December 21, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
|667 Mount Road, Aston, PA 19014 610-459-2013
|Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
To serve the
To grow the
|2 Samuel 7:1-11,1
|The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
munchkins from the Wizard of Oz or even the more ordinary, “vertically-
challenged” people. It's a good day for the kind of “little people” who don't
matter-much in the world, people we often do not think about, whose lives are
removed from our own so that we tend to forget about them… Palestinian families
living near Bethlehem in a refugee camp, unable to get into Jerusalem where the
jobs are, closed-off in a world that offers few possibilities. Today is a day for
them, and for the rough-skinned mountain people who live hard-scrabble lives in
the wilderness of Afghanistan where it is terribly cold, their clothes in tatters;
everyone suffers and food is hard to find. This is a good day for people who
are nervous about what the future holds, people who’ve lived on the margins for
a long time – hoping for a stable home, enough money to go to the doctor or for
medication, hoping the car will hold out - now the economy is sliding into decline
and they wonder how much worse things can get.
Today, good news is proclaimed to the poor, wherever they live. They don’t even
have to give proof of their residency, or an account of how they became poor.
The good news is given to foreigners and refugees, to people who are here
illegally, to folks who work meager jobs and send money back home, to those who
don’t know our ways or speak our language. Today a song is sung for all those
people who live in pitiful housing, the kind where roaches swarm the cupboards
and rats crawl through the walls. The song is sung for laborers around the world
who work hard day after day out little pay and little respect but keep showing
up. A voice sings out for unwed, teenage mothers cast-aside and unwanted -- a
voice of hope and solidarity. Yes… today is a good day for the little people
because today God has come near, very near, and with God’s arrival, the little
ones will be blessed with love and dignity, with well-being and self-respect.
The Word of God comes, today, to the town of Nazareth. What kind of a place
was Nazareth? It’s name rings in our ears because we know it as Jesus’
hometown, located in the heart of the Galilee, the place where Mary grew up,
where Joseph was a carpenter. Maybe we fancy it being something like an all-
American small town. But in the time of our gospel story, it was nothing like
that. In Mary and Joseph’s day, Nazareth was the tiniest of towns. It was so small,
so insignificant, it didn’t even have a city wall around it for protection. No
dignitary or king, no honored business person or religious leader would have
bothered going to Nazareth. Being from Nazareth was like being from Dime Box,
Texas - which is why in John’s gospel Philip says “can anything good come out of
Something good certainly found its way to Nazareth. The angel Gabriel, on a
mission from the Most High God, arrived in the little town and went to Mary’s
house. Mary, a fourteen or fifteen year old girl, engaged to Joseph but not yet
married, had been chosen for an incredible honor. She did not come from a
distinguished lineage - kings and queens. There were no royal families in
Nazareth. Mary was just an ordinary girl who looked up one day to find an angel
in her room, saying to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” A bit
surprised by that greeting, she wondered what it was all about.
Indeed, what was it all about? Gabriel soon told her. She would conceive and
give birth to a child who would be the Son of God. Yes, she was a virgin, but
the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and the child she bore, therefore, would be
holy. That’s quite an amazing promise and it would be quite a life-changing event.
Think of the teenage girls in our congregation -- which of them would we want to
see become pregnant at 15 and go around saying “the Holy Spirit did it”? But
Mary accepted God’s offer; she did not shy away from this calling. She believed
God could do what God’s messenger had said, she believed all would be well.
St. Bernard once said that there are three miracles in this story and that the last
is the greatest: the first is that God and a human being are joined in Mary’s
baby, the second is that a mother could still be a virgin, and the last is that Mary
had the faith to believe this mystery would be accomplished in her. (Martin Luther
Christmas Book, p. 15.)
Hearing that she will give birth to the redeemer of the world, Mary sings out the
joy that is in her heart: “My soul magnifies the Lord!” she calls, “my spirit
rejoices in God my savior.” She knows that God has blessed her among women
of every age, but she also sees much more. Mary sees that God is acting to
redeem everyone of low standing, all people who are usually brushed aside or
forgotten in this world. “God has shown strength with his arm” she sings “God
has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the
mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with
good things and the rich he has sent away empty.” Mary understands that the
message she has received from Gabriel about giving birth to a holy child is good
news, extraordinarily good news, for the little people.
Yes… good news for the little people, those who don’t count for much, who are
easily overlooked. But what does this news that is so good for the “little ones”
mean to us, to you and me living in the United States in the year 2008? Most-of-
us are not truly “little” people; we are not among the “throw-aways” in society.
We carry more authority than that, we own more stuff than that; we’re not a part
of the invisible populations that walks the streets. What do we think when we
hear that the hungry will be filled, but the rich will be sent away empty? when we
hear that the lowly will be lifted-up, but those who are well-off will be driven-off
in their imaginary self-importance? How does this news effect us who are, of
course, the “rich” by the standards of the world, who have enjoyed our prosperity
Let’s reflect for a moment on littleness -- on what it means to be powerful or
vulnerable in this world and on the role Jesus, himself, adopted while he was
here. On Christmas Eve, when Jesus is born he will be acclaimed King of Kings
and Lord of Lords. Yet he did not come with what we think of as kingly power
and glory. There was no army, no riches; his every word was not automatically
obeyed. No, Jesus came as a helpless baby, born to unknown parents, raised in a
tiny, unimportant town. Not only born as a “little one,” when Jesus was grown he
had no place to lay his head, was harassed by the authorities for speaking the
truth, was railroaded on false charges, and put to death by the state. At
Christmas, God is not only born as a human being, but as one of the unknowns,
the “little people,” no power or riches or status.
Let’s listen again to what the angel Gabriel announced and ponder with Mary what
is going on here. Gabriel tells Mary that she is favored, that she is known and
loved by God (little and unimportant though she is). Gabriel tells her not to be
afraid. That is always the first word from God’s messengers when the news is
good – remarkably good, ‘salvation’ good. “Do not fear.” What God is giving to
Mary – the baby Jesus – God is giving to the world, and especially to people
whose lives are tough. These words Gabriel speaks, then, are not only addressed
to Mary, but to the whole world, to you who are suffering, you who struggle to
make ends meet, -- God is saying, “I’m here. I know you and love you. Don’t be
afraid, I am with you.” And as wonderful as that is, it is only the beginning.
The promise is yet to follow. The promise is that a child is on the way - a child
we will bear in our bodies, in our hearts, in our hands, on our tongues, among
us and in-between us – and he will be holy, the Son of the Most High God. Isn’
t that something!
St. Bernard had a good point, that perhaps the most amazing thing about this
story is that Mary accepted what the angel was telling her and believed that God
would accomplish these wondrous things through her. Once it was clear what
would take place and how it would happen, she didn’t hesitate but said “I am at
your service, let it be as you have said.” Just like that Mary believed that she, a
girl who had never “known” a man, would give birth to a child; and she believed
that this child would be God’s own Son; she trusted that her little one would
grow up to be savior of the world, to redeem all the “little ones” -- bringing
them hope and love and every good thing they did not have in daily life. That’s
an astonishing response.
Given that Gabriel’s words are addressed to us, as to Mary, can we respond to
them as she did? Can we , also, hear God’s promise and say “let it be as you
have said,” trusting that God is bringing a new day for the “little ones” of the
world? I wonder if we have eyes, hearts, that are able to see with that kind of
hope, that kind of faith. It is easy to get discouraged; we see the hungry, we
see the hurting - people who struggle and live in broken-down neighborhoods - in
every city and throughout the world. With such evidence it’s hard to believe that
a new day is at hand that will turn things around, that will change anything. Yet
Mary sings today that the might will be cast down from their thrones and the rich
will be sent away empty; the proud will be scattered in the imagination of their
hearts. Then will the lowly be lifted up and the hungry be filled with good things.
… Life does not always stay the same… some “mighty” folks have lost their
“thrones” recently; some rich are being sent away “empty,” and many a proud,
wealthy person who once “owned Wall Street” no longer has that imagination in
his or her heart. Who knows what else might happen?
Listen up, little ones, you who struggle and suffer, this is a good day for you.
There is good news in the air. God has sent a message to a girl named Mary
that she is to give birth to the Savior of the World. He will be Lord of all and
King of kings, but he will rule with gentleness and truth, with righteousness and
love. His eye will be on the lowly, his favor will be with the weak, his
compassion will come to you. Our Lord, Jesus. His compassion is with you. He is
coming to raise you up. amen.