Sermon 4 Advent Yr C

4 Advent Yr C, 24/12/2006

Micah 5:2-5a & Lk 1:39-55

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“Small and Great”


God’s ways are not our ways. God acts rather strangely at times. God works in the most unexpected of ways. In both our first lesson and gospel today we learn how God works in and through small places and small people to accomplish great things. We learn that God chose the small village of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the coming Messiah. “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient of days.” Bethlehem, in Hebrew means “house of bread.” What better place could God choose for “the bread of life,” the Messiah to be born?

Bethlehem, about five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Bethlehem, the adopted home of a little-known, obscure, Gentile-born widow, named Ruth, who married Boaz, the next-of-kin of Naomi, with the right to redeem both Ruth and Naomi out of their poverty. Ruth would then become the great grandmother of David. Bethlehem, the home of Israel’s greatest king, David, the smallest and youngest of Jesse’s sons. Bethlehem, the birthplace of David’s descendent, the Messiah, Jesus, in fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, son of a young, most likely teenager mother Mary and earthly father, Joseph, little people from the small town of Nazareth. Bethlehem, birthplace of the little baby-Messiah, Jesus, who would grow up to become the Great Redeemer of you, me, and all of humankind. Bethlehem, the world is full of small, obscure hamlets, villages, and hick-towns where ordinary folks like us accomplish great things, thanks to the love and grace of God. The millions of people living in such small places and doing great things most likely remain unheard of and unseen, like the yeast in the bread, and the salt in the food. Yet, the world would be much worse off without such people and places. Bethlehem, the place where we continue our Advent waiting and watching, which seems like a small and fruitless endeavour, yet surprises us with hope and joy when we least expect it. In the following story, Pastor Timothy F. Merrill speaks of such joy and hope waiting to born at Bethlehem when he visited there:

Bethlehem in December, 1995, was a far cry from Bethlehem of 4 B.C., or even the Bethlehem of 2003. For the first time in its history, the little village of Judea was on the verge of self-rule. Now it was the Israelis. Before them, the Jordanians. Before them, the British. Before them, the Ottoman Turks. Before them, various Islamic caliphates. Before them, various political powers. Before them, the Romans. Now, as a part of the newly-emerging Palestinian National Authority, it was joining other cities on the West Bank that were being systematically turned over to the PNA by the Israelis under the terms of the Oslo accords. Jenin to the north had been relinquished as had other towns. Bethlehem’s political status for a while awaited the completion of a bypass highway that would make it possible for Israelis traveling from the south to Jerusalem to avoid Bethlehem and drive straight to the city.

The bypass was completed about a week before Christmas. On Christmas Eve day, the city was formally turned over to the PNA. Chairman Arafat was in attendance. An enormous banner of his likeness hung over the walls of Manger Square. Mobs of jubilant Bethlehemites jostled shoulder-to-shoulder in the square and adjoining streets. The mood was wildly enthusiastic and hopeful.

(Pastor Merrill) know(s). (He) was there.

A friend of (his) grabbed a sheet of paper and made for the Post Office. There she bought three newly-printed Palestinian National Authority stamps, pasted them on the paper, and had the clerk postmark them all: “Palestinian National Authority, December 24, 1995.”

That night, (Pastor Merrill and his family) attended Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. It is recognizable in pictures of Bethlehem by its cone-shaped tower that looks like an inverted ice cream cone. Its pastor was a Palestinian Christian. Dignitaries from the Lutheran church in Jordan were present. The service was conducted in English, German, and Arabic. Arafat’s wife, Suha, was present. Joy flooded the small sanctuary as the readings, the hymns, the sermon, the greetings all anticipated a new era for the people of Bethlehem, this little village that had been the birthplace of Jesus.

The highlight of the service for (Pastor Merrill), however, came when the soloist delivered her rendition of a familiar Christmas carol. She was the pastor’s wife. Her voice, quite honestly, lacked the formal training of gifted soloists. The tone was shallow, the breathing all wrong, and her projection was timid. But there was not a dry eye in the church when she began to sing:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

The hopes and fears … Now, a few years later, the tanks have roared through the streets of Bethlehem again. The Church of the Nativity has been occupied by militant Palestinians during the recent intifada. … and hopes for a Palestinian state seem so far removed from the hope and the joy felt in that little church on Christmas Eve, 1995.[1]

Yet, hope and joy refuse to die, since it is the God of love; the God of Palestinians, Israelis, we Canadians, and everyone, who continues to work through small people and places to make a difference. The joy and hope may be obscure, like it was long ago when Elizabeth and Mary—two unlikely women, one too old, one too young, were pregnant and met each other blessing their God, one another, and their children about to be born. Hope and joy, from a God of love who turns the world upside down, or shall we say right side up by: scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty. Mary’s song, more widely know as The Magnificat, named after the first word in the Latin translation, meaning “my soul magnifies.” Mary’s song, from a small-town, country girl, yet becoming one of the greatest portions of the Bible—not to mention one of the most politically, socially, economically and spiritually revolutionary songs of all time!

Martin Luther picked up on the radical nature of this passage from Luke, when he commended Mary’s song to “his Serene Highness, Prince John Frederick,” as a standard for faithful governance by saying, “in all of Scripture I do not know anything that serves such a purpose so well as this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful lords (The Magnificat, trans. A.T.W. Steinhaeuser, in Luther’s Works, vol. 21 [St. Louis: Concordia, 1956], pp. 297-298).[2]Would that more of our present-day politicians around the world pay heed to Luther’s remarks here, and read Mary’s song as a basis for governing today!

Mary’s song, bursting at the seems with hope and joy, pouring out God’s love to us all as we continue our last leg of the Advent journey—waiting and watching for Jesus, the Messiah to be born. Born not only over two-thousand years ago in the little town of Bethlehem; born also in all of us here, small people, in this small congregation—trusting in God who has the power and creativity and love to work so many wonderful and great things, even beyond our wildest imaginings! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!


[1]Timothy F. Merrill, Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit Series IV, Cycle C (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2003), pp. 17-18.[2]Citation in: David L. Tiede, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Luke (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), p. 57.