Advent 4 (C)

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A meditation by Pastor Robert Schaefer

First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches

Fourth Sunday in Advent/Christmas Program –

December 21, 2003

Text: Luke 1.39-55

Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

A few years ago, at Christmastime, I made a big mistake. The family had gathered for dinner before the candlelight service, and we were all sitting together in my parents’ living room. We were making small talk. And, for no reason I can put my finger on, out of my mouth came these memorable words: “The penny is an outmoded form of currency. It just isn’t useful or practical anymore. It doesn’t even make sense to pick them up off the street – you’ll rack up more in chiropractic bills over a lifetime than you’ll ever be able to pay for with the jarful of pennies you’ve saved.”

Well, I was intending to be lighthearted and to make a point that I assumed no one could disagree with. It’s difficult to ever save up enough pennies to buy even a small item, and they’re always winding up in heaps on people’s dressers. It seemed obvious to me that pennies were so small and insignificant that we might as well be done with them.

My grandparents, who had lived through the depression, saw things differently.

Now, my grandparents’ pennies won’t buy any more than mine will, but Grandma and Grandpa see their pennies differently than I do. They see real value, even in the lowly penny. No matter how little it is, the penny is still real U.S. currency, and only a fool ignores the value of money. Even pennies.

I read an article today that suggests that, at least on the very rarest occasions, my grandparents’ faith in the penny might be well-rewarded.

It seems that if you have a 1943 copper penny in your heap on the dresser, it could be worth far more than its face value would lead you to believe. In fact, 1943 copper pennies have brought as much as $85,000 at auction.

The country was at war in ’43, and copper was a limited commodity. It made no sense to use it in coins back home when it was urgently needed for the war effort abroad. Pennies in 1943 were struck using zinc-coated steel. But a few copper slugs must have been left in the machines from the last time pennies were struck, because somehow the U.S. Mint produced a precious few of the old-fashioned, copper pennies in 1943. About forty of them are known to exist today. But who knows how many are lurking in dresser piles and giant pickling jars, their tremendous value unknown, unnoticed.

God, I now think, might have taken my grandparents’ side in this argument. Pennies are valuable to God. Small things are valuable to God, in ways that might not make much sense to most folks.

Think about Bethlehem, that little town which once, far back in the pages of its history, had produced a king. The days were long since then, and Bethlehem was not much to speak of now. It was a backwater, bush league sort of town compared to Jerusalem – the holy city – and you would have been right not to expect anything great from Bethlehem ever again. Its time in the sun had passed.

Yet God chose Bethlehem to be the birthplace of the highest nobility ever to grace this world, his Son, Jesus. In that unlikely town, in the unlikely barn of an overstuffed hotel, the child king was born. God had looked at a penny, you might say, and seen its true value.

And again, think of Mary. Not the Queen of Heaven, as some would have you call her, but a scared, slender teenage girl. One who might be pregnant, and not by her future husband. One who has kings in her family tree, but dust between her toes and little in her purse. Mary is a lowly thing, the kind of dime-a-dozen Jewish peasant girl that filled the Judean countryside in those days.

And yet, God chose Mary to be the mother of her world’s Savior. As common and lowly as she was, God saw in her the preciousness of a beloved daughter whom he could trust to nurture and care for a newborn messiah until he was safely grown. Mary was a penny, hidden away in the coin jar, that God found and saw the great value in.

God has a habit of doing that, you know. He finds the small things, the weak things, the lowly and insignificant things of this world, and sees the tremendous value in them. Then he uses those things as if they were the obvious instruments of the King of the Universe, not caring one whit what the naysayers among us happen to think.

That’s good news for a wet-behind-the-ears young pastor. And I think it’s good news, too, for that wet-behind-the-ears pastor’s small country churches, too. The world doesn’t expect much out of us, my friends. We are pennies, hardly worth stooping over to pick up. For as much as the world values young pastors and rural congregations, we might as well just be done with it.

But God’s habit of choosing the lowly and the weak for his purposes, of seeing the great value hidden within them, applies to us, as well. When you think of our churches, think of Mary, and the little town of Bethlehem. Think of the 1943 copper penny, and its brothers hidden away in heaps and jars. Most of all, think of God, who sees the real value that the world cannot see. He has named you priceless, and has chosen you to do great things for him in his world. Do not doubt God’s appraisal – he is always…right on the money. Amen.

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