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
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
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
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
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is
The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.