19th December 2021
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 days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.
Canticle: The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
When Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
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, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
The prophet Micah describes the Bethlehem as one of the smallest of the clans of Judah – as if each town in the lands belonging to Judah was a subset – or in terms of the Scottish clan system, a ‘sept’ – of the tribe of Judah. This would for example make Joseph, who was a of the tribe of Judah, a member of the sept of Bethlehem being his home town.
God’s chosen one, says Micah, will come from this little clan – we might thus describe him as one of the little people. But despite this, he will establish his rule and will bring together all his fellows – all the other little people – and, shepherd-like, feed them. And for feed, we might understand this to be not just with food but with the all that will sustain them. And who are these little people? Those whose work is often overlooked, who do not wield power or influence, those who are not valued, who are seen as dispensable – labourers and factory workers, carers and shop staff, those with mental or physical disabilities, those who are homeless, jobless, stateless , and children especially those from poor backgrounds. And there are others who are also ‘little people’. Those who are humble, self deprecating, those who are child-like and transparent, those who do not boss others around, who do not think they have an inherent superiority or importance, those who willingly relinquish power and wealth. These are the little people that Christ comes for, these are the ones he calls to be his people, his sheep.
And it seems to me, that anyone can become a little person. For we can all become child-like, become humble and open, we can all let go of power and wealth, of our sense of status and self importance.
And when everyone becomes a little person, then will we have peace!
The Magnificat reminds us that Mary was one of the little people. A woman – not even with the status of being a wife, a young person with no special status, a resident of Nazareth (a not very important place).. Someone who could describe themselves as a lowly servant, but equally sufficiently honest to see that in God eyes they were important. In this paean, Mary understands that God plans for the ‘big’ people – those who are self important, proud, privileged, powerful, the rich, those indifferent to others – to be transformed – reformed – as little people. And this is how the hungry will be fed. This is how God’s will from the beginning of time is to be fulfilled.
We have only to look around the world and see that if all the ‘big’ people became little people, then there would be food and resources for everyone. Will this happen this Christmas?
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ was not to be the recipient of sacrifices and burnt offerings, but to be the recipient of a body. The human body is a gift we have all been given, from Adam onwards. It is a gift to be treasured and to be used aright: ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ says Christ. This response echoes that of Mary – ‘let it be to me according to your word.’- and contrary to Adam’s ignoring of God’s will. We too are invited to respond like Mary, like Christ, and to offer ourselves – in our bodies – to be incarnate doers of God’s will. The writer of Hebrews further reminds us, that as Christ has shared our humanity, so our bodies too have been made holy.
And in the passage from Luke’s gospel, we hear how Christ in the process of becoming full incarnate – a growing embryo in Mary’s womb. – is already transforming the world. The unborn John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb – just as I am sure, Elizabeth too leapt, if not physically, then metaphorically, recognising intuitively the astounding fact of God’s presence with them in human form. Will we leap with joy this Christmas as once again we re-member that God is present with us in our human body?