THE BIRTH OF THE NEW CREATION
Micah 5: 2-5a; Luke 1: 46-55
There have been plenty of fiery debates about when life begins, but I have heard fewer discussions about when salvation was created. In our anthem today: Tschesnokoff declares that “Salvation is created” and then the people and the angels praise God with “Alleluias” which means they give God praise! The words to prepare for worship today were written by John Brownlow Geyer in 1967 when he was a tutor at Cheshunt College, Cambridge. Says Geyer: “At that time a good deal of work was going on round the corner (involving a number of American research students) producing living cells. The hymn attempts to illustrate the Christian doctrine of baptism in relation to those experiments.” [Linda Jo McKim, The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993, 495] But the words to the first line of our “words to prepare for worship” seem to describe the Christ of Bethlehem. It is a reading from the gospel of John, at the end of our Christmas Eve services that will declare: “In the beginning (meaning at the creation of the world) the Word was with God (that Jesus Christ was there!) and the Word was God! (Jesus Christ is one of the persons of God) … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us! (” [exclamations mine] Did you note Geyer’s words in your bulletin? “A new creation comes to life and grows.” (Could that describe the eternal Christ who was in the beginning and the end; who came to earth to dwell as Jesus Christ; who was prophesied to be born on earth in Bethlehem; and who was born with unfortunate timing for the young and unmarried Mary, but who was born with divinely providential timing?) Matthew quoted Isaiah who, seven hundred years earlier, said, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called ‘Immanuel.’ All of a sudden a teenage girl, not married to a man but promised to him, is told she is expecting a child; and he is not the father! To the human race that information would be called ‘good news.’ We are amazed that Mary indicates no anxiety about sharing this news with her mother, her father, or her betrothed. The song continues: “As Christ’s new body takes on flesh in blood.” That is the doctrine of Christmas called the Incarnation. It’s the time when God became flesh and lived among us on Earth. That is the heart of Christmas; And the story unfolds in the little town of Bethlehem. Geyer’s words conclude Tschesnokoff concludes his salvation anthem: with a restored universe that sings “alleluia!” A restored universe singing “Alleluia!” is the motivation that drives the holy heart of God. That’s what God wants to hear! Perhaps some people can’t wait until Christmas, and others until their wedding, and others until retirement, but God can’t wait until the universe is restored, delivered from its pockets of killing, and greed, and jealousy, and brokenness. So this week, the earth or more specifically the human race, may not yet celebrate the fulfillment of salvation, but it will celebrate its birth.
When will you date your own salvation? Is it when you were born because you were, even then, a child of God, loved by God? Is it from your profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior? Or do you date your salvation from the first Easter when Jesus arose from the dead; or from the first Christmas when “Christ the Savior” was born? This will be a season of personal recognition for many insightful people who will name the time when they knew that salvation was theirs.
Ages ago when the Northern Kingdom of Israel still existed because the Assyrians had not yet conquered its capital, Micah was preaching to any political figure and common citizen who would listen. His words were directed in exceptionally harsh ways to his faithless fellow citizens who had allowed oppression to flourish and government to grow increasingly crooked. Micah had no use for politicians because they allowed gross injustices to continue. Micah, who had heard from God in the matter, was pegging his hopes on a person in the line of David who would carry on the great tradition of justice and peace. Ever since King David chose Jerusalem as his capital, his hometown of Bethlehem had become less and less significant. Yet it was still the hometown of the King! It was where David’s father and his grandfather were from! Micah believed God when God told him that another king, also a shepherd king, who would be a proponent of peace and justice, would be born in Bethlehem. With the long lens of Christianity, we look with excitement as the glass slipper fits the infant foot of a baby born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary. She was not having a child by her fiancé Joseph, much to his early surprise and his later acceptance. She was having a child by God. Who would have believed it? Even Mary wasn’t sure that the angel who delivered the message to her had all the answers: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” as the gorgeous King James Version puts her question. (Luke 1:34) When Mary hears the explanation she says “Very well,” or in King James, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1: 38) And then, it is almost as if Mary knew the passion of Micah, the issues of Micah, and perhaps even the issues of God. Out of this young woman’s mouth come words that begin with glory, but they continue with the threat of condemnation like the sermons that Micah must have preached. Listen to this so called “Song of Mary:” “His mercy is for those who fear him…. He has scattered the proud; he has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” (Mary’s words are a history lesson for those who might have forgotten God’s record with such rulers, and an affirmation to the angel that Mary knows God’s heart in these matters.) She goes on: “He has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things.” (Luke 1: 50-53) Whether Mary is looking back affirming or looking forward hoping, her words are far more fierce than a sheltered girl would know. She is more than a physical handmaid of the Lord; she is also a witness to God as she remembers perhaps, what has taught to her by her parents, or grandparents, or by the local rabbi. She’s got it; she gets who God is, what God has done, and what God is likely to do with a world filled with injustice. She names what God has done before with both rich and poor people. In our day it would be like God confronting those in the news who have made millions for themselves, and comforting those threatened with eviction or bankruptcy. God’s justice wheels are turning for those who, from lay-offs, poor health, or crushing bills, have a water shut-off notice or cars that can’t be driven because of bad tires or no fuel. She sees that when the new creation breaks in “the rich will be sent empty away.” I wonder what Mary would say about executives who got bailouts a year ago and who’ve accepted seven figure salaries and bonuses a year later as others can hardly pay their bills or find work? I wonder what Micah would say to Congress? And more importantly, I wonder what Micah would tell us to do to let to help justice to roll down like waters? I wond
er what the hard-hitting mother of Jesus would say about my life, or yours? I think God knows exactly what a new creation will look like in our world, and if I’m right, it doesn’t look like December of 2009. The world needs a new creation; people’s hearts need a new creation; but it won’t happen until some rich people lose their spoon and some powerful people get their comfortable connections dismantled. It won’t happen until people who can’t get health care get it; until people who don’t have enough food have it; and until people who can’t find help can find it. We have a strong man and a strong young woman in our texts today both preaching the same messages. And who is listening? In Bethlehem 2000 years ago, some of the wisest people in the world traveled from the East to see the one born King of the Jews; they set aside their other work and followed a star to find him. Bumper stickers still say “Wise men still seek him.” What will it take to begin to make the world into what God and Micah though it should be, and what Mary and God know it must be?
Our world certainly enjoys some wonderful events at Christmas. But hearts tuned for holiness are troubled by what is going on, even after 2000 years. Perhaps the changes don’t need to start in the halls of Washington, or the Temple in Jerusalem. Changes can start in little towns in recessions, like Bethlehem, or the ones sprinkled around Daytona Beach, filled with hard-working people watching for signs of wonder and working for justice even here. So today we honor that Ruth and Boaz, Jesse and David, Mary and Almighty God all chose the little town of Bethlehem as the birthplace of our new creation.
Jeffrey A. Sumner December 20, 2009