Year C Advent 4
Advent is all about waiting, preparation and expectation. That is what we have been telling you for three weeks now. It’s true in that we are preparing for the birth of Christ. Our refrain when we light our Advent candles is “Come Lord Jesus.” Yet here is the irony– the readings we hear in the season of Advent, perhaps even the majority of the Bible stories we know and love– tells us that God loves to surprise us. Essentially we are telling you to “expect the unexpected,” which might be the worst advice anyone has ever given or received. It’s right up there with “don’t worry.”
A few weeks ago we learned that Elizabeth, a woman previously considered barren, would give birth in her old age. Her son would be a locust eating, camel hair wearing, prophet. Instead of acquiring a religious degree and living in one of the places of power (like Jerusalem), he preached from the wilderness and told people to repent. He was an unexpected prophet. But then again, who better to prepare the way for a Messiah who would shock the world with his refusal to conform and his insistence on associating with the marginalized and oppressed?
As we know, John was not the only prophet who was a little different. Our Old Testament is chock-full of prophets, typically the people you would least expect to be prophets. Micah was a prophet who lived about 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The first verse of our reading for today speaks of a siege. The city of Jerusalem was under siege. They were trapped by their own walls. Defeat was inevitable. The city and the king would fall. Imagine what that would be like, just waiting for death or imprisonment, knowing there is nothing you can do to escape. Yet after that verse which declared the siege and the imminent destruction of all they knew and loved, Micah switched gears. “Bethlehem, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth one who is to rule Israel.”
Bethlehem had a certain notoriety at that point in time. That was where King David had come from. King David had been an unlikely king. He was a shepherd and the youngest of his family. It was an odd choice for God. However, as one would expect of one chosen by God, he was a mighty king. It was expected that the Messiah would come from the line of David. However the line of David and the hometown of David are two different things. This reference to a Messiah coming from the same backwater town of David was strange. It was especially strange that Micah would bring it up at this very point, when they were under siege and their present king was about to die.
Yet isn’t that often the way–when we feel as though we are truly under siege–relief and hope can come in the most unexpected places….or in the most bizarre dreams. Micah prophesied something almost unimaginable. This leader, born in the small town of Bethlehem, would rule not with money and armies, but with a shepherd’s crook. Instead of depriving people of things to enforce his rule, he would feed the people. He would do all these things in the strength of the Lord. He would bring peace to his people who are now under siege.
While that sounds very nice, we know now that none of the people Micah was talking to would experience that peace on earth. The city was taken over. Many of the people were enslaved. But that picture that Micah painted never quite faded. It lived on in people’s hopes and dreams. It gave those who remained something to live for. It gave those who died, a foretaste of their imminent future in life everlasting.
Our Bible is full of prophesies and dreams. So many of these visions from our prophets contain God’s dream for us. They are full of hope and promise. We ignore them at our own peril. Unfortunately our divine imagination has been limited by the acceptance of our present reality. Many consider the stories of the Bible as fairytales or myths. But these stories contain radical truth. They may be hard to believe, but some of the most extraordinary things in life are things we never could have imagined. The more comfortable we become with our present reality and the more reluctant we are to imagine God’s dream for us, the less likely we are to experience the dream.
Our Gospel reading contains what we refer to as the Magnificat. It is essentially written in the form of a song. But it is more than praise or worship. It is prophesy. It is God’s dream for our world—a dream that Mary interpreted for all of us. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the sent the rich away empty.” She was able to articulate that dream because that dream lived within her in the form of an unborn child. A child who would turn the entire world upside down. What people thought was reality wasn’t real at all. Jesus brought the world truth.
700 years before Mary shared her prophesy, Micah prophesized about a shepherd who would feed his people and bring peace to a violent nation. Jesus was a carpenter, not a shepherd, but he fed the people. He fed thousands with a couple fish and a loaf of bread. He inspired thousands more with his words and actions. That was only in his lifetime. Billions, trillions have been fed by his legacy of love since his death and resurrection.
Yet….despite all that….we know that he did not bring peace. Look at Israel. It is a land that has never known peace. And our nation isn’t much better. Violence plagues us. Some look around and conclude that Jesus’ words and actions had no effect…no better than a dream. That could not be farther from the truth. A dream only remains a dream if we refuse to allow it to manifest.
We still carry the dream. But we have to do more than carry it. We have to do more than talk about it in our churches. We must live like that dream of peace and salvation is real for us…like we are trying to bring it forth, not just in the next life, but this life. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me…” No matter how troubled our hearts become, we cannot give up the dream. Christmas is almost upon us. Let us take that day and the 12 days after to bask in the glow of that dream, a dream that became real in the form of a baby boy. That dream lives today in our hearts and actions. Carry the dream. Share the dream. One day it will be the only reality we know.