SERMON — The Bawling, Puking Promise of God

I didn’t preach last Sunday, but if I had, it would have looked something like this.

Advent 4 (Year C)

  • Micah 5:2-5a
  • Hebrews 10:5-10
  • Luke 1:39-55

2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
5 And he shall be their peace.
(Micah 5:2-5 ESV)

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
(Luke 1:46-55 ESV)

Do not be afraid. If there’s a single message I think you could boil down all of scripture to — all of Israel’s encounter with this strange God of ours — it wouldn’t be “God loves you,” as appealing and as true as that is.

It would be: DO NOT BE AFRAID.

Because we have so much to be afraid of. It’s hard to start with our fears — we have so many.

But all our fears begin and end with the fear of loss and the fear of death. All of them. Anything else we fear begins there.

And God, telling Israel, over and over again, as Israel experiences loss and death, conquest and exile — DO NOT BE AFRAID.

Our Micah reading is a reading of hope. From Bethlehem, the tiniest of cities, shall come a ruler. And not just any ruler, but one whose origin if from of old, from ancient days, and he shall shepherd the flock that is God’s people, and they shall dwell secure in them. “He shall be their peace,” Micah writes.

But missing from this reading is the context of Micah’s proclamation. This promise comes in the midst of war and violence.

Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
on the cheek. (Micah 5:1 ESV)

It begins with an act of violence, a siege, a humiliation. And this promise of peace in this shepherd who is from ancient days is immediately followed by a promise of war — against Assyria as it comes to invade. Shepherds of Israel shall rise to lead battle against the Assyrians, and they, in turn, shall “shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword.” The promised ruler, the promised shepherd who will deliver peace, will do so in a battle against those who have come to conquer. Who have conquered.

That’s the promise Mary understand here when she sings this song. She knows who her redeemer is. She knows the fulfillment of the promise of God.

And she knows that redeemer is coming.

Let’s be clear what that fulfillment is. It isn’t morning in America, or making America great again, or a man from hope, or change we can believe in, or a new deal or a square deal or a fair deal for everyone, or liberty, equality, and brotherhood. It isn’t workers of the world unite. It isn’t a political program or a campaign for office or even a set of ideas.

Redemption is a tiny baby, growing inside her. This scattering of the proud is a bawling, puking, helpless child that cannot even care for himself. This bringing the mighty down from their thrones is a newborn presented to the priest for circumcision and the regular offering for first-born sons. This exalting of the humble is a man who will wander the country, preaching and teaching and healing. This filling the hungry with good things is a Lord who multiply loaves and fishes and feed thousands. This sending the rich away empty is a teacher who will say “follow me” to poor fishermen and outcast tax collectors, making them the first receivers and bearers of the good news of God’s restored kingdom for God’s people Israel.

This helping of servant Israel and remembering God’s promises is a man who die innocent on a cross for the sins of God’s people, rising again to fulfill all of the promises God made long ago to a man named Abraham as he wandered what is now a war-scarred land.

Mary knows this. Zechariah knows this. Simeon the temple priest knows this too, and so doesAnna the prophetess. They all know. They have looked into the face of their salvation and seen a tiny, helpless child who cannot even save himself. And they are glad. They celebrate. The world is changing, and God is acting, and God’s people will soon be delivered from their humiliation and conquest, from their exile, from their occupation. From the enemies in their midst who rule them harshly, without mercy or pity.

God has acted. God’s people are being delivered.

By one who cannot even save himself.

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