Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 23 December 2018.
The paradoxes just do not stop. If anything they increase and multiply, so that whatever we expected comes to be inverted.
The great and the mighty are not chosen to fulfil the purposes of God, no matter how great their cities, their armies, or their economies.
God did not choose the might of Egypt, or Babylon or Rome or Greece to reveal the fullness of His plans, but a wandering Aramaean herder who was moved to leave Ur of the Chaldees for a place he did not even know but would be shown.
Even when Israel had become established, she was not spared invasion, occupation, the destruction of her cities and the temple in Jerusalem. She suffered exile – but yet somehow was not defeated or destroyed.
There was an inner mystery in which she survived and would give birth to the One long expected, the Messiah foretold and hoped for but whose hope was so easily suppressed by the daily business of earning a living, paying taxes, fending off the intrusions of officialdom and keeping the family and in-laws happy.
But then there really was a promise and that promise really was going to be fulfilled. The least of the cities of Judah would indeed bring forth one to be far more than just another baby in a world full of sorrow and need.
Bethlehem would not be known today but for that prophecy and the events that fulfilled it. It would be just another suburb of Jerusalem which in better and more settled times might be quite desirable, but otherwise was a little shabby and unkempt.
But then the quality of the surroundings was never going to determine the outcome of the promise, and that is part of the nature of the promise: hidden until revealed, insignificant until its global and eternal importance comes into focus.
And so yes, the promise of Micah is important as it points to One to rule Israel, to be a shepherd to the flock of the Lord, standing beside it, feeding it and leading it day by day.
This was to be the One of Peace who would be great to the ends of the earth. His glory would be unrivalled by any amount of personal fashion or magnificent architecture and it would easily surpass anything that any number of armies might achieve.
But His achievement would be consummated in the way He surrendered Himself and not just in His teaching or miracles. His purpose would be to pour Himself out totally and extravagantly, without reserve or restraint.
He would hold nothing back relying wholly on the vindication of God, and a vindication that would extend even into the grave and the place of the departed.
This would be a battle already won but which would still have to be fought, without thought of escape or evasion.
And so Mary also entered that paradox and mystery.
She would accept a call of God which would change her beyond all other forms of motherhood. It would demand all she was and had and yet she would have to let go of the thing that was most precious to her.
She would have to let go of Jesus and allow Him to pursue that mission entrusted to Him by God His Father.
She would always be there for Him, following Him to Jerusalem and yet unable to intervene or assist. She would watch as Jesus made His triumphant entry to Jerusalem and yet which then turned to dust and ashes as the disputes developed as they were bound to do.
So yes, Mary’s soul was indeed going to magnify the Lord and she would indeed worship God her Saviour. Jesus would also save Mary from the curses of Adam and Eve, in all her humanity.
As the younger woman went to greet her elder cousin, the infant John would also rejoice at the sound of her voice and would leap for joy.
The older woman, rejoicing in having a child at long last, would also learn to let him go into the ministry that God had appointed for him, even to imprisonment and death.
And yet she also was to recognize that Mary was going to take precedence over her and the carpenter was going to take precedence over the priest of the temple.
For both women lives full of impossibilities were going to find a new kind of focus.
The things that they had thought to be beyond imagining were going to happen but would set up new agendas for their lives.
Perhaps the thing that we also can take away is that we too can place all the paradoxes and impossibilities of life into the hands of God. As we do so we give Him space to be sovereign in our lives, especially in those areas which we so want to guard and protect for ourselves.
It is in the thing that is the most precious that we are also able to honour God the most, the thing that bleeds most inside of us, the incident of which we cannot speak and the hope that we cannot utter.
For some the idea of a virgin birth is impossible. For others it is bringing forth that which is most tender and hidden that is even further beyond imagining or expectation.