On a brightly lit winter's morn we assembled again here at New Life Covenant Church in Saginaw. Brad greeted us with his usual "Good morning" and noted that it was the Third week of Advent
1. This afternoon is our Christmas program at 4:00 p.m. followed by an International meal.
2. We've adopted a family through Salvation Army to help them enjoy a fuller Christmas. Those desiring to contribute, bring your things by Wednesday. Wrapped if possible, but not necessary.
3. To those baking Christmas cookies for St. Louis County Jail… let Ruth Anne know if you are baking cookies. We need them by Tuesday a.m.
4. Next Saturday there will be a family Christmas event… caroling for shut-ins followed by soup and sandwiches, then a bonfire.
After Darlene's introit Brad read to us from Isaiah 2:4 and lit the third Advent candle.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Our praise and worship time consisted of singing hymns and carols selected by the congregation, always appreciated at this time of year. The offering was taken and then we read from Isaiah 64:1-4, 8-11
After a time of prayer Elsa Holmgren was introduced to deliver today's message.
Elsa began by sharing how she's spent a lot of time thinking about the story of Mary, stimulated in part by an article by Scot McKnight which appeared in Christianity Today:
There are two Marys. One wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. This is the familiar Blessed Virgin Mary, and she leads us to a Christmas celebration of quiet reflection.
Another Mary—the Blessed Valorous Mary—wears ordinary clothing and exudes hope from a confident face. This Mary utters poetry fit for a political rally, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, musters her motherliness to reprimand her Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, follows her faith to ask him to address a flagging wine supply at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. This Mary followed Jesus all the way to the Cross—not just as a mother, but as a disciple, even after his closest followers deserted him. She leads us to a Christmas marked by a yearning for justice and the courage to fight for it.
Elsa took the nativity figurine of Mary and was studying it this week, noting how the Mary's gaze was directed toward the Child Jesus. So, too, Mary's words draw our focus to Jesus in her first exclamations after learning about the Lord's purpose for her.
What kind of God would choose Mary of all people? She was the first to receive the amazing news of this coming king, visited by Gabriel. (Luke 2:26ff) It is a grand proclamation with sweeping cosmic news that came to a 14 year old girl who had no status in society… ethnically wrong group, poor, living amongst a people waiting for deliverance from a foreign power.
By the world’s standard, Mary may have been the smallest person in the world that God could find. In terms of social stature and importance she was, in the grand scheme of things, equivalent in significance as plankton in the ocean. From a poor family in the humble estate of nobody.
Upon hearing Gabriel's announcement that she would conceive and bear a child who is son of the Most High God who would ascend to the throne of David and rule forever, Mary ran to her cousin Elizabeth's house and exclaimed,
“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
All this was laying the foundation for a key point that Elsa strove to make. That is, to understand what the Gospel is, it helps to recognize what kind of Gospel it is not.
In those days, there was the gospel of Rome. In Rome's "Gospel" the Emperor was "the power." A system of roads and governance brought a form of peace to the civilized world which was under Roman rule. But in the true gospel, the Good News was that the son of God was an actual savior who would bring true peace…
It is interesting how God chose the powerless to shame the powerful…. And Mary’s song reflects the subversive nature of the Gospel: “God is on the throne and will crush all the Caesars.” Implication: A new king has arrived.
The Gospel of Rome says we have to wear the right clothes, have the right things. The true Gospel says we are not slaves to the Gospel of Rome. Jesus transforms us into heirs to the Good News… the path to Christ’s kingdom is to give up on the Gospel of Rome.
Not only did God become a baby, but He became a baby of the lowest of the low in social stature. He was a man of no reputation… and Isaiah writes of him, "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Isa. 53:2) All this is in stark contrast to the Gospel of Rome, focused on success, power and a winning smile.
Elsa stressed the importance of rejecting the world's value systems. Only by the grace of God can we have the strength to reject the Gospel of Rome. "Repent of Rome and run back to Him. Our God is not tired of forgiving."
In closing she reiterated that we have a glad invitation to reject the Gospel of Rome and Rome’s rat race… to embrace the Gospel of freedom, meaning and life.