From the Least to the Greatest – November 28, 2010
Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 1:39-58
November 28, 2010
This is the first Sunday of Advent. And the scripture reading for today is about Mary. Now, I know we “Protestants” don’t talk all that much about Mary. Things like “The Saints,” and “praying to saints” are what tend to separate us from the practices of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. And I wouldn’t want to engage that debate, unless we had a Catholic priest here to present the other perspective.
But, we cannot deny the importance of Mary! She is a huge part of the story of Jesus – especially at this time of year! And she’s important, not just by virtue of the fact that she was the mother of the Messiah. But also because her lowly estate in life makes her an example of the nature God’s plans, and how he often works in the lives of people. The “least” are indeed often the “greatest.”
Some of my favorite words in the Bible are found in I Corinthians, chapter one. In that chapter, Paul wrote this. “For consider your call, brethren. Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth, But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…”
I love those words! Isn’t that wonderful writing? But even more than that, in that short series of phrases, Paul has captured the essence of the plans of God. God doesn’t choose the powerful, the popular, “the greatest.” For some reason, for some mystery we can only begin to comprehend, he has instead chosen the weak, the unpopular, in a word – “the least.”
Mary was the essence of that. She was virtually a nobody in that society. She had no social status. She was “just a girl.” She was probably a fairly young girl. Some scholars have suggested she was as young as 12 years old. (Think of the girls you know who are 12 years old!) She was from a poor family – some have said a “peasant” family. She had no real possessions, no importance, no wealth. And yet her words here are prophetic. “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” That’s a key phrase in this passage that has become known as “the Magnificat.”
Now, did she understand fully what she was saying that day? I doubt it! Did she understand the nature of this baby she carried? How could she?? Did she have a clue about the path she was now on? And would she have wanted to go down that path if she had known that it would lead to a cross? That’s hard to say. But in the meantime, at this moment in history, it was her job to trust God. And I think we would all agree, she did!
I have to believe that’s one reason God has done things the way he has done things. In his great plans, he has chosen those who have had no choice but to trust him and to rely on him. His plans and purposes have always involved a partnership with humans, not a powerful, autonomous hand – with humans as a passive audience. And here, in the story of the coming of his chosen one into the world, his action was no different. To Mary and to Joseph her betrothed – two of the lowliest and least – this amazing child would be born.
Ok, so I also chose this passage today for another reason. I chose it because it sounds so much like the passage we read from the great prophet Isaiah. It speaks of the redemption and restoration of God’s people! And it speaks in terms, not just of “salvation,” but of the fullness of this life. God wants his people, not just to be “saved,” not just to be sure of their eternal destiny with him, but to be sure of their joyful relationship with him – now! Here! On this earth! In fact, that’s why God created the Earth in the first place – for our enjoyment. And that’s why he created us!
I think that’s what we miss sometimes. I think too often, when we think of our faith, we think “I’m saved, so that some day – when I die – I’ll be with the Lord.” But that’s not the only part of this! Jesus came so he could be with us always “even to the close of the age!” Not “at the time of the close of the age,” but always – all the time! From now until the close of the age! Do you get that?
I don’t know about you, but I think we need to be reminded of that – all the time! It’s too easy to forget! Think about it this way. It’s great to have family, isn’t it? It’s great to remember the wonder of our lives together. It’s great to tell others about our family. But, if we don’t spend the time together – like we did this past week – haven’t we missed the entire point of family?
Again, (and again, and again…) it’s the same with God. Christmas is about God spending the everyday, ordinary times with his people. Maybe that’s another reason he chose everyday, ordinary people for his purposes – so we’d get that point!! But too often we miss the point! Let’s not! Let’s get it! Let’s remember that he wants to spend every day with us!
And while you’re thinking about that, consider this. Too often we think we have to come to a place like this to meet God. Don’t we?? I was talking to a woman the other day, and she said, “My husband and I didn’t go to Church very often because we believe God was with us where ever we were.” And that was refreshingly right! God is! But! That’s not why we go to church! We don’t go to Church to be with God, we go to be with each other! He gave us each other, he gave us this community, so that we could live this life together! (Remember that! Live it!!)
God is with us! That’s the point of Christmas! And not just because of Jesus, who was God in human form. He came to tell us that God the Creator is always with us. He’s the reminder of that. And it’s a great reminder, isn’t it?! Jesus is called “Emmanuel” – God with us! Not “God is available to us.” Not “God will be with us – some day.” “God is with us!” That’s the story of Christmas!
Does that not make all the “secular” celebrations of the “holidays” at this time of year pale in comparison? I think it does! I hope you do, too! And does that mean that we should do all those secular, seasonal celebrations? Ab-so-lutely!!! Enjoy this time! I believe God would want us to! He wants us to enjoy this life!! But I believe he would not want us to enjoy it to the exclusion of all else! You see, on the top of all that, is this wonderful story! And I think it makes everything else all the more wonderful!!
I love this time of year! But I can’t help but be saddened when we miss the point of if all! I can’t help but be saddened when we substitute the season for the celebration! Saint Nicholas himself, who was a champion for the cause of Jesus Christ in the earliest years of the Church, would be saddened for the image we have made of him – an image that excludes the message of God to the world of Emmanuel!!
So, take a look again at the manger scenes in your homes. Look closely at the figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Think about her role in this whole story. Her story is not all that different from yours. Yes, she has gone from “the least” to “the greatest” in many people’s minds. But what about you? “For God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…”
Eternal God, we love this time of year! We love the stories that make this all so wonderful. We love the way you chose to bring into this story the lowliest people for your highest purposes. Help us to know that we are called in the same way as we are called to be your people. Help us to know that you wish to share each day of our lives with us. We celebrate that at this Advent time of the year, and we give thanks and praise to you, in Jesus’ name, Amen.