12/24/17 – Empowering the Powerless (Christmas Eve Morning)

EMPOWERING THE POWERLESS

December 24, 2017 – Christmas Eve Morning
Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 /  Luke 1:26-38
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

I can’t remember preaching on Advent 4 and Christmas Eve biblical texts on the same day. It feels like, for this one hour, it is Christmas Eve Eve. Instead of the usual epistle text, today’s second New Testament text is The Song of Mary, Luke’s version of the Annunciation. John the Baptist got two worship services, so Mary should too. I mean, she carried Jesus in her womb for 9 months; nearly had her life ended or ruined because she was engaged to be married to a man who was not the father; and then, went through labor and delivery – with no epidural – in the rudest of circumstances. So, this morning I want to spend a little time focusing on Mary’s contribution to the Christmas miracle. Her response to God and her hymn of praise sings out through the ages and serves as a model for our own spiritual journeys.

Of course, Mary is part of the long saga of God’s relationship with humanity. So, today we start a little further back than Mary. We start with Jesus’ most famous ancestor, King David. The passage from 2 Samuel describes the time following David’s strategic victories – first, defeating Israel’s archenemy, the Philistines; second, he unified conflicting parties in the country and established Jerusalem as the capital. Claiming Jerusalem was the capital was the easy part. It was reconciling all those conflicting sides, so they would accept Jerusalem as the capital that was the real accomplishment.

David had his palace built in Jerusalem and then the centralized government under his rule was established. At that point, he was ready to have a temple constructed, which would make Jerusalem the religious center for Israel. At first one of his chief advisors, Nathan thought building a temple was a splendid idea. But, as was God’s habit, Nathan was visited in the night with a message to change direction. God had decided not to let David have this honor. I suspect God knew that keeping kings humble was a necessary part of doing business with them. David had already received so much of the Lord’s favor that he needed a little reality check. God’s decision sent the message that God could not be contained by any human construction, nor used for purposes of political gain. So, David had to scrap that part of his agenda. The Bible tells us God has never been happy with the way humans have bestowed power and privilege.

Remember what he did with the high and mighty anti- Christian Saul. As he encountered the risen Christ on Damascus Road, Saul was struck blind and led, helpless and vulnerable, to God’s appointed messengers.

“He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” (Lk.1:51b-52a)

Saul reversed course. The arrogant, self-righteous Jewish Pharisee acquired, with God’s guiding hand, humility and faith in Jesus Christ. He was renamed Paul, became a Christian evangelist and the preeminent church starter.

The bible is witness to God’s preference for the poor and the powerless. David himself was God’s choice in place of the previous king’s line of succession. He was also the youngest son in a culture of primogenitor and a mere shepherd. David occasionally forgot that all the great things that happened to him had nothing to do with his merit, but everything to do with God’s choosing to favor him. It is just human self-centeredness that gives us amnesia when we reach lofty positions, forgetting where we started and how much-unmerited boosts we had along the way up.

In the first century in the “Jewish ghetto” of the Roman Empire, Judea, Mary was about as low on the ladder of power and privilege as one could get. Most significantly she was a woman in a patriarchal society. She was also poor and young. Yet, she was selected to be God’s most favored — chosen to bear God’s Son. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we remember the call of Mary of Nazareth and her calling to us and for us. The Old Testament, Mary’s bible, made it abundantly clear that God values, not just how we treat others, but, particularly, how we treat people who are valued less by human society and political circles than ourselves. So, why do we keep looking to the rich, powerful and privileged to rule our lives?

When Mary hears God’s message from the Angel Gabriel, she responds with the same words Isaiah spoke when God called him to be a prophet – “Here I am.” Then she uses the same words Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Here it is translated as “Let it be according to your Word.” It could also be translated “Your will be done.”

Luke includes in his tale of The Annunciation a song. The lyrics are straight out of the Hebrew Bible. We hear the words echoing from Hannah’s Song from 1 Kings and Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the eternal king of Israel: “

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham, and to his descendants forever.”

According to Luke, the Jewish peoples’ remembrance of their history of God’s favor and God’s steadfast love and mercy, give testimony to God’s fulfilling of the covenant with Abraham. When God established the covenant, it was stated that this covenant would extend to all of Abraham’s descendants, which would one day extend to all the world. Even filtered through human minds and the particularities of time and place, the Bible gives us the foundation that God desires justice, mercy, peace, and love within the divinely created human family.

If God’s message was sent to you from someone who lacks power and privilege in our society, would you hear it? We are challenged by Mary’s faith, obedience and hope to not let ourselves be tempted to take the easy path of self-absorption and fear – yes, fear of any threat to our own power and privilege – and to follow Christ. That means following Christ above any political or social ideology. It means following Christ with our time, talents, resources – yes, that includes our wealth — and not with our judgments. It means following Christ with our lives rather than our lips only.

The miracle that has happened at The Annunciation happens whenever someone says “yes” to God as Mary did.  When we say “yes” to God’s ways, the world is transformed, even if we only see a small part of it changed.  When we – and our institutions – have chosen to say “no” to God’s ways we have perpetuated the growing distance between the rich and poor, the unjust distribution of the world’s resources, and the destruction of the earth and its ecosystems. And, if Mary received God’s favor in such a profound way, what does that say to us about who we recognize as deserving in our world, our country, our community.

Zachariah was given favor. He was one we would expect to receive favor – a man of respect in the temple. But, he could not believe, could not surrender. Mary, in word and action, did God’s will. Unlike Mary, Zachariah had nothing to lose and everything to gain, but he still could not let go of his own mental construct of how things were supposed to be. Mary had everything to lose but said:

“Yes, let it be according to your will.” (Lk.1:38)

Mary’s obedience seems impossible to us. Will Christmas change our exclusivism, self-interest and our neglect of the vulnerable and marginalized? Mary proclaims that with God “nothing is impossible.” (Lk.1:37)   The impossible possibility is that we – like Mary – will embrace God’s vision, follow God’s vision, and live for God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Mary risked all to let Christ be in her body. What are we willing to risk to let Christ into our lives?

All power, honor and glory to our Triune God!

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois