Sermon: December 23, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson

Micah 5:2-5a 2

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5 and he shall be the one of peace.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Today, Advent IV is so close to the Feast of the Nativity that culturally we have melded Advent IV (Mary Sunday) into Christmas. Whereas, it isn’t Christmas yet. I’ve had my usual representative small number of people ask me as to why we aren’t singing Christmas Carols like so many shopping malls and public places. So, in my Advent resistance I thought I would preach today on the prophet Micah and our psalm-gospel, or better known as the Magnificat, the Song of Mary. Micah was a 7th century prophet who lived approximately 300 years after the death of King David. Judah, the Southern Kingdom has suffered constant war, constant invasion, and domination by the Assyrians. The Hebrews have been forced to give over their land, their food, and their lives. How do these people maintain an identity as the chosen people of God/Yahweh in the midst of such assault? Things are pretty bad suffice it to say.

However, the prophet Micah speaks to a king who to come…not a bloody king, one who conquers on the battlefield, but a king who is a shepherd. This shepherd-king does not promise war victories or vengeance; however, this shepherd-king promises that all will be fed, be secure, and there will be peace. And this peace will be spread unto the ends of the earth. What an extraordinary prophesy not only for the time of Micah but also for us 21st century followers of Jesus.

And now to our gospel…recently, I was riding the T from Boston to Cambridge off to a long-standing appointment. While riding the train car with several other people aboard, my random fellow travelers became immediately aware of very pregnant woman riding the train along with us. Now this doesn’t sound terribly unusual, but this very pregnant woman announced quietly that she was currently having contractions. Instantly, the train car went on a sort of alert, not an amber alert associated with terrorism, but a happy alert perhaps associated with the color blue, even a Swedish sort of blue. Two middle-aged women immediately went to the expectant mother and offered assistance, a young 30-year old man offered his assistance, and I contemplated offering my services as a clergy-person. I ended up on my seat, quietly watching as I watched from across the aisle and prayed for everyone.

Meanwhile, during this unexpected subway ride, the expectant mother was on her cell phone calling the Cambridge Hospital and procuring a taxicab. Soon we reached the Central Square T stop and the mother jumped off the train and presumably up the stairs and to an awaiting cab that would whisk her off to Cambridge Hospital. I never knew her name and she was by herself. As soon as our unnamed mother departed, we T riders were back on journey. And, Amazingly enough, this was all done with a certain amount of quiet and order. In a strange and unexpected way, God showed up and Jesus stole his way into my heart on that mysterious T ride.

I cannot imagine the fear and wonder of that pregnant woman on the T. And, I cannot imagine the fear that the Blessed Virgin Mary must have experienced upon her knowledge of her mysterious pregnancy. I remind you of the following:

  • Mary is fourteen years old.
  • Mary is a maiden.
  • Mary is unmarried.
  • Mary, pregnant, can bring great shame on her family.

In ancient Israel the punishment of pregnancy outside of wedlock was probably due to adultery. Stoning could punish this. Imagine also her fear especially after a heavenly being calling himself Gabriel tells her this is God’s will.

Mary runs to her older cousin Elizabeth who is miraculously pregnant in her advanced age. Elizabeth is much like other previous amazing Biblical women: Sarah of Abraham and Sarah and Hannah, the aged mother of Samuel, the first prophet of Israel that heralds King Saul and directly after, the greatest Hebrew King of all, David.

When Mary arrives, the Elizabeth’s unborn son, John, leaps in her womb at the presence of Mary and her unborn child. The Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth, Mary and the unborn John and Mary utters this:

46 My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

This is a poetic song, an ecstatic utterance of a girl who comes from the sticks, who has no identity, no station in life, no money. She is pregnant, unmarried, and with no agency in life.

But this pregnant girl is brave. And this song is not one of victim-hood. THIS is a song of empowerment. This song speaks of God’s promises much like our prophet Micah does. The king who comes will come with mercy, with compassion, and will feed us with good things. But this king will also judge those who are vainly proud, those in power, and those who abuse wealth with greed. What extraordinary promises are these. AMEN

Let us pray: As we prepare for the coming of the baby in Mary’s womb, the Christ, help us to ponder Mary’s song in our hearts, a song of empowerment, a song of promise, and a song of the Shepherd that will feed us, will secure us, and give us peace. AMEN