Micah 5:2-5; Luke 1:39-55
23 December 2018
St Catherine’s, Advent 4. Steve Tomkins.
God comes to us. That is the message of Advent, and the message of Christmas: God comes to us. That’s really all I have to say today, but being a preacher I’ll say it for quarter of an hour.
In our Gospel reading the messenger has visited Mary and told her that she is to be the mother of Christ. Mary now tells her cousin Elizabeth, and Mary prophesies. And she sings this song of celebration: how God comes to us.
God comes to those who wait. Our other reading this morning was from the prophet Micah, declaring that God’s ruler would come from Bethlehem. 600 years before Mary’s time that promise was given. People in Israel had believed the time would come. Those people had waited. And waited. And now, the Angel tells Mary, the time is here. Though of course Mary will continue to wait. We all continue to wait. But God comes to those who wait.
God comes to those who are in need. Mary counts herself as one of the hungry. She declares God’s promise that the hungry will be filled – but today and tonight there is no more food on the table, there is no extra loaf, no extra fish, no surprisingly good wine. What has changed is God coming to us.
God comes to those who are humble. Those who are low down the ladder. Low down the pecking order. Ordinary people who have nothing special to make them stand out from the crowd. Mary wasn’t a celebrity, wasn’t a mover or shaker, she wasn’t a warrior, wasn’t powerful, wasn’t from a famous family. She may have been a descendant of King David, but he lived 1,000 years ago and put it about a bit. In Mary’s day, King David had millions of descendants, and it didn’t do any of them very much good. God did not come to Mary because of royal blood, or because she had great fame or great skills. God did not come to Mary because she had achieved impressive things or been on a course. God came to Mary because God comes to us.
God comes to us not as we expect. The people were promised a King. Micah talks of a ruler in Israel, reigning with strength, security, prosperity and peace. Mary lived in a land where foreign soldiers patrolled the streets, where a colonial government failed to understand their ways, and took their taxes off to a distant city. Mary talks of God showing his strength, scattering the enemy and casting them down from their thrones. But when God comes, it does not always look like we expect.
A King is supposed to gather his men together and march against the enemy. This king will gather them together and tell them to love their enemies and pray for those who oppress them, then they will be the children of God. A King is supposed to lead his men into victorious war; this one tells his people to be peacemakers. The King is supposed reign in majesty; this one washes fishermen’s feet. The King is supposed to vanquish the enemy; this one is arrested and hanged, forced to wear a toy crown with a sign on his head saying ‘King of the Jews ha ha ha’. God comes, not to reign like any King we’ve ever known, but to enter into our brokenness, and rescue us, and raise us up. God comes, and it does not look like we expect.
God comes and it can be hard to recognise, hard to understand. Twelve years from now, Mary will lose her young son on the 100 mile journey home from Jerusalem, and eventually find him back in that city, talking theology with the temple priests. Thirty years from now, when she hears about his preaching, Mary will think her son has gone mad, and take his brothers to try to restrain him. A little while later, she will stand at the cross where her son is being executed. And a little while later, she will be part of the community who believe in his resurrection from the dead and worship him as the risen lord. God comes and it can be hard to recognise.
But God comes with hope. Mary and her people were worried for the future, worried for the present. Despondent and bowed down. They had been abandonned by their God. It had gone badly, badly wrong. They saw nothing changing, just these hard times stretching out in forever.
But God comes with hope, and things start to change.
God comes with hope and Mary sees the light start to dawn.
God comes and they are not forgotten.
God comes and the healing has begun.
God comes and those who are cast aside have a friend.
God comes and those who are struggling have a helper.
God comes and those who are alone are not alone.
God comes and those who are torn up with hurt have a healer.
God comes and those who fear for one they love find their prayers are heard.
God comes those who are scattered and lost have a shepherd.
God comes and those who are in the valley of the shadow of death find that they are being led to green pastures and still waters, and their souls are restored.
God comes and those who are beyond hope are found and carried home.
God comes those who look to the year ahead and see nothing but fear, find that his mercy flows from generation to generation.
God comes and those who look around and see nothing but injustice growing find that he pulls the powerful down from their thrones and fills the hungry with good things.
God comes and we find the strength to speak out.
God comes and we share what we have with those who are desperate.
God comes and we confront what is wrong.
God comes and we give our time to those who need a little of it.
God comes when we are patient.
God comes when we make peace.
God comes when we see the chance to do the work of Jesus in the world and we take it.
What happens now is nothing, really, isn’t it? It seems insignificant. It seems far too little to make a difference. It seems insufficient. A microscopic cluster of cells in the womb of a young woman. Is that it?
But when God comes, that tiny thing can become the thing makes all the difference.
Come, God of grace, we pray, in the place where we find ourselves today.
Shown the strength of your arm; scatter the proud; bring down the powerful from their thrones; and lift up the lowly; fill the hungry with good things.
Let it be with us according to your word. Amen.