Sermon: ADVENT 4, Dec. 18th, 2016
In the Name...
A little girl was learning about the Christmas story and told her grandmother that she had a question. "Which virgin was the mother of Jesus? The Virgin Mary or the King James Virgin?"
Our Gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way". Doesn't sound very exciting to us, but, for the average Jew of Jesus’ times this statement would have been a shocker. Why? Because popular belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be a human being. That's right. That's why, when the wise men came to Jerusalem looking for Jesus, not one of the Jewish scholars went with them to Bethlehem because they thought the wise men were stupid men, off on a wild goose chase.
Yes, they knew the prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, but, they didn't take it literally. They took it to mean that he would be a great leader, like David who had come from Bethlehem. The popular belief, in fact, was that the Messiah was going to be an angel like Michael or Gabriel who would descend from the skies, in all his majesty and power. And his landing pad, if you will, was to be none other than the Temple courtyard.
That's why Satan tempted Jesus by proposing that he jump down from the pinnacle of the temple, because then he'd be fulfilling, not the Bible, but, the pop theology of the day.
So, it's no wonder that the Jews found it hard to reconcile their tabloid expectations with the reality of this man Jesus, whom they knew to be born and raised in their midst. "We know where this man is from", they once said, "But, when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from." That's what that verse means. They found the ordinary ways of God's coming, God's presence, and God's action among His people too simple to be true.
Like the Jews of old we also wait for the coming of God among us. Oh, maybe not the great event of the Second Coming, but, just God in our joys and sorrows, in our triumphs and tragedies. Maybe we should take a moment and ask ourselves, what are we expecting?
How is God going to show up when we think we need him? We need to ask this because sometimes the problem is not that God is not with us, the problem is that we do not recognize Him when He is. Like in the story of the man who looked back on his life journey and saw two sets of footprints, his own and Jesus', side by side, except during the times he had experienced great difficulties when he saw only one set. When he asked Jesus where he had been, Jesus replied, "Those were the times I was carrying you."
The prophets all spoke of God's arrival on earth in terms of terror and destruction. The mountains would melt like wax; the hills would skip like rams. But, when he did arrive, it was through the nine-month pregnancy of a country girl, and thirty years of infancy, adolescence and adulthood.
We talk and sing, about Christmas, the incarnation of the Son of God, as being a bridge-event between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, the sacred and the profane. And what that means is that we should always try to be aware of the presence and action of God and realize that he works his greatest miracles with the simplest tools - and those can include us, just as it was with a couple named Joseph and Mary.
There is a parable of three trees; you may have heard this before. Once upon a time there were three trees and each tree had a different dream of what he wanted to become. One tree wanted to be used in constructing a fine home, maybe even a palace. Another tree hoped to be made into a great sailing vessel which would carry rich goods across the oceans. The third tree hoped to become a finely crafted piece of furniture - maybe a king's throne.
In the fullness of time the trees were cut down. One was made into a feeding trough, another into a fishing boat, and the third was cut up for lumber and left in a builder's yard.
One day, however, that feeding trough had a baby laid in it and a stable became a palace. One day, a man got into that fishing boat and spoke words which would become the most valuable cargo ever spread across the seas. And one day, some soldiers took the rough-hewn lumber and made a cross which became the throne of the King of Kings.
A Nigerian proverb says, "Listen, and you will hear the footsteps of the ants." "Listen and you will hear the footsteps of the ants." Well today we are challenged to listen and hear the softest footsteps of God. He comes into our lives in ordinary ways, through ordinary people and at ordinary moments. And, when he does, he transforms even the most ordinary person or event because whatever and whoever serves Him is most valuable to Him.
God is with us. Let us always be aware.
In the Name...