The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 19, 2021
Even among those who view the Christmas story as a comforting fairy tale for folks unable to face reality, almost everyone wishes the story were true: That there is a good and all-powerful Being who loves each of us, descended from paradise to immerse Himself in our world of pain and trouble, suffered its worst for our sake, opened the way to paradise for us, and in His Spirit stayed around to fill our days with peace, joy and love.
The Christmas story portrays a God, overflowing with love for every one of us, who went to every length to bless us in every way. The story also invites us to grant that love its fulfillment by letting it work the wonders of its grace upon us all!
Micah, a prophet who spoke for God seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, probably thought he was foretelling of a mere mortal ruler who, like a shepherd with his flock, would “stand and feed” his “kindred”, and lead them into God’s shalom, the peace that makes for wholeness, harmony, health and happiness.
But, if the Christmas story is true, it’s hard not to think that Micah was saying more than he knew: that the Ruler he was speaking of was Jesus: the Son of God, the Messiah, “whose origin is from of old, from ancient days,” who comes forth from Bethlehem after “she who is in labor has brought forth” a child, and who has now shown Himself to be “great to the ends of the earth”.
Many Christians, in how they live, show the greatness of this Jesus who, to this day, stands and feeds people in the strength of the Lord, and makes them living displays of His love. I think, for example, of Mary Daniel.
Mary happily grew old with her husband Steve. When Alzheimer’s got the better of him, she took care of him at home, making sure he took his medicines on schedule, helping him button his shirt when he forgot how to do it, and gently guiding him through his increasing confusion. When at last he had to move into an Alzheimer’s residence facility, she visited him every day, keeping him up-to-date about the goings-on of family, re-introducing him to those he lived with in the facility, and getting him ready for bed. When, at the start of the pandemic last year, such facilities closed their doors to visitors, Mary desperately sought ways to keep in touch with Steve. She saw he still needed her extra support and feared that the social isolation would kill him.
So when Mary learned that Steve’s facility needed a new dishwasher, she immediately applied for the position. She realized the job would make her an “essential worker”, and that would give her regular access into the facility, so she could visit Steve often. Upon being hired, she always arrived at work early, and lingered after, to give her and Steve together. She’d hold his hand, repeatedly tell him she loved him, and entertain him by chattering on about the latest in the lives of loved ones.
So Mary, a senior citizen herself, put up with scrubbing off disgusting food stuck to plates and pans, sweating with her arms immersed to the elbows in nearly scalding water, and suffering achy feet that hurt for hours after standing at the sink. She endured all that because it enabled her to bless and serve the man she loves with everything she’s got.
In her conduct Mary shows what I and others have experienced knowing Jesus’ love. He endures the pains and troubles of my world just to be with me. He spends time with me day after day and communicates with me in ways I can grasp. He lifts my spirits when I forget what I know and almost lose my mind in fear.
Mary’s story shows me the love of Micah’s Shepherd- Ruler. So does the story of John W. Fountain, a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, who some years ago gave his testimony on NPR. Fountain described encountering a God who “embraced me when Daddy disappeared from my life at age four the night the police led him down the front door stairs in handcuffs…warmed me when we could see our breath inside a freezing apartment after the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter and there was no food, little hope and no hot water…held my hand when I witnessed boys in my ‘hood swallowed by the elements, by death and by despair…claimed me when I felt like ‘no man’s son’, in the absence of any man to hug me and say, ‘it’s going to be OK’, or to speak proudly of me, or to call me ‘son’.”
Fountain went on to tell of how he has come to see the Shepherd-Ruler who took flesh and embodied God’s love as a perfect Father in place of the very human father he had lost…has come to see Jesus as a steadfast and steadying presence who holds him up when others treat him like a nothing and moves him forward when he reaches the end of his own resources…has come to know Jesus as the Savior who guides him with wisdom and an exhilarating vision of what he can be and empowers him “in the strength of the Lord” to make a difference in this hard, wayward world.
In the incarnation of Christmas, God out of love came for us. Let us grant that love its fulfillment by letting Jesus stand and feed us, and lead us into God’s shalom and the best version of ourselves!