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Advent 4 December 20, 2015 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46-55; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
December 20, 2015
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
At the university where I teach, I have occasion to meet with staff members who work in the Office of Advancement, what used to be called Development, what is, for all intents and purposes, fund-raising. They are inclined to tell me that every successful campaign or individual request invites people to support a project or group that is doing well, that is already successful and would be strengthened and expanded by additional support. Or, as one of the more plainspoken of my advancement colleagues said to me recently: “No one wants to throw their money down a toilet, a sinking ship, a losing enterprise.” Well, perhaps there is some truth in her remark. We want to know that our investment will, to use the old cliché, “make a difference.” Indeed, have you and I not been educated by our culture to contribute to winners? “No one wants to invest in a losing enterprise,” do they?
But, then, we hear these words from the prophet Micah: “You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, are one of the little clans of Judah” – a little clan, a cluster of families that formed the clan descended from Ephrathah and her spouse, Caleb. And with this mention of the little clan, the apparently weaker or less notable cluster of families, we hear, once again, that the God of Israel views life differently than we have been trained: that the God to whom we offer thanksgiving in this house is willing to invest in something or someone perceived to be insignificant, something or someone who appears to hold little social status.
The clans of Judah appear in the gospel reading for this day: “Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.” A town in the hill country? Not in Jerusalem, the capital city? Not in the imperial center of Tiberias by the Galilean Lake or in Jericho with its luxurious palaces? And then there is Mary, the fifteen-year-old and pregnant girl from the utterly insignificant village of Nazareth, and Elizabeth, her forty-something cousin, from the backwater hill country: two women who would not register even the tiniest ping on the radar screen of the ancient world or dare I say our world: so poor they could not purchase a smartphone, create a Facebook page, or a personal website; so poor they would not be able to purchase an obituary in the paper for a dead relative. And yet: it would seem that the God to whom we offer thanksgiving in this house is willing to invest in someone perceived to be insignificant, in someone who appears to hold little social status, in something that appears to be a losing enterprise.
Or say it this way: is it possible that we who claim the name “Christian” are called to a particular way of viewing this world and living in this world? Are we called by God to recognize that what might seem impossible to our reasonable and educated expectations, that what might seem small or insignificant to you and to me just might be the very place where God is eager to make a visitation, to plant – as it were – a seed within you, within our parish, and – with our willingness, our active participation – nurture this small thing into flourishing life? I wonder: what is that yearning, that dream, that hope within you that longs to grow and flourish?
The word investment finds it root meaning not in finance or monetary transaction but, surprisingly, in the world of fashion, in clothing, in being vested, in being clothed from outside of oneself. Investment refers to the act of clothing another in vesture. The great mystery of the Christian faith is that God becomes invested, en-clothed, enfleshed in human form, so that God can be seen and touched and, yes, tasted in the bread of the field and the wine of the vineyard. The great Surprise of this Mystery is that God seems more than willing, indeed, is intent on investing God’s self in what appears, at first glance, to be something of little account, why even what appears to be a losing enterprise: an apparently infertile woman and a pregnant girl unclear of the child’s paternity.
 Each and every Sunday we pray in this place for an end to gun violence, a violence that seems only to grow in our land. Each Sunday we pray that the nations of the earth, and we with them, will awaken to the threat of climate change and the destruction it is already visiting upon the poor of the earth. Each Sunday of the Resurrection, each Lord’s Day, we pray for the diminishment and end of racial injustice that continues to disable our common life. Are there not moments when we wonder if these challenges may prove impossible to meet? Then let us be mindful, let us take hope, dear sisters and brothers, that the One to whom we give thanks in this house is well-versed in what seem to be a losing cause, well-versed in making unexpected visitations, well-versed in transforming despair into hope.