Readings: Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:26-55
Peace be with you!
Take a moment and think about a person who society (or you) view as insignificant. It could be the person with whom you have the least in common. It could be the person who represents everything you are against. It could be the person who grew up in a different country. It could be the person who society recommends staying away from. It could be the person who has no power to influence politicians. It could be the person who has a disability. It could be the person who has a different lifestyle. It could be the person who is from the wrong neighborhood. There are various reasons why we overlook people; most of the reasons stem from what the world says about these people—they are not good enough, not like us, or are useless.
In an ordinary place, Micah predicts the coming of God’s power from “one of the little clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2b NRSV). Although we may be quick to think of the promise of the Messiah, it’s easy to miss the ongoing promise of the restoration of God’s people. God continues to promise to lift people up in their suffering and to restore them to new life. As a prophet, Micah rebukes the ethical code the wealthy are living by—taking away land and inheritances away from the poor (2:1-5), evicting widows (2:9), cheating their customers (6:10-11), and taking bribes (7:3). Micah also challenges the religious authorities for only speaking to their own needs: “who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths” (3:5).[i] Micah proclaimed the promise of restoration to the Israelites when the northern kingdom and Jerusalem were being threatened by the Assyrian nation. Melinda Quivik writes, “It was a call for the Israelites to put their trust in God and to remain faithful to him. The great rhetorical summation of Micah’s preaching—‘[W]hat does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (6:8)—permeates both Micah’s prophetic word, and in truth, the teachings of Jesus.”[ii] Micah calls the Israelites to care for the needy—the poor, the disabled, the homeless, and the powerless. Mary’s song and Jesus’s coming echo this message, because the needs of God’s people never go away.
In a humble way, God chooses a virgin to give birth to his son (Luke 1:26, 31). The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she has found favor with God and will be pregnant with God’s son by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:30-31, 35). The angel goes on to say how her son will reign over the house of Jacob from the throne of David and will be called the son of the Most High (Luke 1:32-33). Mary accepts God’s calling, as a faithful servant, and acknowledges God’s power to make the impossible possible (Luke 1:37-38). Before leaving, the angel tells Mary her relative who was barren is now pregnant (Luke 1:36).
In a humble fashion, Mary rushes to visit her relative, Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). Upon Mary arrival, Elizabeth’s child kicks in her belly, and she is overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). The unborn child alerts Elizabeth to Mary’s condition and the identity of her unborn child, therefore confirming what the angel told Mary. Elizabeth exclaims,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:42-45 NRSV).
Even before he is born, Elizabeth becomes the first faithful servant of Jesus and the first faithful role model for Mary. Elizabeth allows the Holy Spirit to lead her to bless Mary and to rejoice with her about the news of her unborn son. Mary proclaims,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:46–55 NRSV).
God calls upon ordinary women who are overlooked by society. Elizabeth has been barren, which was a disgrace to her family, and now she is too old to have a child; in fact, even her husband second-guessed the angel’s announcement (Luke 1:18). Mary is a poor girl who is pregnant out of wedlock—an offense that could get her stoned. In biblical times, women did not get much of a voice. However, both Elizabeth and Mary have lengthy monologues, express their faith in the Mighty One, and are filled with the Holy Spirit. God empowers these women with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news to the world. Despite their youth and old age, he blesses these women with being mothers to his agents in the world.
God uses ordinary women to reverse social standards. Elizabeth is pregnant in her advanced age after being barren and disgraced her whole life. Now, she is honorable with being pregnant with her husband’s son. Elizabeth continues to challenge social standards when she welcomes Mary, an unmarried pregnant girl, with open arms into her home, even with the threat of social judgment and shame. Elizabeth blesses Mary as the mother of the Mighty One who will be praised by present and future generations (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth blesses Mary, because she is glad and faithfully accepts the calling. With his divine power, God overturns the social standard that would bring Mary pain and disgrace and causes her to be honored by future generations.
God blesses individuals who are deemed by society to be insignificant. Both Elizabeth and Mary have no significant roles in society. Elizabeth has even been a disgrace to her husband by being barren. Mary has disgraced her future husband by being pregnant before their wedding. However, God calls upon Elizabeth and Mary to bring him honor and praise by making them mothers of his agents. God gives Elizabeth and Mary a role in his bigger plan.
As Judith Jones writes, “May we, like Elizabeth and Mary, trust that God is coming to save and free us. May we, like them, give thanks that God has taken away our shame and then respond to God’s love by welcoming the shameful. May we, like them, become a community that supports each other as we hope and wait.”[iii]
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for taking away our shame and using us anyway. Help us to welcome the disgraced and insignificant into our lives and homes. Lead us to be blessings to others. Thank you for continuing to bless us. Amen.
[i] Melinda Quivik, “Commentary on Micah 5:2-5a,” Working Preacher, 7 December 2015, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1484.
[iii] Judith Jones, “Commentary on Luke 1:39-45, (46-55),” Working Preacher, 8 December 2015, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2723.