"You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel..." (Micah 5:1)
When I opened today's readings for the first time this past week to read them, the word small for some reason kept jumping out at me. Today we gather on this last Sunday of Advent to celebrate, to rejoice in, and to remember that salvation came from a small town and from a small human being who also happened to be God. That is the beauty and mystery of Christmas. The small, the meek, the innocent can teach us so much this blessed season. This past week our school children doing their Nativity plays were so proud of the parts they played: Mary, Joseph, shepherds, kings, stars, and even the animals in the manger. When I went around on Friday asking each kid what role they were playing, a first grader proudly asserted, "I'm the donkey!" We all have a part to play in salvation...especially the small and especially our children. It's as if they understand Christmas on another level, perhaps they understand what we have forgotten as adults.
Mary, who calls herself the "little one of the Lord," visits her cousin Elizabeth in today's gospel, and their children are the protagonists of the story while inside the womb. An unborn child, John, is filled with the Holy Spirit and leaps for joy in the presence of the unborn Christ Child. Yes, Elizabeth's words are powerful, as are Mary's words when she "proclaims the greatness of the Lord," but these two extraordinary women are only too happy to let their children teach us how joyful we should be this time of year. This morning I brought the children up to the sanctuary to preach to them for the first time in a while and I shared with them the message of today's gospel. I pointed out to them the empty crib of hay that laid at the foot of the altar and asked them what it meant. One little girl very astutely explained that it represented our hearts that are preparing to receive Jesus this Advent. This is why I love preaching children's homilies, especially around Christmas, because they "get it." As I asked them if they were excited for Christmas, you could see the excitement and sense of wonder in their eyes, and not just for the upcoming presents, but they very matter of factly explained that it was because Jesus was coming.
Towards the end, I stood up and asked their parents and all the adults the following question: Are we filled with the same child like joy as Christmas approaches? We should long to see our God as the shepherds did on that first Christmas night. If not, our prayer these final few days of Advent should be today's psalm response: "Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved." (Psalm 80:4)