4 Advent C—12/20/15
Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55
Pr. Scott Kramer
Something earthshaking happened in Paris, France, recently. Do you remember? Did you notice?
Maybe it’s the terrorist attacks a little over a month ago that come to mind, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Soon after that tragedy, from November 30th to December 12th, the nations of the world came together in Paris for the 2015 Climate Change Conference. By the end of the conference, each nation had agreed to work toward cutting back on emissions that are warming our planet’s climate.
This is earthshaking, although not the sort of thing that lots of people get excited about. But maybe we should! Regardless of what you believe about climate change, how often do the nations of the world agree on anything? Is this not something to celebrate? Christians might ask if this is not a glimpse into the promised kingdom of God!
You and I are invited to recognize glimpses of God’s kingdom whenever and wherever they occur. In this Advent season we are reminded again and again that God shows up at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected places and among the most unexpected people. While we wait for fulfillment of God’s promises are we able to catch a glimpse of Messiah, even when nothing seems to change?
As we move into the final days of Advent this question becomes urgent. As we anticipate the birth of Jesus, are we ready to recognize him when he does appear? If we don’t catch glimpses now of “God made flesh” among us, when will we?
Jesus’ mother Mary is our teacher today. Mary is just barely a teenager when she learns that she’s pregnant. But she learns that the world of her much older kinswoman Elizabeth has been turned upside down, as well. When Mary and Elizabeth find each other they discover that even before the fulfillment of God’s promises God has already become flesh and blood. For Mary, God has become Elizabeth. For Elizabeth, God has become Mary.
In the midst of her fear and confusion Mary is so grateful and so dazzled by God’s faithfulness that she is able for a while to set aside her personal worries and fears, and she sings a song that calls attention not to herself but to God’s vision for the whole world.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me…He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
Mary is so convinced of God’s faithfulness that, even though she’s still waiting for fulfillment of God’s promises, she speaks as if all of this has already been accomplished!
What’s going on here? What has given Mary the faith and courage she needs to face the huge challenges of the days and months and years ahead?
Listen again to Mary’s song: He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. This could be about kings and kingdoms, or, it could be about something as ordinary as Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth is married and older, which makes her more powerful than Mary, who is much younger and unmarried. But in a very quiet way, God has brought the powerful and the lowly together. They need each other. Each is blessed by the other. Their relationship is a glimpse into the kingdom of God.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Sometimes it really is about kings and kingdoms. When the nations of the world gathered in Paris, the powerful and the lowly acknowledged that they need each other in order to confront the huge challenges of climate change.
Is this not what the story of our faith is about? God, who is all-powerful, chooses to come down, and to raise up the lowly—that would be us! Where unequal partners meet is where salvation happens. This is where the world is saved. Whether it’s your and my personal world, or, the whole world, salvation happens where the powerful and the lowly meet as equals. That is where God is made flesh.
Can you see where this is happening in the world you live in? It won’t be the main story and it won’t often make headline news, because our lives are characterized mostly by unequal powers pitted against each other: male and female, young and old, gay and straight, white and non-white, rich and poor, human and non-human. Which is higher and which is lower is determined not by nature but by the priorities of our human culture. Conflict, struggle, competition—even war–are so common that we think of these as normal, and not only normal, but maybe even necessary to ensuring our own well-being.
How different from the kingdom of God, and how different from the Christmas story that we are preparing for! It is the Christmas story, after all, in which the divine dares to come down—risking even death–to lift us up from what keeps us small and fearful. Jesus is a glimpse of what each of us was created to be, and what we will in time become!
The challenge in any unequal relationship is for the more powerful partner to come lower. Where human power is concerned, human nature drives us to fear what we might lose in coming lower, blinding us to something far more precious that might be gained. But in Advent God shows us the way, even through the ordinary faithfulness of one named Elizabeth.
Dear friends in Christ, you and I are invited with Elizabeth and Mary to ponder the unequal relationships we find ourselves in and to discern how God might be inviting us higher or lower to experience God’s saving power. To the extent that we do, we may find ourselves spending less energy protecting our own interests and more energy seeing and proclaiming glimpses of God’s kingdom—in Paris, in Seattle, in Skyway, and in our own households.
God shows up at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected places and among the most unexpected people—even among us!