Thus says the LORD:
too small to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel;
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient times.
Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time
when she who is to give birth has borne,
and the rest of his kindred shall return
to the children of Israel.
He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock
by the strength of the LORD,
in the majestic name of the LORD, his God;
and they shall remain, for now his greatness
shall reach to the ends of the earth;
he shall be peace.
Brothers and sisters:
When Christ came into the world, he said:
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll,
behold, I come to do your will, O God.'"
First he says, "Sacrifices and offerings,
holocausts and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in."
These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, :Behold, I come to do your will."
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this "will," we have been consecrated
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled."
One reason our sacred authors compose their writings springs from a desire to make certain their communities always “look” in the right direction. They’re convinced it’s possible to ignore God’s message simply because we don’t notice it, even when it’s right in front of us. Our biblical writers are determined this isn’t going to happen “on their watch.” They remind their readers that we follow a God constantly working through unexpected people, in unexpected, subtle ways. In God’s eyes, one’s “worldly” importance doesn’t count; one’s social acceptability is worthless. God demands we experience the whole world, not just the part and the people with which we’re comfortable.
I’m old enough to actually remember playing the “Pong” video game when it first came out in the 1970s; an excellent way to develop my reflexes. I never knew from where the ball was coming. I simply had to be constantly ready. Yet, as a student of Scripture, I was aware a “biblical pong” game existed long before the 20th century. From the beginning of faith, God’s followers were forced to acknowledge they had no idea from where God’s word and presence were coming. They could appear anywhere. The faithful could only work on developing their faith reflexes by listening to Scripture texts like today’s three readings.
More than 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Micah prophetically warns the people of Judah to be careful about the direction from which they’re expecting the Messiah to come. They might miss him; he could be coming from a clan and tribe they’re not anticipating. In this case, from of all places, Bethlehem-Ephrathah. Of course, everyone listening to Micah was familiar with King David and the I Samuel story in which this greatest of all Jewish kings not only came from the same town, but whose own father had no idea Yahweh had chosen the “runt” of the family for such a prestigious position. Just like no one saw “that one coming,” so no one can predict from where the Messiah’s coming. If the nation’s royal salvation once came from such an unexpected place, it could just as unpredictably come from there again.
Mary of Nazareth’s relative Elizabeth had a similar experience 1,000 years after David’s coronation. How could she have anticipated someone she’d known all her life would eventually become “the mother of (her) Lord?” Though, as a good Jew, she’d been expecting the Messiah’s arrival, she certainly hadn’t been looking in Mary’s direction. Elizabeth’s Yahweh-inspired surprises didn’t stop with the conception of her and Zechariah’s son. The “best” was yet to come.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews hints at why unexpectedness is built into our faith. Instead of revolving our lives around “sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings,” followers of Jesus are simply committed to doing God’s will. The risen Jesus has freed us from the law mandating all those rituals, and replacing it with an obligation just to imitate him/her. As we know from Scripture – beginning with the Yahwistic author of Genesis 38 – we follow a God who’s notorious for taking us down roads we could never have predicted. Nothing or no one is off limits. Just when we’ve outlined the perimeters with which we’re comfortable, we discover God has created not just new rules, but a whole new game.
No wonder the gospel Jesus frequently warns his followers, “Stay awake!” Just as marriages begin to die the moment the partners start to predict one another’s actions, so our faith starts to die the moment we start to predict God’s actions in our lives.
Perhaps we should encourage our parish banner makers to create a big one with an image of the Pong game . . . unless it makes us too nervous.