A sermon preached on December 19, 2021, by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
One would think that after 4,000 years, we would’ve figured it out by now. Beginning with Abraham and extending forward until today, God has this penchant for doing the exact opposite of what good rational people expect.
Abraham, an old man, and his nonagenarian wife, Sarai, start a family in their old age and that family becomes the genesis of the people God will use to fulfill his salvation Story for the world.
Then there is that young Hebrew infant Moses, born of an enslaved woman, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, raised in the palace with royalty and became the prince of Egypt.
How about the time the Prophet Samuel goes to anoint the future king and he travels to the smallest clan of the Jews and has Jesse parade all seven of his sons before him but none of them were chosen. Samuel asks, “Are these all your boys?” Jesse lets him know he had one more son, the baby of the family, a young boy who was tending sheep in the field. This shepherd boy doing the family chores his brothers did not want to do by tending the sheep was then chosen to one day become King David.
Oh, and we cannot forget how the nine-foot Goliath who was all decked out in armor with superior weapons of war met this ruddy shepherd boy David on a field and was felled by a rock from that young boy’s slingshot.
If we zoom out a bit more, we see all the powerful nations of the ancient world, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Babylonians but God chose the little bickering and in-fighting tribes of Israel to be his beloved, Chosen people.
God’s whimsical character typically does a total reversal of what we think God will or should do. The Jewish scriptures are loaded with examples of this great reversal. And this is where we pick up on another great reversal this morning. This is the Story of how God chooses a middle-school-aged girl and a postmenopausal old woman from a backwater village to be the bearers of a prophet the likes of Elijah and the new Davidic Messiah.
The scene is this: Mary is now pregnant and goes to see her relative, Elizabeth, in the hill country of Judea which is located some 8 miles west on the outskirts of Jerusalem. When Mary comes in the door, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb does a flip and Elizabeth begins to proclaim in the Spirit, “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me…and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And then Mary said
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The Magnificat, as Mary’s song is called, is a song from a young peasant girl who was chosen, not from the upper echelons of society, but from total obscurity. This young teenager who has caused quite a fuss with her unexplained pregnancy and who is a living embodiment of God’s doing the opposite of what we think now sings about God’s habit of doing what we would never expect.
Mary, who describes herself as a humble servant girl, is now described as a queen mother who will give birth to a king. God uses the humble to scatter all those who are proud.
Those who are hungry will soon be filled and those who are rich will be sent away empty.
Those who are not even noticed by people in society will become somebodies that make a difference and those who are in power will soon be deposed.
Those who are oppressed are lifted up while those who oppress will be brought low.
Even Jesus picks up on these themes his momma espoused in his own teaching when he describes that the first will be last and those who are last will be first. He reminds Peter and the other disciples that if you want to be great, you must become small and a servant of all. If you want to save your life, then you must lose it. And let’s not forget his Sermon on the Mount where Jesus extols the virtues and values that rub coarsely against the way the culture lives and behaves.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are the gentle people.
Blessed are those who hunger, not after food, but are starving for God’s ways to govern the world.
Blessed are those who forgive.
Blessed are the pure of heart.
Blessed are the ones who do the hard work of making for peace.
Blessed are those disciples who are persecuted for loving Jesus.
Blessed are members of the church when others revile you for following Jesus.
Why do we think God’s works this way with the great reversals in the biblical Story? Perhaps God works and speaks this way to keep the community of Jesus from getting too comfortable with itself. Uri Avnery, an Israeli human-rights activist has an interesting aphorism that speaks to this issue. He says, “When you are on the top, you love stability. When you are on the bottom, you want change.” That one statement is a spotlight on the character of how our world works, isn’t it?
So, when Mary declares, for example, that God has filled the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty, she’s not extolling the virtues of poverty and the vileness of wealth. On the contrary, those who are poor embrace the fact that nothing is theirs and everything is a gift from God. If everything is a gift of grace from God, then it is easy to share because if you have nothing you then own everything! The rich, on the other hand, are not bad because they are rich. The warning from Mary is that the rich will cling to existing ways of living, worldviews, and values, and in the process, will be empty of God (refer to “blessed are the poor in spirit!”).
Our Story on this final Sunday in Advent is a delightful one reminding us that we cannot pigeon-hole God, or the way God will work in our lives. The Lord can take what we deem absurd and craft beauty and meaning from it. Our Story reminds us that when we act “rich” in our judgment of others, will be sent away empty without fully understanding or experiencing the grace God provides. The Magnificat is a hedge and reminder to those of us who are smug in our Christian walk who presume to know all the answers, who knows who God will condemn and damn and who is in and who is out.
My friends, how has God’s habit of flipping things, reversing things, impacted your life in Jesus? occurred in your life? already What impossible, improbable changes in your life need to occur? God is full of whimsical surprises but in order to see them, experience them, be a part of them we must let everything we hold dear go and fall into the waiting arms of Christ. What do you need to let go of before Jesus is born anew in your life?
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Heidi Haverkamp, ed., Everyday Connections. Reflections and Prayers for Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021), 32.