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 The Baby's First Picture Album

Sermon - 12/23/12
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Luke 1:46-55

I made a rather remarkable discovery the other day.  I was rummaging around in some of our archives when I found this old dusty photo album.  One of the things we have not yet found in the history of this historic building is a picture of when the church was being built.  Youíd think somebody would have taken a picture of such a grand enterprise in those days just over 100 years ago.  I know cameras were still a bit of a luxury, but there are pictures from that era of Eugene, even of our two previous buildings, just none that we can find before the building was finished in the late fall of 1911. 

So I opened this album with great anticipation.  But I found nothing of buildings, just old, faded photographs of ancient people.  People with names like Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary and Joseph written on the back.  I was so disappointed.  Then I thought, hmm, I remember those names from somewhere.  Oh yeah, the Christmas story!  Could it be?  Nah, itís not possible.  Everyone knows photographs wonít survive more that 200 years.  I mean why else donít we have any pictures before 1850?  Something to do with the ink they used back then in their print cartridges. 

But hey, Christmas is the time of miracles, so just suspend your disbelief for a moment and go with me on this, OK?  I mean, have you read the story lately?  Virgin birth, heavenly messengers popping in and out all over the place, choruses of angels singing to shepherds, stars leading kings on lengthy journeys without any GPS, and you think finding an ancient photo album is hard to believe?

In fact, that is exactly what the first three chapters of Lukeís gospel is!.  It is a scrapbook of a familyís first child. Luke shows us snapshots of the family in those early months.  And Iíve got a copy right here, from the archives of the church.

So we open the cover and see first a picture of cousin Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah. Elizabeth is beaming like a kid with a new bicycle, pregnant as a plum on a toothpick.    Old Zech has his mouth closed tighter than a tupperware lid.  Angel sealed it shut when he doubted his wife could have a child in their old age.  Boy was he ever wrong!  Looks Ďbout as happy as a frightened tiger on lifeboat.

And hereís a picture of Mary with Gabriel when she first got the good  news. Never mind the angel, canít see him anyway because heís so bright.  Look at that expression on Maryís face!  Talk about dropping your jaw.  Her mouth is open so wide you could drive team of camels through there! 

Then hereís a picture of the two together, says something about an unlikely pair of expecting cousins.  They look like a couple of giddy teenagers at a pajama party--which is understandable for Mary since she is  a teenager.  Elizabeth, however, looks to be at least three times her age.  But here they are, comparing the size of their unborn babies, grinning from womb to womb.

Look here, itís Elizabeth and Zechariah again with their new born son, John.  Old Zechís mouth isnít shut anymore, however.  By golly heís got something to say and by the looks of it, heís telling the WHOLE world.

Now here you go, isnít that special.  Itís the first picture of the baby Jesus, lying in the manger--not a very inviting place for giving birth, is it?  You can only hope that they at least some clean straw in that box.  Mary looks pooped and Joseph looks proud, as if it was all his doing.  But we know better, donít we? 

Oh and look at this, Luke found a picture of the shepherds who were there that night.  Boy they sure look like they came from the hills, donít they?  Matted hair, ragged clothes, chafed cheeks--I wonder how long itís been since they had a bath! 

Oh this is precious, the dedication of  the baby in the temple.  Old Simeon here looks like he has been waiting there for 100 years.  Look how he is holding Jesus.  Youíd think the baby was made of crystal.

Now letís see, somewhere in here I know there has to be a picture of the kings that came to see Jesus.  We all know there were kings, three I believe.  So where did Luke put it?  Surely someone would have taken a picture of the kings!  Or maybe heís saved some of that frankincense or myrrh between the pages. (sniff) You know, something to show off Jesusí royal lineage.  It has to be in here somewhere!  Iíll be darned, not a trace.

Ah wait, hereís something!  Tucked in behind that picture of Mary and Elizabeth. Itís a poem, maybe the words to a song.  And it has Maryís name on it!  Looks like something from a diary,--naw, couldnít be, women werenít allowed to write back then.  Letís see, looks Greek to me.  Fortunately, I had a semester of Greek in seminary so Iíll translate it for us:

And Mary said,
ĎMy soul magnifies the Lord, 
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.í

 

Well, donít that beat everything.  This whole story is full of surprises.  Youíd expect Mary would be knitting booties or practicing breathing techniques and instead Luke tells us she is composing revolutionary poetry about scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful and raising up the lowly.  Where we hold our pleasant little pageants, complete with tinsel-haloed angels and shepherds in bathrobes, Mary is talking about geo-politics and global economics.  This is not your average invitation to a baby shower!

Where do you suppose Luke found this?  Appears to have been written while Mary was still pregnant with Jesus.  Where do you suppose she got the inspiration for something like that?

Oh, wait, hereís another one, about a woman named Hannah.  Lookís like a page taken out of a Bible.  Sure enough, says 1 Samuel up at the top. Written in Hebrew.  Good thing I took those 4 weeks of Hebrew from that Rabbi when we lived in Fresno.  Shall I translate it for you?

Says here that Hannah was barren and ridiculed by other women because she was unable to bear children.  She takes her story to God in the temple, weeping hysterically.  The priest, Eli,  thought she was drunk--funny how the men in all these stories are pictured, Zechariah is struck dumb, Joseph doesnít appear in Lukeís album until after Jesus is born and Eli, this priest, canít tell the difference between a woman in great distress and one who has had great drink.  Not a very impressive lot, these guys. 

In any case, it says Hannah tells her sad story to Eli and he replies that God will grant her desire.  Hanna takes the word of the priest as the gospel truth, and lo and behold, conceives a child, who she then dedicates to Godís service.  When she brings the child to the temple, she prays, or perhaps sings, this song:

             ďMy heart exults in the LORD;
                                my strength is exalted in my God.
                My mouth derides my enemies,
                                because I rejoice in my victory.

             The bows of the mighty are broken,
                                but the feeble gird on strength.

             Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
                                but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
                The barren has borne seven,
                                but she who has many children is forlorn.

             The LORD kills and brings to life;
                                he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

             The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
                                he brings low, he also exalts.

             He raises up the poor from the dust;
                                he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
                to make them sit with princes
                                and inherit a seat of honor.
                For the pillars of the earth are the LORDíS,
                                and on them he has set the world.

            The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
                                he will give strength to his king,
                                and exalt the power of his anointed.Ē

And look here, we even have a picture of that child, though it is really old and faded.  Says his name was Samuel, the last judge of Israel who anointed the first king to rule the nation.  And here we have the once barren Hanna, Samuelís mother, singing of the ways God humbles the mighty and lifts the lowly, how God reverses the fortunes of the rich and the poor.  Then we have the just betrothed young Mary, who sings of the way God humbles the mighty and lifts the lowly, and how God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.  Coincidence? 

Did you note the one small difference between Hannaís song and Maryís?  The tense of the verbs. Assuming I translated them accurately of course. Hannaís is all in the present tense,  whereas Maryís is in the past tense.  Hanna speaks of what God is doing through the birth of her son which has already taken place, Mary of what God has done through the birth of her son which is yet to come. 

We all believe our children can do great things but Mary is so confident in what her son will accomplish that she announces it as a fait accompli before he is even born.

Consider the two children.  Samuel, who begins a new era by anointing first Saul and then David to unite the 12 tribes of Israel into one nation, and Jesus, descendant of David, who begins another new era, uniting all humanity into one family under God.

Consider, too, the women God chooses to bring a special child into the world to fulfill Godís promises over and over again:  first there was Sarah, too old, who gave birth to Isaac; Rebeccah and Rachel, both barren, gave birth to the leaders of the next generation of patriarchs, first Jacob and then Joseph; Hanna, also barren, gave birth to Samuel; Elizabeth, too old, gave birth to John the Baptist; and now finally, Mary, this time neither too old or barren, but an unwed teenager, who by all rights, was not supposed to be pregnant, indeed could have been stoned for being pregnant. 

Talk about reversing fortunes and lifting the lowly!  Jesusí birth was by no means the first miraculous birth in the Bible, it is however, an indication once again of the incredible new and surprising ways God works in our world.  And this scrapbook that Luke has put together for us says it all.   

This is more than the story of a young motherís first pregnancy and a babyís first album, it is the story of humanityís barrenness and Godís fertility, it is the story of shepherds who become kings, of a low-class working girl who becomes the most blessed of all women, of a baby born in a barn and who is honored by all creation, of the crucified one who is the Savior of all.  This is much more than a report of an unusual birth, it is the poetís lyrical verse on life, the philosopherís vision of the universe, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, Handelís Messiah, and more all wrapped into this photo album.

No wonder Maryís soul magnifies the Lord!  That God should be her Savior is no surprise, but that God should bring salvation for all into the world through her, a young peasant girl, now that is a shocker.  God has turned the world upside down!  Weíd associate the Ruler of Creation with royalty, instead God chooses a commoner.  Weíd look for a Savior of the Nations to come from a long line of mighty warriors, instead we find him in a little-known carpenterís family. Take a look at these pictures in Lukeís album of the baby Jesus.  Taken as a lot they donít amount to a hill of beans in the worldís estimation.  I guess God sees things a little differently than we do.

And it is no wonder that Mary sings her praises to God.  This news, this conception of Godís presence in the world is so miraculous, so wonderful, so incredible, you have to sing, like Hanna and Mary.  It takes more than words and even more than pictures to convey what God is doing, indeed, what God has already done, in Maryís child. 

But you know what?  There is a blank page in this album. Like the Mayan calendar, it ends with a question mark, a space waiting to be filled. The song isnít finished yet, the picture isnít complete.  There is one more page to be written, one more picture to be added. 

It is the page with your name on it.  You have been chosen to bring Godís music into the world, just like Mary.  You have been impregnated with Godís Word, just like Mary.  You can bring Christ into this world, just like Mary.  And God has given you a blank page to record this incredible news for all to hear and see. 

What will you write, what picture will you take to be included in the album? 

Think about it, but donít take too long, the new baby can only wait so long.

 


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