Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Small Things

Luke 2:1-20

Have you ever received a gift that was, shall we say, not really what you were looking for? Not up your alley? Not what you were expecting or hoping for? I think we probably all have.

When I was 17 or so, my mother bought me the newest video game system for a Christmas gift. This was several years after I had stopped playing video games and had no interest in having something like that. And I didn’t know what to say about it or do with it. I did take it out and plug it in and use it a handful of times, but a couple years later, I turned around and sold it to someone for a whole lot less than it cost when it was new. Not what I was expecting or hoping for.

I wonder if the shepherds found themselves looking at a “Christmas gift,” the very first Christmas gift, shall we say, that was also “not what they were expecting or hoping for.” The angels said to them, “The Savior, the Messiah, the Lord has been born tonight. And this is how you will recognize him: He will be a baby, lying in a manger, wrapped in cloths.”

What kind of Savior is that? The Messiah is a descendant of King David. What was David like? Well, he was fabulously wealthy. He was a great military leader and warrior. And he brought about an unprecedented time in Israel’s history. For a brief period of time, they were the lone superpower in that part of the world. They conquered other nations, received tributes from them, and called the shots. A Savior, a deliverer should look like David, not like a baby.

By this time, David was ancient history. But there was something else much fresher in people’s minds when they thought of a deliverer.

From 586 BC up until this time, the Jewish people had pretty much always been a subjugated people. They were defeated by the Babylonians in 586, and lived under their rule for decades. Then the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, and they lived under Persian rule. Then the Persians were defeated by the Greeks, and they lived under Greek rule. And at this time, they were living under Roman rule. For almost 500 years, they were constantly living under someone else’s rule. We don’t have any concept of what that would be like in our experience, but I think we have to imagine it would be soul-crushing.

But there was one brief period when they were free, and it was recent enough that people would have a memory of it. In the middle of the second century BC, they were living under the rule of a Greek king named Antiochus IV. Antiochus hated Jewish

religion, so he outlawed it. He forced them to start worshipping the Greek gods. Many Jews went along with this, since the alternative was death.

But not all of them. A priest named Mattathias refused. When the Greek officials came to his town to make sure they were sacrificing to the Greek gods, he attacked and killed them. He died soon after, but his five sons, led by Judas took up the cause. Judas earned the nickname Maccabeus, meaning “the hammer,” because of his ferocity in battle. For eight years, the sons of Mattathias led a guerilla war, destroying pagan altars, attacking Greek settlements, and forcing Jews who had gone along with the occupiers back into Jewish practice. All five of the brothers died during the revolt, but they were successful, and one of Judas’ nephews, John Hyrcanus, became the king of a free Judea. They recaptured Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple, and renewed their religious practices. This event is remembered in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, in case you’re wondering. For a brief time, they even began to take back some of the territory they held in Old Testament times. Judas Maccabeus was the kind of person that the Jewish people were looking for as a deliverer: A great warrior, a conqueror, someone who would free them from foreign oppression.

But it was short-lived. A couple generations later, the last ruler of a free Judea was Queen Salome Alexandra. When she died, two of her sons fought a civil war for the throne. Rome intervened in the war, and another foreigner became king: Herod, the Great, the same Herod the Great that tried to murder Jesus as an infant. And they were back where they were, living under foreign oppression.

When an angelic message was proclaimed, “A Savior has been born,” you can be sure that people were hoping for another Judas Maccabeus. Instead, they found a baby, the child of poor peasants, wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger, a food trough for animals. How could he deliver them? He is, after all, just a very small person.

How often are we tempted to overlook small things? We have a saying, after all, “Bigger is always better.” And when we look for an answer, we look for something big. But God decided that his salvation would come from something small: A baby born to poor parents, a simple man who held no great position or power, a humble servant, and an act of self-sacrifice rather than something the world would take notice of.

Where do you need salvation in your life? Maybe it’s in a broken down relationship? Maybe it’s in a financial crisis or a health crisis or a life crisis? Maybe with feelings of overwhelming anxiety or depression?

We want our salvation to be big and obvious. “You know, if I just won the Powerball lottery, then I would get out from under this crisis.” That kind of thing. But

that’s probably not how salvation is going to look. It seems that God most often uses the small things of life to accomplish great things. That’s a pattern we see over and over in the Scriptures and in history since then. God told Gideon to send home 32,000 soldiers and just to keep 300 for the battle with Midian, after all.

We shouldn’t despise the small things in life. We shouldn’t look down on the power of small things. Maybe that’s our life lesson to take away from the coronavirus pandemic. Viruses are, after all, very small things. Maybe we shouldn’t doubt the power of small things.

And that also means that we should not despise or disregard ourselves. We may not feel like we are significant in the eyes of the world, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t accomplish great works through us.

Small things can become great things when God is in them. The salvation of the world began with a little baby. The church started with 120 people. We should never despise something just because it doesn’t seem significant in the eyes of the world. If we do, then we might miss out on what God is doing.

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