SMC 23 December 2018
Have you had to wait in one of those telephone queues recently? You know when you need to pay a bill or report a crime; get a GP appointment or report that your computer is broken and you spend ages waiting listening to that awful music on the phone? Well, it may not surprise you to know that they drive me mad! I try to put them on speaker phone so I can be doing something else while I’m waiting and try to keep calm and not focus too much on the frustration of the moment. They clearly know that everyone is getting agitated while waiting on the end of the phone because then the automatic message starts, “We’re sorry that our lines are busier than normal. Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.” It’s that last line, “Your call is important to us,” that really gets me. Yeah right!
We like to be valued and in the face of these great big companies we feel powerless and far from valued. And the theme for this morning’s readings is in many ways the special place God attaches to the small, the insignificant, the forgotten, those deemed unimportant by society. Let’s first look at those readings.
The prophet Micah whom we heard as our first reading is one of the twelve minor prophets of the Old Testament. He was himself a poor boy. Unlike most Old Testament introductions, we are not told who his father was and we can presume that he was in some senses therefore a nobody, not worth recording. He provides us with the prophecy that the promised Messiah will be from Bethlehem, “least of the clans of Judah.” The clans were the small subsections of the tribes and Judah had much more going for it than rather insignificant Bethlehem, which would have been dwarfed by the capital, Jerusalem, which was only five miles north.
In our Gospel reading too, Mary leaves Nazareth and goes to see her kinswoman, Elizabeth, the mother of St John the Baptist. Mary is to be the Mother of God and yet is also insignificant: she’s just a teenager, people would say. Now we know teenagers are important here at St Mary’s but too many just dismiss them. Mary was pregnant outside of marriage and would have been sidelined socially because of that. There’s nothing to say she was rich and famous: she and Joseph simply appear and are obedient to the Lord’s command.
In the Gospel there are these two women talking to each other. But actually the two most important people are the ones the world would have ignored, namely John the Baptist and Jesus. They’re both in the womb of their respective mothers but John the Baptist is there leaping for joy when he sees Mary and knows she has the Lord inside her. The unborn child is so often thought to be ignorable by society but not here in the Church: we know God loves them with a great love for He has given them life.
And I want to just now pick up three ways we might think about how we interact with what could easily be written off as insignificant:
We as a nation have been thinking a lot recently about our democracy as Brexit continues to be discussed. One of the frustrations many feel in our parliamentary democracy which uses a First Past the Post system is that an individual’s vote seems not to matter. No matter how we vote here in Tottenham, we’re still going to get a Labour MP. That does not really mean our vote is less important though: it just means that we’re not going to decide who the MP is with our one vote. But that’s surely the point of democracy?: that people get to vote, and not just one person decides who has the power. People died so that we might exercise that vote and whether we feel it is going to alter the course of events or not, it is still important that we exercise it. Each individual vote does matter.
Secondly, what do we learn from children? Or, if you’re a child, what do you teach adults? For yes, too often we think children are just to learn from adults. That’s undeniably true in some contexts, but it is not all that we as Christians can say about education. Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25). Our Sunday School teachers and Boys’ Brigade Officers, who do a marvellous job, will tell us how much they learn from the children they support: I know I certainly do when I spend time with our young people. It’s great that as part of this we baptise babies and children, saying they’re actually full members of Christ’s church and are not excluded. When children scream in church, they’re not to be told to shut up, adults shouldn’t make shhhing noises to make them quiet, for it is how children communicate and that’s part of our family’s worship of almighty God. Maybe you’d like to become a Boys’ Brigade Officer or a Sunday School teacher, not only so you can help the young, but also so you can learn from them. If so, speak to Luke or me. But we can all take more time to learn from our young people, all too often they’re ignored and forgotten.
Thirdly, we write off time as well, I think. Every second is sacred, a gift from God and an opportunity to show our love for Him and for each other. It’s all too easy to be generous with things we don’t value. But we are also to be generous with the things we don’t have much of and for many people there is a constant sense of not having enough time. And yet, surely if we say we don’t have enough time to do what is necessary, we’re accusing God of being stingy? John the Baptist’s message, which we heard last Sunday was not, “If you have two tunics, give one away.” It was “If you have two tunics, share them both!” So it is with our time and the best start to do this is to offer up a minute of prayer each time we have that spare minute. Just set an alarm for a minute on your phone, shut your eyes and say the “Hail Mary” however many times you can. Now, I know your response is going to be, “But that’s not enough.” If you think like that though, you wont offer that minute, you’ll offer even less.
Time - children - our vote. Just three examples of things and people we might be tempted to write off because they are small.
Back to Bethlehem. The name means “House of Bread.” And so it ought to be no surprise that we come to receive the Lord Jesus under the form of bread and wine, two really rather ordinary staple foods. Bethlehem is also the place that Ruth and Naomi go to after leaving Moab. “Where you go, I will go,” the foreigner, the Moabite Ruth says to the Israelite Naomi. Moab was suffering with a famine but there in Bethlehem there would be bread they know, because it was the bread bin for the land. Jesus the Saviour is to be born in the House of Bread.
So in the bread that we will behold and the bread some of us will consume we will know the Lord Jesus is present. Not to be treated like a digestive biscuit or squandered away simply because it is small and looks insignificant. No, this is the bread of angels. The flesh born for us in Bethlehem, now offered for us unto eternal life. Let’s be better at treating what looks insignificant in a proper way. Amen.