It is axiomatic in the Bible that God takes the weak. the unlikely, and the outsider, and uses them to carry his message to the world.
As that is with people so also it is with places
So the prophet Micah contrasts the fortunes of the seat of Kings and the Temple – Jerusalem with the tiny hamlet of Bethlehem.
And in the process Biblically literate people turn naturally to David the youngest and most unlikely of rulers compared to his brothers, and of course also in that mental process to David and Goliath.
Micah says that is in little Bethlehem that the promised future ruler will come, not Jerusalem, and he will also be in David’s line.
I have always loved the fact that the literal translation of the name Bethlehem means the “House of Bread” and there is a wonderful symmetry in the Bread of Life being born in the House of Bread. Just as an interesting aside - In Coptic (Egyptian) churches you know each church bakes its own bread for the Eucharist – a wonderful thing - and each oven in every church is known as its Bethlehem – the house of bread.
It is in Bethlehem that another outsider, a baby born to a young Jewish couple from Nazareth will change the world forever.
How Jesus the baby boy born in Bethlehem changes the world as Jesus the man from Nazareth is told us in the letter to the Hebrews;
This man Jesus, as God’s very self and agent becomes our Great High Priest, offers His very self as a willing sacrifice for sin, and in that process wins a decisive battle against sin and death and wins us forgiveness, access to God and eternal life. Jesus’ sacrifice was a cosmic fulfilling of the words to Abraham in Genesis 22:8 “God will provide the lamb”.
So for those of us who believe, the world look like a very different place than to an unbeliever.
Our lives are not written between the barriers of birth and death, our lives are written against an infinite horizon.
Our actions have eternal significance – we have hope, because the final battle has already been won. A new age has been inaugurated and we have a place within it. When we repent, no matter what we’ve done, our sins are forgiven.
But let’s move back to before the time Jesus was revealed in great power at the resurrection to be our mighty king, as foretold in Micah or our Great High Priest as proclaimed in Hebrews and go back to that story of a lowly birth to a village girl in a manger told by Luke and let concentrate on Mary herself for a moment.
True to past form God chose another outsider, a peasant girl, to bring forth Jesus Christ into the world. And it is in that motif that I can really connect with Mary.
The catholic cult of Mary has done great violence to her and her place in the Christian story.
In fact, the doctrine of the immaculate conception and the assumption of Mary into heaven for me just obscures the real worth of Mary. In the words of the Book of common prayer “they are rather repugnant to the word of God”.
She is if fact an icon of the whole aim and purpose of the Christian life.
When you think about it, a Christian is supposed to be filled with the Holy Spirit and thereby give birth to Christ in the world – we are in fact called by saint Paul – the body of Christ. Our aim is to bring forth, give birth to Christ in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit which is exactly what Mary did.
She surrendered to God “Let it be to me according to your word” and was filled with the Holy Spirit and after nine months gave birth to Christ in the world. She gave birth literally of course whereas our giving birth is not literal, the outcome is just as physical and real for all that in its effects.
And just as there was a gestation period between being filled with the Spirit and Mary giving birth to Christ so there is often a considerable gap between the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the fruit of the Spirit being manifest in our personal and corporate lives.
Now how Christ is present in our lives is through the Holy Spirit. It is the action of the Spirit that is very important here.
So the Holy Spirit is vital to Christianity but is somehow the Cinderella of the Holy Trinity in mainstream churches, but I say that recovering a theology of the presence and gifts of the Spirit is vital for our flourishing.
Christianity has been reduced too often to a passionless intellectual exercise in many churches but actually it is only when the heart and our emotions are touched and engaged that the church starts to explode into life.
And I know the Spirit is moving in this place. I can feel it. Can you feel it too?
It is exciting. Who knows where the Spirit will lead us, but wherever that is, it will be where God wants us to be, if we follow. If you can feel the Spirit moving within yourself, forget your British reserve and stiff upper lip and give in to it, surrender to God as Mary did and let the Spirit flow.