Written by Pastor Ed
Freedom Bound – the Path of Love
December 20, 2015
As I was beginning to work with the material and themes suggested for this fourth Sunday in Advent, the words “freedom” and “love” reminded me of a poster that was popular back in my university days, that is, a long time ago, that said, “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they’re yours. If they don’t, they never were.” Actually I think it may have said “your children” but you get the point.
Of course, as I was looking for images of this I found all sorts of parodies, like this one that says, “If it comes back it probably needs money.” Or another one that suggested whether you love someone or hate someone you should set them free and just get a cat, or dog, instead.
Now while that saying is a nice sentiment, I’m not sure about its implications. But certainly the ideas of love and freedom do go together. In the context of marriage or family we often talk about the fact that it is only when you know that you are truly loved that you can truly be free to be who you really are. Often in dating, as two people are getting to know each other, they put on only their good side until they know whether it is safe to show other parts of their personality.
So what does all that have to do with Advent and the passages of Scripture we read this morning from Micah and Luke? Well, I’ll admit, I’ve struggled with that question most of the week. So here’s what I’ve come up with and you can decide if it makes sense.
The freedom that comes with love allows for the unexpected, and certainly there is much in the story of Jesus’ birth that is unexpected. And it works both ways. Let me explain.
People of the first century, as well as today, had a certain image of how God should act, or does act. We tend to build that image up through what we are taught, through experiences we have had, and from our own imaginations. But this story goes against all the conventional thinking. It reminds me of the story of the little boy who was asked by his mother what he learned in SS that morning. And he told her how the children of Israel fled from Egypt and got to the Red Sea with the Egyptian army behind them, and then they called in air support and bombed the Egyptians and escaped. “Is that really what they taught you,” the mother asked. “Well not exactly, but the way they told it you’d never believe it.”
Let’s look at this story we celebrate this week with the eyes of someone who is sure they know how God operates. God so loved the world… that he sent his son, who was to be the saviour of the world, as a baby, born of a human mother. And not just any mother, but a young, not yet married mother. In many ways a nobody, although her lineage was good. Even Joseph, her intended, had to be convinced that this was not a good reason to break off the engagement.
And then to be born into such circumstances. The timing was not great, to say the least. To have your due date during a called census, when you were going to have to travel. These days they won’t usually even let you on an airplane if you’re close to your due date. And the town was crowded.
Oh yes, that’s another thing. The town – Bethlehem. Micah talks about Bethlehem. In the days of Micah, when the Assyrian army was ransacking the country side and laying siege to all the fortified cities, Bethlehem had been simply over run and laid waste. It was not one of your fortified cities and so had put up little resistance to the invading army. It was one of those villages outside Jerusalem that, while it had a long history and was the birthplace of David, had seen better days. Why would God choose such a place as Bethlehem when there were much safer places for Jesus to be born?
And why a baby, that most vulnerable of persons? Even today infant mortality is a concern in most of the world. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have found a strapping young man who could be tapped on the shoulder and recruited for the job? And we know that somewhere in his infancy the family fled to Egypt, not an easy journey even if it was on a major trade route. Refugee children die at an even higher rate.
But then that isn’t the way God has tended to work. It was Mary’s ancestor David, the youngest of all Jesse’s sons who was chosen to be king. It was a somewhat bumbling, skeptical Gideon who fought off the invading army with a handful of soldiers. God never seems to work the way we think would be most convenient or make the most sense, from our perspective.
And Mary’s song, which is a reflection of many other songs in the scripture, recognizes and celebrates a God who is free to do whatever God chooses to carry out God’s purposes. In a world that, both then and now, tends to put an emphasis on the bigger and better, on military might and giving privilege to the rich, God’s agenda seems woefully out of sync. No wonder so many people today tend to say that those ideas are only for the future kingdom after Jesus returns.
But that kingdom was announced by John as coming even now, inaugurated by the birth of this infant whom we celebrate and follow. And we have to be ready to allow God to operate as God sees fit, in God’s time and way. Love for God means allowing God to do the unexpected, even when it seems crazy to us.
And God’s love for us allows us freedom as well. God never forces us to do anything, and God loves us no matter what we do, or who we are. We sometimes get the notion that if we do certain things, or perhaps don’t do certain things, God will no longer love us. But the reality is that God loved the world, and as Paul says, the amazing thing is that while we were, or are, yet sinners, God still loves us and sent his son to live among us.
And with that kind of love shown to us, we can be free to be who we truly are. Love sets us free to do the unexpected, to act like God did in sending Jesus. To live as though Mary’s song was already happening.
Where might we see God acting in unexpected ways? Through whom might God be working today, someone we would least expect to be God’s chosen one, as Mary was? Unfortunately, I’m afraid, too often we look for God to only work in the ways we expect, through people who are just like us.
But if Christmas tells us anything, it is that God’s love comes to set us free from our preconceived notions. Thankfully Elizabeth was ready to welcome Mary and invite her in, turning what could have been a shameful situation into one of joy and honour. In that way Elizabeth freed Mary to rejoice and recognize God at work in her.
And if God’s love extends to everyone, can our love do any less? Who are the unexpected people in our communities that God may be working through, if we only have eyes to see? Who shows up on our doorstep that we need to welcome as Elizabeth did to Mary? Love frees us, and them, to act in unexpected ways, and the results are often amazing.
As the commentator on this passage at Workingpreacher.org said, “May we, like Elizabeth and Mary, trust that God is coming to save and free us. May we, like them, give thanks that God has taken away our shame and then respond to God’s love by welcoming the shameful. May we, like them, become a community that supports each other as we hope and wait.”