the 1980’s we almost made it. One of my daughters was chosen to portray Mary in their school nativity but once her paternity was pointed out to the producer, she was immediately recast. Tragically, this failure to be Mary can actually mark you for life. Alison Charlton is today the communications officer for Unison, the country‘s second largest trade union. She reflects: "As a non-Mary it taught me – at age five – that the power of patronage is arbitrary and tough to challenge." That insight may well have propelled her into a career of fighting unfair employment practices. Go for it, Alison Even Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman can recall the hurt of failing to be Mary. “I auditioned for the role of an angel in the Nativity play at school. I didn't get it. I auditioned for Mary; didn't get it. So I made up the character of the sheep who sat next to baby Jesus.” But the big question is “Does such infant injustice damage you for life? Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, comments: "At such a young age it must play to some extent with your brain. Have I got a special role in the world?" He argues that being overlooked in school play, which therapists know does affect people for the rest of their life. "There's a sense of being dis-preferred and anonymous." Of course for the real Mary being cast to for this leading role, actually THE leading role for all time, came out of the blue. Maybe that’s why she has always worn blue ever since. We know very little about the original Mary. She lived in Nazareth, a small village no one had ever heard of and never mentioned, not even once, in the Hebrew scriptures. Luke also tells us that she was a virgin, betrothed but not yet married. This would almost certainly mean that she was a very young teenager. However, it’s possible she had a distinguished lineage in that her relative Elizabeth was a descendent of the original high priest, Aaron, of the tribe of Levi (Luke 1:5). But that’s about it. What we do know is that on being told the news by the angel Gabriel, she was knocked off-balance or as Luke tells, us, greatly troubled. Not just troubled but greatly troubled by this totally unexpected future. After all, we need our familiar patterns, our regular routines. No doubt before Gabriel’s visit, Mary’s life was already written out for her. To use psychological jargon, she had a life script. And it was nothing special. Until God turns up in the person of Gabriel. For that’s the very reason why God chose her, she was no-one special. The complete opposite of being chosen to play Mary over the following centuries. That’s how God works. The apostle Paul knew this. He writes to the Christians at Corinth: “Take 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.” (1 Corinthians 1:26 Message translation) The good news for all of us is that God chooses to work with ordinary people, even those who live in a dump like Nazareth. So Paul continues: “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”? What counts, as far as God is concerned, is the willingness to trust. And so Gabriel having delivered his message waits for Mary’s answer. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” That’s it, that’s all that God was looking for, the ability to trust him, come what may. And then the script changes and life takes a new, totally unexpected direction to a truly marvellous future. And it can happen to anyone at any time in any place, even to a vicar’s daughter.

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