“The Hand That Rocked the Cradle”
Advent 4 – Year C – December 23, 2018
What a time of magic and delight! Regardless of one’s age, we can’t help but being caught up in the sense of awe and wonderment. It is the stuff of pageants and parades. Here we encounter some of the most beautiful poetry and drama one could imagine.
A lowly, young teenager is awestruck that God has chosen her to bear a most amazing child. Imagine, a servant girl is the one that God has chosen to be the bearer of our Redeemer! A young peasant gal from a tiny, no name Judean town was blessed with a child who would change the course of her life, and that of yours and mine. The hand that rocked the cradle brought new life into the world. The hand that rocked the cradle shaped the values of the Messiah.
Or, at least that is how the story is told. Another understanding is that of an adolescent girl visiting her cousin Elizabeth. Both women amazingly pregnant. Perhaps they were the talk of the town and knew they needed each other. Perhaps they knew that their pregnancies were exceptional and could not have happened without the astounding intervention of God. Perhaps it is a tale of exceptional mystery.
Isn’t there a sense in which the birth of Christ within us as individuals, or within our communities, is always a miracle and a bit of a scandal? When someone, or a group, starts to act in a way that is different, or contrary to the usual norms of the town; tongues will wag. Christ has always been a scandal. When we are full of him, probably we will be too. And today, I’m full of Christ. What about you? He is my hope for a love filled world. He is my hope for a peace filled world.
The prophet Micah proclaims, “he shall be the one of peace.” Not only the one who speaks of peace, but the One of peace. He will transform all of our dreams and ideals of peace into something tangible – a human life. His life will show us that the power of peace and the strength of God are best revealed in human weakness. He will be peace incarnate, and he will change forever the shape of our dream of God.
Peace will no longer be merely the absence of war and bloodshed, God will smile on our attempts to attain it, but this peace will always be mysteriously out of reach. It will no longer reside in the false contentment that the world offers, but in the hearts of those who know God. The peace of God beyond our understanding will be the source of our longing, our inspiration, and the font of our strength.
From now on, peace will be synonymous with Christ, God-with-us, the one we call the Prince of Peace.
The poet George Herbert noted that the letters by which we spell the name “Mary”, the mother of Jesus, can also spell the word “army.” Is there some kind of connection being made here between the name of Mary and the forces of death and violence? Does this lowly adolescent also hold within her a confrontation with the forces of death? It is a point for pondering, don’t you think?
We often hear about famous people who grew up in small towns in trying circumstances. In our reading from Micah the people are told that God will bless them with a shepherd-king from Bethlehem, “one of the smallest towns in Judah.” Imagine! Our Christ, born in a nothing town, much smaller than Penticton. And yet we know the name Bethlehem as commonly as we know Vancouver. This unlikely sovereign, descended from King David – whose father also came from Bethlehem – will he bring peace and security to the people? Because we know the story, we realize that the answer is a resounding “maybe.” The peace and security that Jesus offers is not a watered down absence of war nor unending comfort. Instead, Jesus presents to us a model of radical love that calls for welcome to all.
Micah, the lyrical prophet of the 8th century BCE, called the poor and oppressed “my people”. He lashed out against the greed of wealthy land grabbers who impoverished peasant farmers. Having grown up in a small town, he was witness to the misery of the destitute. To Micah, great leadership could only be born among those who had experienced hardship. We hear the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” playing in the background, as we think of the small town where Christ was born.
As I listen to and read the daily news, I can’t help but hear Mary’s poem as a backdrop. Are the Guatemalan refugees seeking new homes in Columbia, the poor that Mary speaks of? Are the Mexican border crossers any different than Mary, seeking new life amongst welcoming throngs? Is God the merciful One for all the world’s people? Is Penticton home to Christ? Will we welcome an impoverished, pregnant, unwed teenager into the fellowship of this congregation? Will we do so without condemnation and comment?
A Chilean woman writes:
“With pride and dignity I sing my song of joy
When I feel the Lord’s presence;
I am poor and very ordinary,
But one day the Lord looked upon me
And the history of the poor
Will give witness to my joy.
God is unfettered and unpredictable,
God is called our great friend.
And throughout our history
God has favoured those of us who are weak.
God triumphant force
Shows itself each day when
God exposes the foolishness of the powerful.
God uncovers the feet of clay of those in power,
And nourishes the yearning of the poor.
To those who come hungry
God gives bread and wine.
And to the wealthy
God exposes their selfishness
And the emptiness of their ways.
This is God’s desire:
Always to favour the poor.
Now finally we can walk.
God is faithful to God’s promises.”
May it be so. Amen.