“The Birth of Transformation”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

December 24, 2017 — Fourth Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 1:46-55


These are, for many of us, familiar words.  Words we hear every year around this time.  Words that have been woven into soaring oratorios and gorgeous chorales.  Words that have been turned into more hymn texts than we can count (one of which we sang at the start of the service today).  Words that have been inscribed in beautiful calligraphy onto Christmas cards and ornaments, embroidered in precise stitches onto wall hangings and hand towels, carved into sculptures and painted onto signs and proclaimed so often that we almost don’t notice what we’re hearing anymore.

But if you listen, if you really listen, you will realize that these are no run-of-the-mill, ordinary words.  These are no innocuous platitudes.  These are powerful, even revolutionary promises, delivered by God and spoken through God’s messengers to people in situations of poverty, oppression, and suffering.  If you listen through those ears, you just might hear how powerful these promises are.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, said Isaiah.  For a person living in Puerto Rico, a person who has literally been walking in darkness for more than three months now, since Hurricane Maria knocked out the electrical grid back in September, the shining of a great light would be celebration-worthy indeed.

For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire, said Isaiah.  For a person living in a refugee camp, a person displaced from their home by civil war in Syria or famine in Sudan or ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, the tools of war being turned into fuel for the fire that warms houses and cooks food and gives light in the dark of night would be cause for rejoicing.

For the yoke of their burden, O God, you have broken, said Isaiah.  For a person enslaved in forced labor, or a person trodden down by prejudice and bigotry, the breaking of the chains of oppression would be nothing less than resurrection.

God has filled the hungry with good things, said Mary.  For a family forced to choose between food and heat and medications, let alone Christmas presents, full bellies all around would be a blessing beyond words.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, said Mary.  For women whose experience of workplace harassment, hostility, and worse have gone unheard and unheeded for far too long, the #metoo movement brings a sense that maybe somehow the systems of power could change.

Yes, the promises of this Advent season are nothing less than revolutionary.  They promise a turning of the tables, a making-right of all that has been wrong.  The powerful down from their thrones, the lowly lifted up, the proud scattered, the hungry fed.  If you are a person who is not treated well by the status quo, this is good news indeed.

And what’s even more startling is what these texts say about how this will come about, the way in which these promises will be fulfilled.  Now I don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone who doesn’t know how the Christmas story turns out… but, spoiler alert:  it’s not anything we would expect.  It’s not a violent revolution in which the lower classes rise up to overthrow the elite.  It’s not a conquering hero on horseback.  It’s not a mighty war to end all wars.  No, it’s something much smaller, much more vulnerable, yet much more precious than all of that.  It’s a baby.

Mary spoke these word words we hear this morning when she was pregnant with the baby Jesus, when she was bearing in her flesh a holy infant who would save the world.  Or, as Isaiah said:  For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; and he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Yes, the promises of God will be fulfilled in surprising, unexpected ways:  through vulnerability, through gentleness, through mercy and tenderness and compassion.

And if a helpless infant can be the source of so much transformation, if the birth of a baby can change everything, then we too can be part of the fulfillment of God’s promises, part of this revolution of vulnerable love.  Not necessarily through dramatic, newsworthy exploits, but in tiny, everyday ways, acts of kindness and justice that flow one to another and snowball into a movement of mercy that will, I hope and trust, change the world.


I would like to share with you now a story that offers one vision of how that might look in our ordinary, mundane, individual lives.  I invite the children and youth, and anyone feeling young at heart, or anyone who would like to get a good look at the pictures, to join me here on the steps.


[read Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect, by Richard H. Schneider and Elizabeth J. Miles]


So, on this Christmas Eve morning, I invite you to consider, what is one thing you could do today that would help to bring about the kind of world-changing transformation that our scripture readings promised?  Who do you know who needs your help like a rabbit fleeing the hunt or a mother wren caught in a storm?  What is it that you can give?  Think about it, maybe jot yourself a note or put a reminder in your phone, and then go home and do it, and let that be your way of welcoming the Christ-child.


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