From These Shall Come Forth For Me One Who Is to Rule in Israel

The City of Evanston’s public libraries, fire stations, police department and community centers have ended their collection for the Mayor’s Annual Holiday Food and Toy Drive for local families.  Local Starbucks have had collection boxes available for toy donations. The Salvation Army’s Red Kettles can be seen outside countless businesses.  The Spirit of Christmas takes hold of our hearts and the best of human generosity is brought forth.  Last Sunday, we heard John the Baptist preaching to those who would be baptized, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”[i]  And in the parlor at St. Mark’s, our tree is filled with hats and gloves, mittens and scarves which will be shared this afternoon with the residents at Albany Care and later with students from District 65 through the Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association. 
But the texts for this Sunday – the last Sunday in Advent – while they continue their focus on the poor among us, shift directions markedly – not focusing on what we might do for the poor and the downtrodden but instead proclaiming what miraculous and mighty things God will bring forth from the poor and the downtrodden among us. 
First, we have the prophet Micah who proclaims, “But you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.”[ii]  These words spoken by the prophet are spoken to a people who have watched the Northern Kingdom fall to the Assyrians and have themselves only survived by paying a high price – “huge tributes, loss of . . . independence, and corruption of its traditions by the incorporation of religious practices of the dominant foreign power.”[iii]   It’s hard for me to imagine how Micah’s listeners would have heard these words:  a people who have nothing, a people who have been pushed down for so long that perhaps they are even beginning to believe that they are nothing – from this people shall come forth one who is “to rule in Israel. . . [to] stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.”[iv]
Then, we have the song of Mary – the Magnificat – and her pronouncement of God’s intention to turn everything and everyone upside down – the proud will be scattered, the mighty cast down, the lowly lifted up, the hungry filled, the rich sent away empty.[v]  All of this because the Lord “has looked with favor on his lowly servant,” Mary.[vi]  Women in the first century were subject to the authority of men – first their father and then, after marriage, their husband.   Some texts suggest that women were merely considered property; but others have said that by the first century this was beginning to change.  In either case, however, here is a young woman who has nothing and from this young woman shall come the Savior of a people.
I read this week that J. R. R. Tolkien “was grading papers from his students, when he came across a blank page. Apparently Tolkien was a bit of a doodler, and this blank space was all the inspiration he needed to write the sentence, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ That sentence went on to begin one of the most famous novels of 20th century English literature, The Hobbit.”[vii]  From a people oppressed by a foreign government to a young unwed woman without power to a blank piece of paper.  From these have come great things.  Where you and I see emptiness, poverty, brokenness, need or despair, God sees a future.   And God finds a space to write that future into being.  And all it took was willingness on the part of those who had little to be the instruments of God’s work.  
My colleague Heidi Haverkamp who is the rector at The Episcopal Church of St. Benedict in Bolingbrook has just published a book of advent reflections called Advent in Narnia.  In it she writes:
“The first Christmas came because of the power of God but also because of the willingness of ordinary people to prepare the way. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, some shepherds, and an innkeeper were watching, waiting, and willing to be part of God’s plan. Advent means the same for us: watching, waiting, and finding ways to enter into God’s plan. Jesus is coming. . . He will melt the power of sin, evil, and death. However, the work of God’s vulnerable but powerful love is also in our hands, now and until the day that Jesus will return.”[viii]
And, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I would suggest that “the work of God’s vulnerable but powerful love” is especially in the hands of the most vulnerable among us – those who believe they will never be enough, those who struggle on our streets, those whose parents tell them they love wrongly, those among us who are pressed down by the heavy burden of depression or anxiety, addiction or chronic fear, those whom society sets aside because they are too sick or too frail, too young or too old.  These are the very ordinary ones who can show us the way.  From these “shall come forth . . . one who is to rule in Israel . . . and he [or she] shall be the one of peace.”

[i] Luke 3:11.
[ii] Micah 5:2a (NIV).
[iii] Daniel J. Simundson, “The Book of Micah: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. VII, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 534.
[iv] Micah 5:2b, 4a.
[v] Luke 1:51-53.
[vi] Luke 1:48a.
[vii] Mark Winters, “God Doesn’t Need Much to Make Miracles Happen. . .” Season of Inclusion, (Chicago: Equality Illinois, 2015).
[viii] Heidi Haverkamp, Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 61.