God Comes Near - In the Smallest and the Least

Luke 3: 7-18     Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Micah 5: 2-5a   December 23, 2018

But 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 of days.”

Prayer:  Holy God, please draw near to us in many different ways so that we may be ready for your coming.  Amen.

This past fall, most every other Sunday, after worship, our Confirmation youth and I get together for a “learning-the-faith” experience for about an hour and a half.  As we eat lunch together, I ask them, “OK, what was your God moment this past week?”  I want them to think back and recall when they felt God’s presence in something they did, or something that happened, or some meaningful moment.  I love hearing their responses.  One by one they say things like, “God helped me with my test on Wednesday.”  Or, “I felt God when I was a flag bearer in the band.”  Or, “A teacher helped me do my math problem.”  “I saw a tree with lots of flowers around it.”  “The coach helped me in basketball.”  “I played well in football.”

It struck me that the most basic, seemingly normal, insignificant things were speaking to our youth, and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of God coming near them was happening.  A little bit of God’s presence is coming through to them in ways they can recognize.

Of course, you already know that I think that is true for all of us.  Everywhere we look, if we look carefully enough through eyes of faith, might we discern God coming near, God speaking, God sending messages to us through our normal circumstances?  Perhaps we can see traces of God—call them God Moments, happening in the world around us?

When we discipline ourselves to discover God coming near, we start to see and detect them, I think.  Moments such as simply watering plants may become a mini God moment.  Barb and I have two ferns that we hang outside in the summer that I’m keeping alive in the basement over the winter.  Just watering them reminds me that just as their roots get soaked in life-giving water in the midst of a dormant season, so can we soak in the Spirit of God and find life-giving spiritual nutrients in the midst of life’s down moments.

Or, just as I work on the computer and make a mistake, I can fix it by hitting the “undo” button.  As I do this, I’m reminded that with God, my errors do not have to be permanent.  With God, we understand that the holy forgiveness God provides is a little bit like a spiritual “undo” button, and grace enables us to come back to healthy relationship, to learn from our mistakes, to get up when we’ve fallen, to start again believing that God restores us to us a new relationship to a new hope.

As we face the last days of Christmas prep, perhaps we would do well to ask, “In what seemingly small ways is God coming near?”  Where might we find God’s presence inspiring us in what could be the least of circumstances? Amid wrapping presents- is it a God moment? Visiting a lonely person - A God moment? Sending a Christmas card?  I invite you to look with insight and depth to see how God comes near in the smallest and the least things and moments.

Because that is exactly how God came into the world with Jesus.  God’s pattern of using the most unlikely, the smallest, the least to bring about the most significant is all throughout scripture. Abraham and Sarah were childless and elderly - God said, “From you I will build my people a nation.” Joseph was left for dead by his brothers, and yet it was through Joseph that his family survived famine andfound help and comfort and got established in Egypt.  Moses was an abandoned baby, but was found and became the great Liberator taking the Hebrews out of the bondage of Egypt.  David was the least among his brothers and was out in the field shepherding the sheep, but God knew this scrawny little shepherd he would be the great King of Israel.

Mary, this just barely teenage girl was chosen by God to give birth to Messiah for the world.  God came near humanity when Jesus was born. Quite unnoticed by the powerful.  God slipped into the world quietly, in Bethlehem, this tiny insignificant little town of Judea.  From Bethlehem would come the One to redeem, not just Israel, but all humanity. This One who would teach us about God’s holy love and God’s desire to be in healthy covenantal relationship with us. 

This One would not come to shift things around and make the rich poor and the poor rich.  He doesn’t come to make the powerful without power and the powerless powerful.  That doesn’t help anything.  Because being rich is not bad.  Being powerful is not sinful.  It’s how you use riches and power that matters.

What is sinful is when those who have resources and are rich don’t use these resources for the benefit and care of those who are the smallest and the least in our society.  What God despises is when those in power don’t remember the underprivileged and continue in complicit practices that keep them subjugated.

Instead the coming Messiah will proclaim that those who are rich should be mindful and advocate for the well-being of the poor. and deliberately attempt to address the systemic injustice that keeps people less empowered to live life fully.  Those who are powerful should wield their power in ways that show justice and care for those not in power.  Because God always has a soft spot for those poor folks caught up in the political power plays.  God always calls for tenderness and care given for those who are immigrants and sojourners, and desire a new life but can’t have it because of the established barriers and walls and a heightened sense of nationalism.  The coming Messiah ushers in God’s world where everyone lives securely, where everyone has enough food and water where, everyone can live well, where everyone can embrace God’s saving grace and live a new life.

This Messiah would die for that cause, but would redeem the world, through his death.  God came near in the smallest and in the least of circumstances and brought forth God’s great saving grace which gives all of us new hope.  His birth makes all the difference.

So now just two days before Christmas, the political chaos is loud, drowning out the word of God’s arrival.  The social turmoil is devastating, overwhelming the power of God’s grace.

But, even in the midst of such social and political unrest, remember that this little baby, who was born from one of the little clans of Judah, dethroned the power of death.  Such a great gift came from a small family in such an out of the way place like Bethlehem.

But, this small baby grew up and overcame the world’s earthly powers.  This small baby grew up and became the Word of God in the flesh who refused to recognize the power of death, who faced down the political powers of injustice, and rose in resurrection power of life.

And this message of life over death insists on showing up in our ordinary circumstances and in our larger societal , cultural situations.  Only by believing that God comes near us in his birth do we dare to walk in hope and confidence that life and love always overwhelm death and despair every where. Every time.  If we left it. Just look for  those little God moments all around us.  You’ll see.  God is Stillspeaking,  God is still birthing.  God is still coming near. Amen.