THE BIRTH OF GRACE
SCRIPTURE: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:47-55
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!


Every family seems to have a couple of birth stories they love to tell. There are

always situations, unique, strange, humorous, or dramatic; that make these stories

memorable. In our family, there are three birth stories, so I will tell you something

about the first birth story.


On New Year’s night, 1969, Andrea being very, very, very pregnant, and I were

playing pinochle with my parents at their house. We go home and in the early hours of

January 2, Andrea wakes me up and says she thinks it’s time to go to the hospital. I

said, “It’s too early, go back to sleep.” Not long after that Andrea wakes me up and

says, “I really think we should go to the hospital.”


So I get up, take a shower, get dressed, make sure Andrea is the car with her

suitcase. I stop to get gas, write a check to pay for the gas, made sure I was given a

glass that was a giveaway item. So now it’s getting to be rush hour traffic in El Paso.

The hospital was on the west side of the downtown area. There were hills, almost like a

roller-coaster. We finally get to the hospital, but I parked in the wrong parking lot.

Andrea had to step over a strand of cable do get to the Emergency Room entrance.


Andrea is met by hospital personnel and taken to the delivery room. I was told to

sit in the family waiting room, which I did. I called our parents to tell them we were at

the hospital. Our daughter was born shortly after our arrival at the hospital. I didn’t

even get a chance to read the sports page of the newspaper to find out the scores of

the bowl games.

The people of the Hebrews had a family story as well. For generations they

looked forward to the birth of a new, great, and mighty leader from the house and

linage of David who would lead them to new freedom and glory. There were different

versions of this story and over the years it grew. The dominant version was that this

leader would be a great military leader who would be so strong as to overthrow any

oppressive power and establish the Hebrews as a free people, living a prosperous,

righteous, and just life.

However, there were what we might call minority reports, alternate versions.

Micah offers us one of those. Micah was a countryman from the little village of

Moresheth in southwestern Judah, an outsider to the religious establishment. He

denounces rulers, priests, and other prophets; deplores the money grubbing exploitation

of the poor and helpless, dishonesty in business, and sham religion.


As a small town, backwoods boy, he sees God acting in ways that are different

from what the other prophets saw. His prophecy is addressed to exiles in Babylon,

calling them to wait, like a woman in labor who knows there will be a happy ending to

her present pain, then they will be able to return to their homeland and to a new way of

life. Though there is pain in the present, they are not to lose heart.


God’s movement is always from suffering toward salvation. According to Micah

this new time of peace and hope will be brought about by another small town boy, one

chosen by God who will come from Bethlehem, “one of the little clans of Judah.” This

expected one is described by God as “You shall come forth for me.” His whole

orientation and loyalty is toward God and doing God’s will. His strength and authority is

God.


This ruler will seek not for his own advancement or for public recognition, but for

God’s will. He is also described as a shepherd, “He shall stand and feed his flock.” There

is nothing here about his personal superior physical strength, or his ability to command

great numbers of others. Rather he lives his calling “in the strength of the Lord…and

shall be the one of peace.”


The birth story that Micah is relating is that God graciously includes all people as

he calls one far from the center of power. Bethlehem was the hometown of David. To

locate the birth of the new ruler in Bethlehem is to see the new ruler as a continuation

of God’s promise to David some three centuries before. God has been faithful to God’s

word over all this time and has stayed in love with the people.


The small size of Bethlehem points to biblical irony that when God is about to do

something great, human estimates of status, size, power, and influence are completely

irrelevant. In fact God often chooses someone whom we would probably dismiss as the

most unlikely candidate for carrying-out God’s mission. Micah points to God acting in

grace in our lives. We are called in the midst of whatever dark and difficult times we find

ourselves, to look to better days ahead with the image of grace in our midst.


The Christian family has a birth story as well. Of course, it is the story of Jesus.

Our passage from Luke today is one part of that story. This passage of Luke is an

account of a meeting of two women who, in conventional ways of thinking, were not at

all the kind of people who would play a major role in ushering in anything revolutionary.


There is a very young woman, not yet married, and a considerably older woman,

the wife of a priest, who is past the age of childbearing. Both of them are, quite

unexpectedly pregnant. The older woman, Elizabeth, by the grace and guidance of the

Holy Spirit greets Mary. She says four things to Mary: She blesses Mary and the child to

be born, she calls Mary “the mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth’s baby leaps for joy, and

Elizabeth blesses Mary for her faith that the promise to her will be fulfilled.


Our passage is a song of praise by Mary in answer to Elizabeth. The song

emphasizes the joy effects of Jesus’ coming for all God’s people. It is a song of

thanksgiving for God seeing the little people, those despised, used, and invisible to

those in power. It announces great changes to come, not by rebellion but by God

coming in the weakness and humility of a child.


This is a story of the birth of grace, for what mother has not waited for the first

stirrings of a child or felt the goodness of God’s blessing in the fullness of her womb?

The joy of Mary and Elizabeth is the joy of all who look forward with wonder and

thankfulness to the birth of a child. The joining of this wonder with God’s saving work

invites us to consider how the experience of expectancy teaches us the ways of God’s

gracious work in human experience.


Joy is peaked by waiting. Love is disclosed in tenderness and promise. Every

birth, therefore, can be a sign of salvation, of finding favor, of being blessed, of living

with promise, and of realizing its fulfillment.


Mary’s statement of faith, “God is my savior,” expresses the desperate need of

the lowly, the poor, the oppressed, and the hungry. It is also the cry of the sinner who

recognizes his or her separation from God and fellow human beings. It is the recognition

of connection; of our connection with God and those around us, and that we cannot go

it alone in this world. We cannot save ourselves. We need God and one another.


Hope is alive in the birth of grace experienced in the promise of God who has

come to us in love, and will come to us in love. The birth of grace is that God comes in

unmerited love to all of us and gently leads us, as a shepherd, to the gift of new life,

rich with meaning, goodness, and life-giving to others.


Let me give you an example:


Oswald Golter was an agricultural minister in China and when the Communists

began taking over in 1938, he was put under house arrest. Finally he was freed in

the mid-1940’s following World War II. He was given a check by his mission board and sent

to India from which he was supposed to leave to return to the States.


In the 1940’s there were boatloads of Jews who had no place and no one would

allow them to land. But, at one coastal town in India one boat was allowed to dock and

the Jews were allowed to be in barn lofts and back buildings for a brief period of time

before they were placed back on the boat.


Oswald Golter saw what was happening and went to them and said, “Merry

Christmas.” They said, “We’re Jews.” Golter said, “I know! Merry Christmas. What would

you like for Christmas?” They again replied, “We’re Jews.” And again Golter said, “I

know, but what would you like for Christmas?” To get rid of him the Jewish council said,

“Oh, how we’d love some German pastry.” Golter cashed his check and went throughout

that town in India. He found racks and racks of German pastry, and took them back to

the Jewish people who had no place.


Years later, a seminary student asked, “Mr. Golter, why would you do that?

They’re not even Christians!” To which Golter responded, “Yes, I know. But I am.”


Micah and Luke prepare us for the birth of grace in Jesus. May Jesus be born in

our hearts and our actions this Christmas. After all, we are Christians.


Thanks be to God.

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH
 
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