MAY IT BE TO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WILL
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:47-55; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
DECEMBER 24, 2017 – Fourth Sunday in Advent
How did it come to be Christmas so soon? It has been a busy season and it has come crashing into our lives on its own schedule, at its own time, in its own place and its own way.
But that is Christmas. It didn’t come the way Mary expected it. The whole thing was a surprise to Joseph. Last week, as we saw the story unfold in our pageant, there was a surprise at every turn.
For us, the Christmas story is the same year after year. Angels and shepherds, a census and no room at the inn. We know what is going to happen because we are looking back.
But they were looking forward, stepping onto a blank page. Th.ey didn’t know how the sermon was going to turn out yet because the story had not been written yet.
It was being written with each little challenge that they faced, and it was not as if they were writing it. It was writing them. Their story, so simple and harsh, would appear profound and beautiful to the whole world one day
The innkeeper must have wondered if the young woman’s time would come while she was in Bethlehem. It was too bad that the town was so full, with the census going on and all. But at least he had been able to let them stay somewhere out of the elements.
I try to think about what the shepherds must have thought about the news of the birth of a child… who would one day be great…in a stable that they should go see.
You would hate to miss something like this. Not even being in the middle of the path of totality of a total eclipse of the sun could match it. It had never happened before. It would never happen again.
The present moment was all they had to work with, and their presence was the only gift that they could bring with them. But they could make the right decision. They would be there.
In 1923, my hometown of Shelby became the smallest town ever to hold a world’s heavyweight championship fight. Jack Dempsey defended his title there against Tommy Gibbons.
It was an unlikely choice, to say the least. With all the uncertainty that can be reigned down upon such an august event, a little town of 1,000 souls somehow constructed a stadium that could hold 40,000 people.
Still, no one could say whether the fight would go on or not until Jack Dempsey got off the train and walked to the stadium.
Because of this uncertainty, 40,000 people did not show up with tickets in hand, but the locals…the oil men and the roughnecks, the real estate speculators, the cowboys and the store owners were there to get a look at the champ.
They knew the stadium was all but empty, and they crashed the gate to watch someone last 15 rounds with Jack Dempsey. Being eyewitnesses to that event was about all that those locals got out of the fight.Both banks in Shelby and one in Great Falls failed.
It was a fiasco for Dempsey, too. He said it was the only time he was more concerned about the crowd than the guy he was up against.
The fight has remained so famous because it was so improbable in the first place and so consequential… for everyone…in the outcome.
And all of that was small potatoes compared to what the shepherds were called to see. That was an event, a spectacle, an entertainment, announced in the spring to take place on the 4th of July.
The birth of the Christ was an event that the nation of Israel had watched and waited 500 years to see. It was an event that would divide time in two. There would be the years before Christ…the birth… and then the years of our Lord would run as far as history could see… then or now.
He changed the world. He changed the way we see it. He showed us God’s love and power and grace.
But the people who had waited for this great day failed to recognize it happening in their midst. A few shepherds came to see the infant mild…and that is about all.
The king of the country, Herod, didn’t hear about it until sometime after the event. And he heard it from foreigners who came from the East looking for the one to which a star was leading them.
There was this wonderful mix of greatness and desperate circumstance surrounding the holy family at the most important moment in human history.
Those who should have known could not see. Those no one saw in their midst…the shepherds…invisible servants of property owners…without any property themselves…could appreciate how important this moment was.
They had never heard a story this wonderful and now they were the ones who would have totell a part of the story to the world…or it would not be heard.
The last and the lost and the least were to be the heralds of the greatest event in history…greater than the Israel he came to save…greater than the Romans who were the current oppressors his people…greater than America, the New World, that would one day be a haven…for more of the world’s surprise actors than you would see in a Christmas pageant.
The least seem so close to the truly great…and the most powerful people of any day seem so far from the center of the action. They are distracted by matters of state…the petty issues of this world that occupy nations and ages.
When the child grew to manhood and began to display the powers of God, it was the poor and the lame, the lepers and the tax collectors, who were able to able to recognize him.
They had no dreams bigger than the man from Galilee to distract them from seeing the son of God when he was standing before them. They were not too proud to admit that something good could come out of Nazareth.
It is only humble eyes that can see him. Only humble ears can hear him. There is only room for him in a humble heart.
Leo Tolstoy was the greatest man in Russia in his day. His father had been a Count. He had written one of the clearest accounts of the defeat of Napoleon’s army…and of the reality of warfare…ever written by any one mind. He was an acknowledged genius throughout the world.
He was vastly wealthy and he was entangled forever in administrative matters that demanded his attention and kept him from thinking…and writing about what he thought.
One night as he labored he looked out his window.There were the serfs who labored in his fields for a humble place to sleep and enough food to live.
He was entitled to the fruit of their labor from sun to sun. He wanted for nothing when it came to the comforts of life.
That night these poor peasants were laughing and singing and dancing. Their children were playing together. They were happy.
He was miserable. He wasn’t living his life. His life was living him. This man who could relate the history of his nation in clear and compelling terms finally got a clear look at himself as a human being that night.
He gave an extraordinary amount of his property away, becoming a heroic figure to those who believed in the revolution that would come to Russia soon…and stirring his wife to object to what he was doing.
He experimented with celibacy, which only confused his wife. But he also corresponded with a young lawyer…a man of color by the name of Mohandas Gandhi…and shaped the course of his great life to come.
Jesus came to tell us that we do not have to be great or famous or politically powerful to do God’s will. We get it backwards when we think that.
We become the gift God meant to send into the world…we become as powerful as we will ever be…as wise as we have ever been…as capable as we can get…when we humble ourselves enough to ask, “Lord, what is it that you would do through me this day?”
Mother Teresa told us, “It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.” We have experienced the power of that thought of the importance of love in the life of our church this year.
It is not about wealth. It is about faith. It is not about power. It is about seeing clearly. It is about asking the question we all ask ourselves: What are we here for?
Lord, what is it that you would do through me today? How can I show you and everyone I meet my love for this life you have given me? How can I unwrap the last present …the one we leave under the tree every year? How can I become the light you sent me into the world to become?
And then listening with all our hearts for the answer. Not listening for the answer we want. Not even guessing what the answer might be.
Looking at what is there before us and around us…what good we might be able to do…what pain we might help our neighbors carry…what joy we might share with someone who is lonely.
This is a masterwork of the workshop of Paolo Veronese, one of the great Italian painters of the 16th Century. This work is dated 1585, about 100 years after Leonardo De Vinci.
Like De Vinci, he was the most systematic and subtle artist of his day in exploring the action, formal implications, and even expressive meanings of light upon color.
He could paint greatly because he saw greatly, and he could do that greatly because he looked with a humble heart. Here in his Annunciation we have the messenger of heaven visiting a powerless woman and giving announcing to her that she would be remembered as the mother of all glory…on earth and in heaven.
It is a wonderful, terrible destiny that could only be accepted by a true heart and a humble mind.
No one is imposing a decision on anyone else. The messenger is only a messenger. The recipient is only a young mother to be. What the meaning is of what happen this day, at this hour, remains to be seen, but the loving way the message is delivered and the loving way it is received, tell us that something good will come of it.
Lord, what is it that you would do through me this day? How can I let you love others through me? May it be to me according to your Word. Amen.