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Saturday, December 22, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Micah 5:2-5a, Psalm 80:1-7, Hebrews 10:5-10, Lke 1:39-55

Where do we look for the meaning of Christmas? In brightly decorated trees with flashing lights or in jovial belly-laughing Santas? Where does the world direct its adoration—not just at Christmas time but all year? Toward power brokers, sports heroes, and stars that populate the various entertainment media, or perhaps the winners of all the talent or reality shows—maybe even the Kardashians who seem to just be popular for being popular?

Many biblical texts, including some for the Sunday before Christmas, remind us to set our sights a little lower—where we may be surprised by seeing deeper and higher and farther. The effects of God’s transforming love may emanate from unexpected, off the beaten path, places.

Micah talks about “Bethlehem of Ephrathah . . . one of the little clans of Judah.” (Micah 5:2) In a prophecy which was later applied to Jesus, we are told of “one who is to rule Israel . . . He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (vss. 2 & 4-5) Never forget that last part. He shall be one of peace, not a power-wielding dictator who sees the world as weak and powerless peoples to be dominated.

The Gospel lesson records a song sung by Mary as she celebrates the one to whom she will give birth. The story is prefaced by the touching story of Mary’s trip to visit Elizabeth who is also expecting a child. We are told simply that Elizabeth is a “relative.” Many of us grew up assuming they were cousins as is indicated in the King James Version of the Bible. (Luke 1:36) The child (John, the Baptist) in Elizabeth’s womb leaps when Mary arrives, and she says to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me.” (vss. 41-44)

It is at this point that Mary begins to sing what has come to be called “The Magnificat” for its first line: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (vs. 46) Who would have expected great things to come from this humble peasant girl who speaks of herself in terms of “the lowliness of his servant”? (vs. 48) And what kind of child does she sing about? Is it one who is going to bow down before the power brokers and rich of the world? No, his concern is not for those who seem to loom large in the affairs of this world. The ones who are “proud in the thoughts of their hearts” are going to be scattered, and the powerful and rich are going to be brought down. The lowly are going to “lifted up” and the hungry will be fed. (vss. 51-53) This child born to a surprising mother in an unexpected place, whose very being is reminder that small things matter, will offer significance and purpose to all who have been held in contempt and abused by the powers that be.

It may be a stretch to connect the other two readings with this theme—but you know by now that I do a bit of stretching from time to time. The Psalm is a prayer by people who are feeling alienated, neglected, and put upon. (Psalm 80:1-2) They speak of their food and drink as “tears.” (vs. 5) People who are crying, though, have a right to have the Lord’s face shine on them. (vs. 7) In fact, it has been my experience that it is often those who have lived through times of deep trial that have the deepest faith, that find the power of God’s Love present in desparate times. I am more apt to trust such “little” people as guides to the meaning of life than I am to expect some powerful political orator to “save” me.

The reading from Hebrews continues to develop the theme of Jesus as one who lays down his life for us. In other biblical writings the emphasis is upon the “servant.” The one long-awaited, whether a king or savior or heavenly being, was sometimes described as a “suffering servant.” “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11—See all of Isaiah 53) Israel itself is described as a servant who is “a light to the nations. (Isaiah 49:6—See also the entire chapter, especially vss. 3 & 5) Jesus, in Matthew 23:11, says, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” In another place, he defines his ministry by says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) It may be noteworthy that Mary says, in the verse just before this Sunday’s Gospel reading, after the angel has told her about this unexpected birth, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1-38)

The Christmas message is about humble people who are willing to serve—even a savior who comes as a servant, a baby born in a manger. If we are to hear the message, we are called to look in unexpected places, and to live in unexpected places and ways. Christmas is not just about the family feasts for which we gather. It is about hungry people being fed and downtrodden people finding their worth. All these people in all these unexpected places—the message is that God is one of them—and, if we do not think too highly of ourselves—one of us.

Christmas has come! Christmas is coming! Christmas will come! “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

In what seems to be a footnote but may be the “heart” of the matter, I comment on two things that have permeated my thinking and feeling during the time I was writing this blog—the school shootings in Connecticut and my wife’s major back surgery. I don’t intend to put them on a par but both are events containing incredible pain. One is a tragedy; the other a road to healing. It would belittle both events to focus only on the good acts of people who have given above and beyond the call and duty in the midst of the pain and suffering. It would be equally irresponsible to ignore the many acts of kindness, even heroism, by the “little” people in such situations. I have been personally touched by the many who gave support and comfort to my wife and myself (in a healing process which is continuing to unfold well). Caregivers can surprise one at the most unexpected moment in the most unexpected ways. When that happens, the Christmas spirit breaks into unexpected places at unexpected times.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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