First Reading – Micah 5:2-5a
2But 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. 3Therefore 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. 4And 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; 5and he shall be the one of peace.
We are still in our series about finding God in the smallest box under the tree. God often moves in the smallest ways, the smallest faithfulness, in the smallest box, not the biggest, flashiest box under the tree. This week we are looking at how God works in the smallest people – those who are overlooked by everyone else.
In the Christmas story, Joseph was a common carpenter from a small town. Mary was a young teenage girl from a poor family. The shepherds who got the announcement of Jesus’ birth directly from the angels were just one step up from outcasts. God works through the people who are overlooked by others. Let’s hear how Mary responds to the news that she is to bear the Christ.
Sermon Text – Luke 1:46b-55
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The Smallest People
Some people have the natural gift of gab. They can just talk and talk and talk and fill all the empty space that others might leave in a conversation. My brother is like that. My mom is like that. I am not. And my dad is not – and that’s important for this story.
You see, when we were living in the small town of Clifton, TX, my parents were key volunteers making the youth ministry and Sunday school function. The middle school and high school groups had grown so we always had a handful of kids. But the elementary Sunday school sometimes just had one girl. She was also not the “fill the empty space with gab” kind of person.
So imagine with me, if you will, the Sundays when my dad would be in charge of elementary Sunday school. He’s kind of introverted and not a gabber. And the only attendee is another introverted non-gabber elementary student. And they’re supposed to discuss the Bible together. And this was pre-seminary days for my Dad, too, so he didn’t have that to fall back on.
Even as a know-it-all teenager, I was impressed with my dad. He braved what I imagined to be many minutes of awkward silences punctuated by replies that were probably five words long at best. That’s commitment! That’s when it started to hit me that maybe my parents were really, truly motivated by this church stuff.
It’s interesting to reflect on that. What impressed 8th-grade me about my parents’ faith wasn’t the mission trips they planned. It wasn’t teaching my group or my brother’s group. It wasn’t being elders or deacons or leading committees. It wasn’t a particular Bible lesson or story. What impressed 8th-grade me was seeing my dad’s willingness to endure leading very awkward Sunday school classes for the sake of his faith. Adult me sees how much else they did, but 8th grade me wasn’t quite as observant or grateful. Surprising, I know.
My dad’s willingness to faithfully teach an awkward Sunday school class reached 8th grade me. Not an incredible sermon from Billy Graham. Not a rousing Christian concert from DC Talk or Third Day. Not a touching poem like “Footprints in the Sand.” Not a mountaintop experience at a Christian camp. Just my dad awkwardly teaching a Sunday school class.
God works through small, everyday people in everyday moments like that.
Has God ever used an everyday person or an everyday moment in your life? Have you ever been the everyday person God used?
Life Lessons from Everyday People
I have actually learned some of the most important lessons in my life from everyday people. One such person was a patient in the hospital when I was a chaplain. This one particular man looked like a fairly typical middle-aged guy when he was admitted to the infectious disease floor with AIDS. But every day he was there, he visibly aged. After several weeks, he looked like he was ninety years old.
Watching that transformation, I learned the value of time. I learned that time is a resource you only spend and never accumulate. And I learned that you don’t really know how much time you have left. Who showed you the true value of time?
I truly comprehended generosity through a woman in one of my previous churches. She had very few resources. The church often helped her with basics like food. But she faithfully gave what she could. It was a choice, a priority, a discipline for her. And when she came into a modest inheritance, she bought a few necessities for herself and gave most of it away because she, and I quote, “didn’t need it as much as others.” That’s generosity. Who demonstrated deep generosity to you? How do others see generosity from you?
There are many people in this church who have had to become full-time caregivers for spouses or parents. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball, and sometimes life is a curve ball all the time. As I have seen and heard how people sustained themselves in the midst of being caregivers for years and decades, I have seen what perseverance truly is. Who has been the definition of perseverance in your life? Where do you have perseverance?
Trying to find the right medications for our oldest son has shown me what patience truly is. For example, his latest medication takes at least four weeks to take effect. No usable data at all until four weeks of daily usage. That requires patience! After we took him to Stanford to be part of the rare disease research network, literally nothing happened for about six months! That requires patience! Just this year they found the probable genetic mutation that causes his seizures, and there’s a lab in Austria that wants to use his genetic material for a study, and it took months to get the paperwork filled out by all the researchers. That requires patience! It also might require working your contact network to prompt some researchers to giddy-up a bit, though I can neither confirm nor deny that officially. How have you learned patience? Who in your life has demonstrated or required patience?
Did you know that one person’s stubborn insistence on preparation saved the lives of about 2,700 people? Rick Rescorla was the director of security for Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Center. For years, he insisted on regular full evacuation drills, much to the dismay of executives who lamented the interruptions and lost productivity.
At 8:46 AM on September 11, 2001, he saw that World Trade Center Tower 1 was on fire. The authorities told everyone in his building, Tower #2, to remain in place because the danger was only to the other building. He ignored that guidance and immediately began an orderly evacuation of Morgan Stanley’s 2,700 employees from forty stories up in the tower.
A native of Hayle, Cornwall, he sang Cornish songs from his youth to brighten the spirits of the employees as they wound their way down the stairwells. He was committed to getting everyone out safely, so he remained in the tower trying to find the last few stragglers from his offices. Only 13 of Morgan Stanley’s 2,700 employees died that die, including Rick Rescorla who was still looking for stragglers when Tower #2 collapsed.
Rick Rescorla, the annoying guy running evacuation drills every three months, saved the lives of 2,700 people by his preparation. God worked through that everyday person on that very infamous day.
If you want to see what gratitude to God looks like, look no further than our text today. Mary has been given an incredible blessing, but of course it’s also quite a burden. She didn’t ask for this, right? But her response, which we read earlier, will live on forever. It has been put to song many times. It’s a master class in gratitude to God.
Hear how she starts: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”
I mean, that might be the most on-point response to God in the entire Bible! It’s at least in the top five. Moses said he couldn’t speak. Jeremiah said he was too young. Zechariah asked for a sign and was struck mute to teach him a lesson. Jonah ran away to Spain. But Mary replied, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” That’s an incredible response to God’s call!
How have you responded to God’s movements and calling in your life? Are you more like Moses with his excuses? More like Jonah running away? Or more like Mary pouring out her gratitude to God?
Seeing the Everyday People
Sisters and brothers, God works through small, everyday people. God can even work through you. But you have to see the everyday people first.
I was walking down Guadalupe when I was attending the University of Texas. And I was notorious for my power walking and for having my head in the clouds while I was walking. I was dreaming of the next computer program I was going to write while walking at breakneck speeds. There was a girl I was interested in dating, and suddenly I stopped seeing her around. My brother eventually passed along that he heard her say she saw me walking across campus and said hi, but I just walked right past her. I have no recollection of this, but I’m sure I was dreaming up some fabulous algorithm. Totally worth it, right?
But one day someone got my attention. On Guadalupe there are many college students, but also many people of a similar age who live on the streets near campus. One of them shouted at me, “Hey!” as I walked by. I was startled, but I stopped. He asked why I couldn’t even be troubled to look at him when I walked by. He thought I was intentionally trying to ignore him. While my head was actually just off in the clouds of imagination like normal, it struck me. I actually sat down next to him and chatted for a bit. I learned that I need to slow down and be present and see people.
How do you see and notice and respect and relate with the small, everyday people around you? God probably won’t work through someone you can’t even notice.
Sisters and brothers, God works through small, everyday people all the time. How can you notice the everyday people around you? And how can God use you as an everyday person in someone else’s life? God can often be found in the smallest people, in the smallest boxes under the tree. Amen.