t4th Sunday in Advent
December 24, 2017
You can click on these links for the readings cited in the sermon, courtesy of Oremus Bible Browser.
Christmas is breathing down our necks this morning, and a lot of people are deciding which of today’s three services they will attend. I totally get it – how much church can a person actually take? But I don’t want to give today’s readings short shrift; they tell us a few really important things about the God who is coming in the quiet hours of the morning. He will slip into our world practically unnoticed, born to a young Jewish couple who are desperate for a place to lie down. Skies light up with hosts of angels, but they are only seen by some rag tag workers, sleeping rough with a flock of sheep. How can it be that the person who will change our world into the promised Reign of God could have come into the world so completely under the radar?
Today’s readings are loaded. We’ve heard them so often that we rarely think about what kind of trouble they stir up. So let’s do a little study of them for a minute and unpack some of what we might otherwise miss out on.
The First Reading tells us that David is flush with success. Relying on God and his own charisma, he has finally done what no other leader could do, won the battles with neighboring tribes to claim all the land that was promised to God’s people when they came back to the Promised Land. After 20 years of war, the people were secure in their own borders. David was finally able to build himself a palace and be at home. Now he wants to thank God for all the success by building a house for God, too. No more tribal God moving from place to place, being worshipped in a tent, of all things. God needs a cedar palace, too. But that’s not what God wants. “When have I ever asked for a palace?” says God, through the prophet. “I don’t need a house, I have always lived where my people live, wandered with them.” God promises instead to create a dynasty that will reflect God’s special relationship with David and David’s faithfulness. God promises to first create a place for God’s people and to nurture them there. We are quick to pick up the promise that the Savior of God’s people will be from the ‘house of David, but we don’t always recognize that God is not attached to a place but to a people.
Our Psalm is “The Magnificat,” called that because the first word in the Latin is “I magnify the Lord.” You could also call it “Mary’s Manifesto.” She claims ancient promises that should put comfortable First-World Christians like us on alert. She is asking for God to upset the status quo, and imagines God on the side of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed. It is the imagery of the Psalms which envision God’s justice as the corrective to the confidence and corruption of the powerful, who are able to ‘sell the poor for a pair of sandals,’ according to the prophet Amos. When I hear church people complain more about their taxes than who can feed their families and go to the dentist, I think of the world Mary claims is the world that God envisions. If the world Jesus came to create would take us down in our security and lift up those who have nothing, he’d be thrown out of any church I’ve been a member of. We are much more comfortable giving to the needy out of our surplus than changing a system that creates such drastic inequality. It’s ironic that we in our comfort are the heirs of this Reign of God that Mary celebrates when she realizes her baby will be the promised Savior of her people. We are the bearers of this vision of equality and respect for all people and that sees ourselves as a blessing that has its roots in our Father Abraham.
And then Mary, who seems to coolly agree to “let it be with me according to your word.” Luke is so specific: the angel has a name: Gabriel. He comes to a specific place: a town called Nazareth in Galilee. To a specific person: Mary, a young woman who is engaged, not married, to a man who has a name and a heritage: Joseph of the house of David. There is nothing mythic about this. It is ordinary. Regular people in a regular place. Every baby disrupts the lives of the people to whom it comes, but this child will disrupt the whole world. This child will be the Son of God. It’s important to note that every emperor, every monarch feels that they have been chosen to reign, chosen by God. The Roman emperors claimed the title “Son of God.” The angel claims that the child of Mary will be the real thing.
That Mary is so unremarkable is remarkable. She’s not a princess, not a queen. She is a far from the seat of power in her world as you can get. Remember that God who is attached to the people, not to a place? This is the God who will come into our world through ordinary people in an ordinary place. This is the God who will live among us to show what the Reign of God looks like, feeding, healing, comforting, answering authority with humility and resistance to their power grabs. This is the God who will suffer at the hands of the people he came to save, and who will overcome death by the power of love. This is the God who promised to send his Spirit to live in us and among us, so that we also have the power to turn toward gentleness instead of violence, and healing instead of hate. This God choses us in the same way that Mary was chosen; to invite us into the Reign of God, a new world of possibility. We are now the heirs Abraham to be blessing to the world. We are now the visionaries of a world of justice and respect for all people. This mobile God is not in a place, but in a people.
We are God’s people in this place. Amen.