Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021
“The Little Town That Could”
Rev. Chelsea Page

“The Little Town That Could”

In children’s chat during Advent, we have been checking in with our bodies to see how we are feeling while we wait for Christmas. We have taken a moment to see what we are feeling in our eyes, feet, and arms. So today let’s check in with our legs.

Move your attention to your legs: how do they feel? Are they feeling relaxed, restless, warm, cold, or something else?

When Mary found out she was pregnant with Jesus, she ran with haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who lived in a Judean town in the hill country.

I wonder if her legs were tired. I wonder where your legs carried you today. I wonder if your legs ever feel like they need a rest.

I can relate. It’s been a long year! But friends, now is not the time to rest. Now is the time to get excited, because Christmas is almost here! Because of Jesus’s birth the whole world will change, and we get to be part of it. This is the wonder at the heart of Mary’s song the Magnificat – that God is bringing about a new realm of love on earth, and a young girl like Mary gets to play a key role. It’s almost like she just can’t believe the good news, that she has been cast as a lead in the amazing drama of salvation. How marvelous that God can do such grand work through such small people, ordinary people like you and I. But it makes sense – God chose the absolute littlest among us to bring about the miracle of God’s love on earth – a baby. The baby Jesus, born of Mary, a nobody child born in a nobody place to a nobody girl. And not just that baby, either. We heard in our gospel story today that six months before Jesus’s birth, the baby John leaped in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, filled with joy that he too would have a role to play in supporting the ministry of God incarnate.

If an unborn baby who barely has legs can be this ready, how much more ready should we be, to have our legs take us on the path of Jesus’s ministry, loving others and announcing a new world order based on love?

But like so much of proclaiming the good news, this falls into the category of easier said than done. The fact that the incarnation was not just about Jesus’s birth or Jesus’s flesh, but requires us, our flesh, our rebirth of love, is slightly intimidating.

Incarnation requires us. That’s hard.

Somewhere down the line, my baby Lyra got her sticky little hands on a copy of the 1930 picture book The Little Engine That Could. One by one, wealthy and powerful engines pass by a stranded line of train cars needing their help, until a weak little miniature engine comes rolling along. Instead of passing by like the others, she says “I think I can, I think I can,” and sure enough, carries the train to town and safety.

In our first reading today, the prophet Micah proclaimed that it is a little town called Bethlehem, quite least among the clans, that would bring forth the paragon of peace. And then when it came time to actually get the Messiah born in Bethlehem, it turned out to be a job for the Little Engine that Could. Mary calls herself a “lowly servant” in her song of triumph the Magnificat. But she believes in herself when no one else does, because she believes that God could make her great. God raises up the poor because God expects great things from them, and wants us to expect great things from ourselves too. As for the rich and powerful? God promises to challenge them to give up anything in their lives that might get in the way of the flow of love and justice to others. Mary proclaims that the rich would become poor so that the poor, including the ones who once were recently rich, can become truly rich together. It’s a vision of everyone having enough.

Mary the prophetic mother of Jesus knew the power of the prayer, “I think I can, I think I can.” It’s the literal meaning of the word Magnificat – to magnify the power of God. Mary’s spiritual brilliance is that she knows she is small, she knows she is incapable, but she is willing to allow her soul “to magnify the Lord.” Praise and joy make her bigger than she is in the eyes of others.

So if all this happened in towns as out of the way as Nazareth and Bethlehem and the hill country of Judea, wherever that is, that means it could happen to us, right here in our town, and in any little town across the world. For if this is how God got born the first time, it is likely this is always how love is going to be born again here on Earth. For love to be born in all flesh, as surely as it was born in Jesus, means that we will all have to love and reverence every single person born. How? By pulling down any structure and ideology that destroys the vision of beloved community. Fortunately, God’s justice, as revealed in the ministry of Jesus, is actively working with us to bring about true community. For in the end, it’s not really about “I think I can I think I can,” but rather “I think we can, I think we can.”

When I finally pulled The Little Engine that Could off of Lyra’s shelf and read it again after many years, it struck me that the moral of this story is actually different than most people think it is. The Little Engine doesn’t just “think I can” her own way up the hill, although her optimism is an important part of the equation. All along the way she is cheered on by the animals and toys who are riding the train in need of rescue. Like Mary, the Little Engine was lucky to find an Elizabeth in her life, friends who magnified her courage with their encouragement.

If we, the small individuals that we are, can just remember that we are part of a much bigger body, a body as beautiful as Christ’s own body – maybe incarnation isn’t such a hard thing after all.