The trend in society is bigger and better. Stores have gotten bigger and all encompassing. When I read articles about business or even church leadership, everything seems to point to bigger and better. As a denomination we track attendance at our morning services, we track attendance at our Sunday School and Discipleship ministries, we track numbers of membership and budgets. While these stats help us track trends and changes, they also tend to imply that bigger is better, that more is marvelous.
As I read the Christmas story, and what God has done through history I find a different emphasis. This emphasis is on the hidden Gospel. God worked so many times in the small and insignificant places and peoples of history. When God wanted a nation to be His people, He created one out of a single man rather than an existing world power or a king. He chose Abraham and went from there. He often took the youngest son, like David and Joseph. God used donkeys and harlots, in the obscure nation of Israel. Again and again He took the weak and insignificant, and built strength and legacy. Consider the Gospel hidden in…
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace. Micah 5:2-5a
The minor prophet Micah rehearses Israel’s long and tragic history from the time of King David onward. The truly wonderful thought to remember is that a Davidic lineage, lasting nearly half a millennium, could come from such a tiny town as Bethlehem, David’s own birthplace. Following the return of a remnant of the nation from exile, a new king from David’s line would bring peace and prosperity because he would be strengthened by God. Bethlehem was in a fertile area, a place whose names meant House of Bread and Fruitful. But Bethlehem was small. It was not the capital but a small rural village supporting an agricultural based economy.
Bonnie and I paid a visit to the Brown’s new place in Bradwell. You take highway 16 out of the city towards Yorkton. Past Clavet you turn off the highway , down a regional road to the town of Bradwell. It sits right beside the railroad, and except for the railroad I don’t know why the town would have been founded there. It was off the beaten path, just like Bethlehem. And there you find the Savior, in Bethlehem if you looked; and there you find the Gospel. If you look you will find it, seemingly hidden in the middles of nowhere. The Brown’s take the Gospel with them as followers of Christ, and who knows for just what reason they are there in Bradwell, but you can be assured God is at work just as He was so long ago in “too small” places. Consider the Gospel hidden in…
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:5-10
Here in this obscure passage we contemplate the gospel truth that Christ was born to die as the sacriﬁce for the sin of the world. In our modern celebration of Christmas, we are sometimes guilty of neglecting this profound mystery: the Easter story begins at Christmas. The author of Hebrews uses the strong word “sanctiﬁed” –hagiazo— “to make holy.” The only way for us to be made holy is through a personal relationship to God who alone is holy. The Gospel was not in success and crowds, but in the loneliness of the cross. Jesus had thousands of followers, and while the Gospel was presented and aught, it was at the cross it was found. People followed Jesus until the miracles stopped. Then they stopped following Him, and missed the Gospel found in Sacrifice. In our churches we want it to be about big numbers and full programs, but more often it isn’t – it is in the small lonely sacrifices we make, day in and day out – the sacrifices of the heart, of our lives to God. That is where you will find the Gospel. Consider the Gospel hidden in…
Mary – Holy Is His Name -Luke 1:39-55
Mary picked up on the themes of prophetic promise and fulﬁlment in her magniﬁcent (Magniﬁca) song remembered by the Church and recorded for us by Luke. What intrigues us about this jubilant hymn of praise is that its source is from someone whom many would consider unexceptional. Mary was no privileged socialite. She refers to herself four times as a servant. Yet God exalts her to a special place among humankind. “Blessed art you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” She appears to be all alone. There are no references at all in Scripture to Mary’s family; they do not appear even as part of a supporting cast. After Gabriel appears to her, she travels alone on a four or ﬁve day journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Could it be that Elizabeth is her only relative?
Joseph has yet to hear from Gabriel; yet the loneliness of Mary becomes the home of God-with-us. In the kingdom, the lonely know the companionship of God. Indeed, the whole Christmas narrative is about reversing the fortunes of those who don’t count—not only the lonely, but the weak, the hungry, the oppressed, the outcasts. God seems to deﬁne himself in terms of these weak ones whom he loves and with whom he chose to work in the world. That is, lowly servants, like Mary, and barren old women, like Elizabeth, who say: “Be it unto me according to your Word,” who allow God to work his miracle of redemption in and through them. Like the Shepherds who are the first to hear the Gospel. God hides the Gospel with those who need it, with those who will let it into their lives; with those who will yield to God, surrendering all they have and all they are to their Creator. Lastly, consider the Gospel hidden in…
Your challenge and mine is to believe that God is doing something absolutely spectacular in this world and then to embrace it as a deﬁning trait of what it means to be faithful to God. The Advent message is a call to live out the implications of accepting a God who deﬁnes himself in terms of the weak and oppressed, the empty and the alone, those on the outside, the vulnerable, the childlike; to find the Gospel hidden in the unexpected places. We confess with Mary in joy, faith, and submission that “the Mighty One has done great things for us.” It is to acknowledge that the powers of this world are not the powers that matter most, and that God is the great leveler of all human structures of power and prestige. It is he who brings down the exalted and elevates the lowly. We are called to nothing less than to view the world the way God does, by ordering worth and value according to God’s terms. God does some of his best work with powerless people whose lives which are deﬁned by the world as impossible!
Naomi and Ruth, and old widow and her widowed daughter – two weaknesses become a strength in God’s hands.
Gideon, the young least of the least defeating a huge army with 300 men.
Peter, an uneducated fisherman becoming the head of the church in Jerusalem.
David, the young shepherd defeating the giant.
Now place our church in the blank; place your name in the blank, and fill in what God is doing in and through us and through you. Find the Gospel hidden in your life, and let it impact the world around you. Perhaps it is in this small church God wants the revival for Saskatoon to start. God is here. God is with you. God will use you. Emmanuel.