December 11, 2016 – A little child shall lead them

Advent 3   December 11, 2016   Luke 1:68-79 (Canticle of Zechariah), Isaiah 11:1-9, Matthew1:18-23, Luke 1:39-55   A little child shall lead them

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God has overthrown the world order – without a shot fired or any public display of force. So Mary’s song, known as the Magnificat, declares. God’s quiet revolution, almost unseen and unheard… is first made known in a quiet household of women bearing babes in their wombs – welcoming each other with joy in God’s beloved community.

I like to imagine Mary and Elizabeth having tea and muffins together every day, during that time they had together… Sitting in a small, cozy kitchen like a womb, a warm, nurturing place. Simple humble hospitable space where it’s safe to sing outrageous love songs to God… Or sit quietly without saying a word.

The only man around, far as we know, is Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah. Who has been mute, unable to speak, for six months by the time Mary arrives, because of not believing the angel Gabriel’s promise of a son… A promise Elizabeth did believe. And Mary, of course, believed an even-harder-to-believe promise from the same angel a little later… (and…)

Zechariah will get his voice back when baby John the Baptist is born – and give a great shout-out then to God, in the words we’ve read this morning in the Canticle of Zechariah. Which, like Mary’s song, is a New Testament Psalm… A re-telling of the prophet’s word – “A little child shall lead them.”

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A little child shall lead them… So the prophet Isaiah declares more than 700 years before the births of John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah…

And many parents can attest – a little child, especially our firstborn child – will surely lead us – even from the womb. Lead us in decisions we make – places we go, things we do – words we speak and don’t speak… (and–)

The children Mary and Elizabeth carry in their wombs are for sure the lead topic of  conversation, as these women, young and old together, greet each other… Baby John the Baptist leaping for joy in the womb of Elizabeth at the sound of the voice of Mary… Mother-to-be of Jesus… The child who now leads us all…

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All children come as a gift from God… equipped with holy imagination and holy power from God to influence their parents and others…

And it is right for us to let children lead us… because…

Children can imagine God’s kingdom better than most of us… Children can imagine animals that act like humans…Imagine kingdoms beyond the familiar world we know… Without bogging down in whether the vision is literal or parable or both…

Children may have many, many questions, but – children can enjoy the Narnia Chronicles of CS Lewis, in which intelligent animals act like humans at their best… Some better, even, than the best humans… (Thinking mostly of Aslan the lion, the Christ figure in the Narnia tales. But there’s also times when even a slightly-above-average dog, cat, or horse acts better than a lot of humans…And…)

We need to let our little children lead us… because…

Children can imagine the peaceable kingdom Isaiah sees and sketches out for us today. A vision from God in which “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion… together – and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together… the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”

And children can imagine this amazing interspecies peace and harmony…. if they’re given encouragement, time, and permission to do so…

Children are not usually interested in detailed bible commentary notes on the possible historical context of Isaiah’s vision… (Most adults I know aren’t all that interested either…Those of us who are… tend to be considered ‘bible geeks.’)

But children can be very interested in hearing about a world where all creatures great and small live together in peace…  (Come to think of it – quite a few adults I know are interested in hearing more about this possibility also.)

We need to let our children lead us… Because children often understand the gospel better than most adults. Children often remember better than most of us… that the bottom line of the gospel is the love of God… and the love of one another…

Children understand better than most of us… that a huge part of the story of Jesus is his coming into this world, humble and lowly, born of a poor young woman. Born human, like us, yet conceived by God – sent straight-from-God, filled with God’s Holy Spirit…

Children can imagine Jesus in his mother’s womb, singing along with his mother’s song of a world turned upside down…

The powerful brought down from their thrones. The lowly lifted up…

The hungry filled with good things. The rich sharing all they have till they’re perhaps no longer rich in this world… Though now they can be truly rich in God’s heavenly kingdom…

Children can believe God has already helped his people, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promises he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever… So…

We need to let little children lead us… because children understand better than most adults, that God uses strong language sometimes, like a parent, to get us to pay attention to God’s story – and do as God says to do…

Children understand its wrong for some to have way too much while others don’t have enough to live on… (We have to teach our children economics, history, and political science… to get them to think differently from the way Jesus and his mother and the prophets all tell God’s story…)

We need to let children lead us… Because… children have an instinct for holy community. Baby John the Baptist is so excited about Jesus – he’s jumping for joy in his mother’s womb. Glad to be keeping company with Jesus and friends…

Children can understand intuitively – the miracle of Jesus’s birth is one of God’s best ways of helping us understand God’s love for every child.

Children can understand at least as well as adults – biblical faith is about our personal salvation (yes) – but also at least as much – about God remaking the world… to be the way God wants the world to be…

We need to let little children lead us… because… children have an intuition to love all people and animals… unless they’re taught otherwise… And of course…

Every once in awhile adults understand this too…  Francis of Assissi for example,  also known as St Francis… had the heart of a child…

One of the Franciscan orders’s web sites says:

“On Christmas, Francis wanted the poor and the hungry to be filled by the rich; (and–) he said that more than the usual amount of grain and hay should (also) be given to oxen and asses. (Francis said:) ‘If I could speak to the emperor, I would ask that a… law be made that all who can should scatter corn and grain along the roads so that the birds might have an abundance of food on that day of such great solemnity, especially our sisters the larks.’” (Good singers, those larks must be.)

One year, on Christmas Eve, “Francis invited the people of the region into a cave that he had filled with straw and animals. He wanted them to feel the heat generated by the animals in the stable… smell the damp hay crammed into the cave’s close quarters. He prepared a crib…intended for…animals’ food as a resting place for the infant Christ…” To show “how God had entered and continues to enter into their familiar world. God, who is infinite love, shared their lot and lived as one of them.”

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A little child shall lead us…the prophet has declared.

Elizabeth and John say amen.

Mary and Jesus in her womb reveal this truth in all its fullness…

A little child shall lead us…

Little children – and those who see with the eyes of the heart as children of God… Will lead us…

Lead us on… To the place where our Savior is born…

in the depths of this world, in the heart of the love of God…

Born to show us the way…

He is the Way…

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Isaiah 11:1-9

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Matthew 1:18-23

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

Luke 1:39-55

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

And Mary said, “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. 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 sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”