Our Forever King, Fourth Advent, December 21, 2008, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Oakland
Fourth Advent, December 21, 2008
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Oakland
2 Sam 7:1-11, 16 Psalm Luke 1:46b-55 Rom 26:26-38 Luke 1:26-38
Our Forever King
In our first lesson we heard the promise that God made to David that his house should rule forever. In Advent we celebrate the fact that God kept that promise, God fulfilled that promise through a lowly and humble, I would have to say little girl, because commentaries claim she could have been twelve or thirteen years old! God does not see those who consider themselves something, who are great in their own eyes and place themselves along-side God or feel themselves to be above others. God’s eye is on the sparrow, that means God sees the humble and lowly and when we are way down there, God sees us best of all, that’s according to Martin Luther. Luther once compared himself to great theologians, saying if he would be allowed to mix himself, poor mouse-dirt with pepper. That is pretty humble. “God brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly” (Luke 1:52).
That’s why we sing, “I’m so glad Jesus lifted me!” But how can Jesus lift us, when we won’t get off the high horse we are riding? “God opposes the arrogant but gives grace to the humble” (James 4.6).
“So we have to be as humble as the dust,” in the words of the Mahatma Gandhi, “in order to do the work of the truth.” That is the forever way in the forever Kingdom under the forever King, and this lowly virgin, Mary is his mother, the one chosen to bear Jesus.
In the world of that day and most often still in this one, as my sisters used to say, “It’s a man’s world!” The men were important and women were not. History is filled with the exploits of men and not one man could have lived, moved, or had any being if they had not been born from a woman: but they wrote history as if women did not exist.
Thus it is beautiful the way the Gospel features women here and even reckons time, measures time, by the pregnancy of Elizabeth, Mary’s kinswoman. It says that the angel Gabriel comes to Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, that is, the end of the second trimester.
Now we just hear another verse in the same song of the forever Kingdom. “O Lord, hear our humble-cry.”Elizabeth, like Sarah of old, was barren and already quite aged. To be a woman was lowly enough, as orthodox men prayed in those days, “Thank you God that I was not born a woman!” But on top of that, Elizabeth was barren, which was a real stigma, an embarrassment because she could not even fulfill the reason for her existence, as most men thought in that day. So she was considered a failure and even all the women looked down upon her. Not God. God fulfills the promise made to David through her, just like through Hannah of old, who was the mother of Samuel: because God makes the barren woman the happy mother of a house-full of children and the mother of many children, lonely and forlorn.
When the young Mary asks the angel Gabriel how she could become pregnant, if she did not know any man, Gabriel gives her the sign of Elizabeth: the barren woman, your kinswoman, your relative, is pregnant. And if God can open the womb of a barren woman already way along in years, “then nothing is impossible for the word of God to do. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and therefore the child born of you, will be holy and will be called Son of God.”
That Elizabeth should become pregnant was a miracle. That Mary should become pregnant with the Holy One of Israel was a greater miracle still.
Mary surrenders and submits completely in the way of a virgin, to use that definition of a virgin. “Here I am. Let it be with me according to your word.” Let me become what you have called me to be, the mother of God! Mother Mary is a model of faith for us, even greater than father Abraham. She shows us how to submit to God and say, “Let me become what you have called me to be, that is a child of God, and do whatever you have called me to do, O God, no matter the obstacles.”
You can’t take faith to mean merely believing a few statements about God to be true. Faith is dreadful struggle a person goes through, trusting God through it all. After all, the messenger of God is telling Mary that she will be pregnant. Bringing a baby into this world is hard enough, but she is going to get into real trouble with her betrothed, Joseph, who is waiting the year before he will take her in the wedding parade to his own house. And that might be the end of her wedding and her marriage. Joseph could reject her and she could also forfeit her life for this pregnancy outside of wedlock.
But the righteous Joseph covered her with his righteousness and God spoke to Joseph in dreams just like God spoke in dreams to the old Joseph, who ruled Egypt under the Pharaoh. Both Josephs were guided by God through their dreams. Thus Mary and Joseph called their child Jesus, just like Elizabeth and Zechariah called their son, John.
The sign that the angel gave Zechariah, when he did not believe God’s word, was worse than the one he gave Mary. When Zechariah asks Gabriel, how he could know that his promise would be fulfilled, “because I am an old man and my wife, too, is getting on in years,” the angel replies, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. But now because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur” Luke 1:20). Imagine that! Zechariah is in the middle of a service and he has to motion and make signs to the congregation.
It is quite a punishment to make a pastor mute. Speaking is what a pastor is about and usually they love to speak the most. Taking away a pastor’s speaking disables the pastor completely from carrying out the service.
My sister Johanna has ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease and she can no longer speak. She helps herself by writing her words on a pad and letting us read them. She can be really funny too. When Tirzah, my other sister and she went to a doctor’s appointment, they showed me pretty nearly all the food in the house. “Look, you can eat this or that. Look at this.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll fix something.” I said.
So Hanna wrote, “Don’t starve to death for heaven’s sake!” When I tried to figure out if I forgot to visit anybody in my large family, she wrote, with a twinkle in her eye, “You’ve seen me, who else matters?” She can still laugh and make us laugh, that’s for sure.
A niece of mine brought her a computer upon which she could type her words and whenever she hit space, a voice would say the word. She’s a fast typist so it worked quite well. She could choose a man’s voice, a beautiful woman’s voice, an angry voice; nineteen voices all together. Imagine, she can no longer speak and now she has nineteen voices to choose from!
Zechariah, too, had to ask for a tablet and he wrote, “His name will be John!” ending the controversy over the name and with that his voice came back. You can read all about that in this first chapter of Luke.
Mary had a far greater struggle in her situation, but she came through and said, “Let it be to me according to your Word.” Like Mary, we also have to place ourselves totally in God’s hands – even going through childbirth, a rejected woman, and even in a stall for animals, when there was no room for them in the inn. What a human being has to go through!
It’s the faith of Mary that we celebrate. It’s the joy that does not count the suffering, as she goes running from Nazareth to the Judean hill town where Elizabeth lived to share the good news with her.
And no matter what we have to go through, let us also say, as we grow older, feel all those aches and pains, take all the hits and experience all our losses, *“Let happen to me what you promised, O God!” Yes, we believe what you have promised to us, like Mary did. She was a woman of God’s word, who brought forth, kept, and brought up the Word of God for us, the infant Jesus, Son of God. She did not only have Jesus in her womb, she also pondered the word of God in her heart.
Bethlehem here has become humble and lowly. That gives us the opportunity to be the apple of God’s eye. So let us believe God’s promises to our congregation. Let us surrender and submit to God, just like Elizabeth, just like Mary, just like the city Nazareth, to sing the humble tune once more. “What good could possibly come out of Nazareth?” It was completely insignificant. The town could not even afford a rabbi, but the greatest rabbi ever, was born there because of the faith of Mary. And he was more than a rabbi. He was the forever King of the forever Kingdom in which the forever people say, “Here we are Lord: take our lives and carry out your promises, because we are your servants and we will be forever yours. Amen.
 Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), page 123.