Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You are NOT too little...

Sermon for Advent IV, preached Sunday, December 20, 2009

Remember the 1999 Superbowl TV commercial where children shared their aspirations and dreams... ''When I grow up, I want to file all day. I want to claw my way up to middle management. Be replaced on a whim. I want to have a brown nose. I want to be forced into early retirement...'' The ad appealed to our desires of greatness within the reality of the humble existence most of us live. The truth is that we allow ourselves to be boxed by all sorts of limitations – some of them thrust upon us from others and others we placed upon ourselves. We live everyday with the fears that we will never be big enough for this or smart enough for that or rich enough for this or courageous enough for that... but today we heard the prophet say to a little village lost in a sea of greatness – you are not too little to belong to God.

This little village that meant nothing to anyone, meant everything to God. You, little Bethlehem, too small to be counted and forgotten by all... The Lord has great things in store for you. Think of the history there. Bethlehem was lost in comparison to mighty Ahaz the King. Ahaz was great but what kind of greatness? A King who refused to ask the Lord for the sign the Lord was poised to give, who sacrificed his own sons to pagan gods, who nailed the temple doors shut and closed off Israel to the grace of God. Think about it, I had to remind you about Ahaz but you already knew about Bethlehem. Such is the promise of greatness that comes from the Lord.

Israel the once proud and mighty nation that became evil, abusing the poor and corrupting the young... Israel who lied and cheated to win instead of trusting in the Lord. Israel’s greatness was but a faint memory of David and Solomon amid its losses and wounds. Yet the little burg of Bethlehem is remembered by a whole world. Such is the promise of greatness that comes from the Lord.

Those who strive to make themselves great may buy a few minutes of fame in the history of the world but they lie gone and forgotten in the great scheme of things. Yet those whom the Lord makes great are remembered forever, by people who are not even of the household of God, and in the annals of human history until time is no more. Such is the promise of greatness that comes from God.

Today we heard about Mary, an unknown Virgin who had nothing to offer God but her humility. Hardly a candidate for greatness – there were many who thought they would be remembered forever but Mary was not one of them. She was content to be a servant of God – however that worked out. And now all generations call her blessed and hail the greatness of the woman who became the Mother of God.

She had every right to fear. What would Joseph do when he found out? Her fears proved justified because when he did, he was ready to cast her aside – until the Lord intervened to preserve this family that would become home to His own Son. What would people think of her – unmarried and pregnant? She had every right to fear because the world was filled with the hypocritical moral outrage that delighted in picking someone, and making them an object lesson for right and wrong, with the help of a few well placed stones. But instead of being remembered for moral failure, Mary is remembered for virtue – the very model of faith, whose trust in the Lord was vindicated eternally.

She had every reason to be afraid – the Word from the Lord was simply unbelievable. Who would believe such a story and how could she believe it herself? It was inconceivable that God would take on flesh and blood but even more that He would choose an anonymous Virgin from the wrong home town. But Mary did not reject this out of the world promise of God.

She offered every reason why she was not a good candidate for God’s grace – she was a Virgin, a nobody, who had nothing to offer God. But in the end, she consented to His will, she yielded to His grace. And now the world knows the name of this young maiden whom God chose to be the Mother of our Lord. Such is the nature of God’s grace to make great what is humble.

We always have excuses why we are not the right person, why we have nothing to offer, why somebody else should do the bidding of our God. Sadly this is often a false humility. We say we cannot because we do not want to or we choose to believe we are too small for God because we lack confidence in His grace. The Lord insists that those whom He has set apart for His Kingdom lack nothing they need to accomplish His purpose in their lives. We are not too small for the Lord – if we trust in the power of His grace. We are not too small for the Lord – if we have confidence in how big is His grace...

Little Bethlehem was not too little for God to use this village and now everyone knows the name of this hamlet made great by the Lord. In the silence of one night, a baby’s cry kept the promise of God and made this little village the greatest city on earth, the birthplace of hope for sinners forgiven and for the dead to be raised to life eternal. Such is the nature of God’s grace to make great what is humble.

And Mary was not too little. She was a nobody with nothing to offer the Lord and yet His grace found a home in her, she trusted in the Lord, consented to His will and become the Mother of God and the model of faith for billions of Christians. Her shame became her glory by the power of God’s grace. Such is the nature of God’s grace to make great what is humble.

Now... what about YOU? You come here with nothing but sin and death hanging over you. You come here with fear in your heart, trying to believe. You come here with every excuse why the Lord should not be interested in you, why somebody else should be chosen to do His bidding... But God invites you to offer Him your shame so that He can transform you with His grace. Our Lord Jesus Christ invites you to bring to Him all your sin, that He may forgive it... all your fears that He may calm you with His presence.... all your failings and failures that He may clothe you with righteousness... all your illness, afflictions and death, that He may heal you with His grace to eternal life... all your death that He may give you life and this life in abundance... all your excuses and lack, that He may supply you all the resources you need to do His bidding in your life... We are not too small because God’s grace is greater than all our sin, all our lack, and all our need.. Such is the nature of God’s grace to make great what is humble.

So if you insist that your sin cannot be forgiven, that you are not good enough or strong enough to belong to the Lord or do His bidding... the Lord does not dispute your humility but asks you to trust in His grace. Do you trust Me?, He says. And then He points you to a forgotten village remembered forever as the birthplace of His Son... a nobody who become the Mother of our Lord... the God who notices the humble but ignores the proud... who does not look for greatness in us but promises to make great those who bring to Him their sin, their failure, and their death... turning us from nobodies into His eternal somebodies... So bring your shame, bring your fears, and bring your excuses and lay them before the Lord... and see what His grace can do. For the God whom Jesus Christ reveals is the God whose grace makes great what is humble. Amen

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