Born on the outside

Advent 4C

Micah 5:2-4

Psalm 80:1-7

Hebrews 10:5010

Luke 1:39-56

Sorry I’ve been absent for a couple of weeks. I had some papers to finish off for courses, and just didn’t find the time to get to the blog. But, the semester is over, so here I am.

This passage from Micah is very familiar to Christians. We hear it often. Matthew uses it in his Gospel to answer Herod’s answer to the magicians concerning where the Messiah would be born. It’s a very problematic text. It’s hard to figure out who is speaking to whom. It seems to me that subject and addressee change at least once in these two short verses. It’s also hard to determine when it was written. Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, so it could be written in the time of Hezekiah, but there are also inclusions in Micah’s book from the time of the Exile in Babylon, so it could be about the expected return. Either way, it is unexpected. If the time frame is Hezekiah, and the threat to Judah from the north, why would the child-ruler (notice, not a king), be born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. The Jerusalem monarchy and its progeny are not God’s chosen rulers. If in the Exile, again, why not a ruler from among the exiled nobility. Only the insignificant folks stayed behind in Judea. Ezra deals with the problems of intermarriage among those who remained behind. God would seem to be choosing a person of mixed heritage over the pure line of exiles. But then God has done that before — just see Ruth.

And, so we come to Luke’s story of Mary. Again, on the outside: God’s slave girl. The redemption of the slave girl echoes the laws concerning the rape of a virgin found in Deuteronomy 24. God has to redeem Mary directly, because no other redeemer was found for her.

Mary’s song is a standard format. It echoes Miriam’s song at the Red Sea, and Hannah’s song at the birth of Saul (yes, I know it says Samuel in 1 Samuel 2, but Hannah naming him because she had asked him of the Lord leads us to expect the name Saul — this is a birth story about Saul changed to Samuel when Saul fell out of favor). The ruler is unexpected.

Notice that Elizabeth is barren, like Sarah and Hannah, while Mary is unmarried. John the Baptist is the last in a line of miraculous births on the old pattern. Jesus is something entirely new. Of course, for Luke, the real interest is in the period of the Holy Spirit, which begins on Pentecost. Mary is the first evangelist of the Church. She is the Church. We sing her song, and keep it alive.