(Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/aOLC9MA9-GA)
The Miracle of Contradictions
(Fourth Sunday of Advent)
December 19, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
What are your favorite Christmas gifts?
We often see television commercials that try to convince us that fifty-thousand-dollar pickup trucks are an appropriate gift with which to surprise your spouse, apparently without consulting them on such a huge expenditure. Yikes.
But advertisers also try to convince us that bigger is better and that Christmas is a time to overextend our spending and buy diamonds, or giant flat screen televisions, or other things that almost certainly don’t fit in out budgets. But is it the big things that we remember? What gifts do you have in your homes, or in your memories, that you treasure the most? I still have a Mickey Mouse watch that I wore when I was in elementary school, and I have a paperweight that my grandfather brought home from a trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. And I remember a Christmas when my brother Dean gave me a little plastic railroad crossing gate for the model railroad that my father and I were building in the basement. Dean didn’t know anything about our project, but he knew that I liked trains. It wasn’t an expensive gift. And it came out of the package broken. Dean was visibly disappointed that he had given me something broken. But you know what? I glued it back together and it found a place in our layout. But more than that, I knew that he cared. I’m pretty sure that crossing gate got thrown out or lost several decades ago, but I think about that gift, and the thought and love behind it often when I see crossing gates on model railroads anywhere.
It sounds like a contradiction, but often the most meaningful and the most memorable gifts aren’t the biggest or most expensive but were in fact the smallest and most inexpensive.
And we see those same kinds of contradictions at work in the story of Christmas as God upsets the status quo and sends the king of the universe to be born in stable and sleep in a feeding trough. And the entire story of Christmas and the coming of the messiah is steeped in, and filled with, those contradictions from the earliest prophecies of his coming. And, as we look for, and investigate, these contradictions, we find that these contradictions are some of the greatest miracles of all. We begin this morning with God’s prophecy of the coming messiah found in Micah 5:2-5a where it says:
2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;and he shall be the one of peace.
Micah declares that the smallest of Israel’s clans will produce the greatest king that Israel would ever have and continues by saying that God was bringing something new into the world that was already ancient. Micah says that someone new is coming to rule in Israel who already existed in the dark recesses of their ancient past. And so, Judah would be both small and great, the messiah would be both new and ancient, and would have great strength but would bring peace instead of bloodshed. And then with the coming of Jesus, the contradictions continue as we read Luke 1:39-45 where he says:
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Elizabeth declares that Mary, despite being poor, is the most blessed woman on the planet. Also, Elizabeth recognized Mary’s child, who was unborn, as her Lord and king. And if those contradictions weren’t enough, Elizabeth’s child, John, despite being blind and still inside of his mother’s womb, sees clearly, and has the perception to recognize the arrival of Jesus and Mary.
And the contradictions continue in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews as he summarizes the coming of Jesus this way in Hebrews 10:5-10:
5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Jesus said that sacrifices and offerings were not desired by God even though history, tradition, scripture, and the law of Moses required them. And then Paul says that the coming of Jesus not only abolishes God’s system of worship for his people, but also establishes a new system of worship for his people.
That’s a lot of contradiction in just a small sampling of scripture from the Christmas story. But why would I say that this is a miracle? What is this miracle of contradictions?
Simply put, the miracle of contradictions is that the story of Christmas isn’t just one big miracle about the birth of the messiah. It isn’t just a story about the birth of a king, or even the birth of God’s son. It’s a bigger and deeper story that involves ordinary people, with ordinary lives, and a story in which God, repeatedly, does the unexpected, in new, different, and surprising ways.
Judah is small, but great.
The Messiah is new, but ancient.
Would be strong enough to rule the ends of the earth but would bring peace instead of bloodshed.
Mary is poor but blessed beyond measure.
Jesus is unborn, but king.
John is blind but sees.
The sacrifices of God are required but undesired.
The messiah’s arrival abolishes but establishes.
The story of Christmas is filled with the miracle of contradictions, and it is that miracle that makes the story unexpected, fills the story with mystery and wonder, draws us in, and welcomes us, not only as spectators, but participants in the story. The story of the coming of the messiah is filled, not with kings and princes, and rich and powerful people of influence, but ordinary people like us. The story of Christmas is a story of poor people, farmers, laborers, sheep herders, scholars, infants, old people, the forgotten, the outcasts, and the unwanted. In God’s most powerful and meaningful story, the pivotal actors are all people like us. Ordinary.
God did not choose to use kings and princes. Instead, he used ordinary people of faith. God chose to trust the people who trusted him to begin his most miraculous work of all and to share the story of that miracle with the world.
And that’s still the way that God works.
That’s a part of the mystery and wonder of the story.
God still calls ordinary people; people like you and me. God still calls farmers, laborers, sheep herders, children, the elderly, the forgotten, the outcasts, the unwanted, and the unexpected. The greatest movements in history, the greatest agents of change in the world, are usually not presidents and prime ministers, bad boys, and billionaires, or even millionaires, movie stars and the monied elites. The people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the orphans and the widows, bandage the wounded, and do the work of Jesus in the world are, most often, unsung, unheralded, unnoticed, ordinary people of faith because God trusts the people who trust him.
It’s mysterious and it’s wonderful.
The miracle of contradictions is that the God who spoke the universe into existence, wants me, and wants you, to do his work, to represent him, to be his ambassadors, to share his story with the world, and to be Jesus to the people around us.
We see it in the Christmas story, but God has been working like that all along.
It is one of life’s greatest contradictions.
But these are the contradictions that welcome us into the story.
Not just as spectators… but as participants.
And may just be the most meaningful Christmas gift of all.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.