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Micah 5:2-5a;Luke 1:46b-55;Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
December 23, 2018 –Fourth Sunday in Advent
We are analogue creatures in a digital world. That is why we all appreciate the power of the story.
We are humans, mortal and mindful…cautious and hopeful. We learn from experience…and we remember day by day…gathering wisdom as we accumulate layers of experience.
Stories tell us who did what when and where. Somewhere in the midst of the story we see a new truth or an old truth in a new way. It is how we learn.
So when the lawyer asked Jesus ‘Who is my neighbor?’, Jesus replied, ‘There once was a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…’ and we get the parable of the Good Samaritan.
When the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with sinners, he replied, “There once was a man who had two sons…” and we get the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Stories tell us how things work in a way we can understand the meaning in them.
A great gift to humanity is being able to see beyond the physical presence around us, to the truth that is right before us, looking us in the face.
We come to a deeper understanding of the meaning of life as we ponder the events we have witnessed and the narratives we have heard.
This morning we have three stories that tell part of the same story three different times, in three different ways. In Micah, we hear the prophecy of the story that has not yet happened but is sure to come to pass.
With Luke we hear the story as it takes place, as the event is unfolding. With our reading in Hebrews, the story is recounted once more, long after the day Jesus was born.
All three of them say the same thing, though. This was an extraordinary occurrence. It was full of centuries of meaning and truth. The way it all came about… with so much powerful meaning in it…shows once again that God was in the midst of it.
Micah anticipates the birth of a great ruler in the little village of Bethlehem. Hebrews tells us what it meant…that God was breaking into human history on the day that Jesus was born.
Luke’s first chapter is full of coincidence after coincidence, as Elizabeth conceives in old age and Mary conceives as a young maiden. One is too old, the other too young.
Both conceptions are wondrous, each in their own way. When the two women first see each other while they are each carrying their child,their gift to the world, we see which child is to serve the other as Elizabeth’s baby leaps in the womb in the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb.
Micah is an old, old story by the time the unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy. He writes as things are unraveling for Israel and Judah.
Some scholars think this was written around 722 BC as the Assyrians are overrunning the northern kingdom. Assyrians appear in the text.
Others think Micah was written as the southern kingdom fell to the Babylonians in 587-586 BC and darkness falls upon all of Israel, north and south. Babylon is mentioned in the preceding chapter.
Micah is harsh in his judgment of the sins of the people but by the time we get to this final fifth chapter, the prophet is still holding out hope that God will intervene one day to rescue God’s people.
Bethlehem is mentioned as the site where the birth of the Promised One will occur. This is the city of David’s clan and by pronouncing this oracle, Micah is harkening back to God’s promise that a member of David’s clan will sit upon the throne of Israel forever.
So Micah is looking back at the same time he is looking forward. Micah looks back to the day God promised an eternal dynasty on the throne of Israel at a time the walls were tumbling down.
He casts the vision forward to whoever hears this message. It is like a note in a bottle, thrown into the ocean of time. Watch for this to happen and when it does, you will know that this is the one.
He speaks of the time ‘when she who is in labor has brought forth.’ He is speaking of the birth of someone…or the dawning of some age. Is the prophet speaking literally or metaphorically?
The process will be a painful one, like the process of childbirth, but is he speaking literally of the birth of a baby? In Chapter 4, verses 9 and 10 he writes, “Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pangs have seized you like a woman in labor? Writhe and groan, O daughter Zion, like a woman in labor…”
Look for this sign. Wait faithfully. The time will surely come and then those who belong to The Way will gather to be led by him.
The talk of the king as a shepherd is multilayered. The job description for a king is about the same as the job description for a shepherd. Keeping the flock together…Feeding the flock…watching over the flock so that it thrives so greatly that any future threat to the border will produce seven shepherds and eight rulers.
The people will be so self-sufficient and self-reliant that no one will dare challenge them.
“We are scattered now,” the prophet proclaims, “but he will bring us back together and make us strong, and true and faithful.”
And what is it that David was doing when Samuel came to anoint him? He was a shepherd boy, the one who wrote to us, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Micah tells us that the Promised One will be the good king…and the Good Shepherd.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is still debated, whether it is Paul or a second generation follower of Christ… who wrote between 60 and 95 A.D.
It is written to a church that is under siege from all sides. You risk your life to follow The Way, to proclaim Jesus as your Savior, and Jesus came to give his life, his body, to the truth, too, just as you are called to do today.
The letter speaks of the day Christ came into the world and it tells us that he came to do God’s will. It is looking back, too…at the same time it is looking all around itself, speaking to all who will hear…at the same time is looking forward…to speak to us even today.
The letter is another note in a bottle on the ocean of time, giving thanks for all that has gone before, giving thanks that the Word has come forward to this day, casting itself outward to contemporaries and casting the vision forward into the future, that they, too…we, too… might have this hope.
Then there is Luke, our gospel writer and a physician, who is the only one who bothers to talk about the events leading up to Jesus’ birth.
The pregnancy of Zechariah and Elizabeth is like that of Abraham and Sarah, and of Hannah and Elkanah…unexpected, long after hope should have died…but it didn’t.
Where there is faith there is hope and where there is hope there is life. Sarah and Hannah and Elizabeth and Mary…Micah and Paul and Luke all send us their faith today …that we might receive with it their hope as well…that we might renew our faith with it….and find salvation in it.
They come to us as Mary, the mother of Jesus, went to see her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. At the sound of Mary’s greeting something marvelous springs to life within us…and our watchfulness awakens with it…and all things become new again.
Our little church dwelt in the darkness of debt for many years. By faith it had become a beautiful church with beautiful windows and light streaming in.
The Word was here, bringing the faith of ages with it to this wonderfully beautiful place by a great lake with pure waters…at the foot of mountains with ice-carved peaks. It is here that we are called to cast the vision of truth and love forward.
Then the debt began to disappear each month on schedule, then a little bit ahead of schedule, then quickly in leaps and bounds. We were struggling with pain like the pangs of a woman trying to bring new life into the world.
Today, we celebrate the dawning of a new day, the seed of faith has become fruit of hope as we move forward again…still…into the Word…and into the world.
It seemed so hard…so painful…so impossible …but now the day has arrived and I begin to think that…maybe…just maybe…the easy part is over now.
In labor we watch over the mother and worry for her as she carries the precious hope within her. Then when the child is delivered we watch over the child, who knows no fear or danger and thinks that they can have all things just by taking hold of them.
Then we begin to understand why a child needs two parents…because they are twice as active as either of the parents. The hopes and fears of all the years meet in the birth of any child, but the work is only beginning.
We must remember to also carry our faith with us into that new day. We need to press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
In 1902, people of faith bought a portion of Everett Sliter’s apple orchard so that it might one day become a church. In 1904 the first building was constructed on the southwest corner of Commerce Street and Electric Avenue became a recognizable place dedicated to worship for all who would gather to sing and pray and hear the Word.
In 1989, the sanctuary we see today was built, and in 2001 faithful people broke ground on our education wing. All of those efforts brought us to this new day.
What now shall this child become? Who will this unburdened child now choose to serve?
We have been working for as long as anyone can remember on the debit side of the ledger…holding on…waiting for the day when the potential of the child that we knew was there could be brought into the light.
Today, we begin to work from the credit side of the ledger, trying to see clearly, faithfully, what we might become. With Mary and Elizabeth and Sarah and Hannah, we should ponder all these things in our hearts.
It is not entirely unlike that day when the Julians took me on a little hike over in the Two Medicine country. We walked to the base of Red Mountain by the shores of Old Man Lake and then we began to climb the switchbacks, laboring to catch our breath and straining against the gravity. I wanted to stop for lunch but Don marched on ahead of us until he got to the top.
Then I could see why our leader would not pause until we reached Pitamakan Pass. Rocks that had been buried under a sheet of ice as thick as the mountains were tall and been sculpted out into a beautiful cirque.
As the ice melted the mountains became larger at their base and two bodies of water, a lake and a tarn, lay in their bosom. It was breathtaking, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Then I realized that the trail was still a long one and we had only gone half of the way. We would climb and trek along a mountain goat trail half of the rest of the way before we began to climb back down to the lake, then have to gently ease our way around a moose in the trail before we could get back to the lake and have the tour boat take us across the water and back to our point of beginning.
No one can take that day from me, and no one can take this day from us.
The days are not many and the hours but few
You can summit a pass with a life-changing view.
This moment comes back as another year ends.
I can do no better than to share it with friends.
Triumphant, I breathed, “This is the best!”
Then I recalled how I loved all the rest.
Peak moments are like that; dear friends are, too:
They stand out in time, and this day is for you.
O Lord what is it that you want to do through us this day? Amen