“I think it is just as important for us to imagine God as being impossibly large, as it is for us to imagine God as being impossibly small. In truth God is both of these things – or none of these things… God is not bound by human dimensions such as time and space, except for those 33 years of Jesus’ life when God chose to be human. God chose to be literally small. And God chose small things to carry great meaning and significance.”
Sermon Preached: Sunday, December 19, 2021 at Trinity on the Green
Between the words that I speak, and the words that are heard, may God’s spirit be present. Amen.
How big is God?
I wonder if any of you out there have ever asked this question before. It’s not a question that tends to come up in advanced theological conversations during seminary, I can tell you that. But perhaps it is a question that you asked many years ago when you were five or six years old, trying to make sense of this being your parents called God. What is God? Who is God? Where is God? How big is God?
It turns out that a simple internet search will give you quite a few answers to the question, How big is God? The answers tend to go something like this: God is bigger than you can imagine. God is bigger than our small everyday concerns; bigger than our worries and our mistakes. God is bigger than the earth, the solar system, and the universe! One blog reflecting on this question from the perspective of children affirmed that yes, God is even bigger than your house.
All of these answers seem to come to the same general conclusion: God is big. Bigger than our small human minds can comprehend.
That is one answer to the question: How big is God? And yet, it is not the only answer. Recently I’ve been thinking about this question in light of a different perspective, the perspective of an expecting mother. The internet these days is full of all kinds of ways to track how big your baby is when it is still growing in the womb. There are all kinds of websites and apps devoted to answering this question, and they do it in the cutest way. How big is your baby this week? The answer might be: as big as a blueberry; as big as lemon; as big as an avocado! And all of these answers inevitably come with a cute illustrated image of said fruit or vegetable with a sweet smiling cartoon face. I suppose these websites could offer more mundane comparisons – for example, this week your baby is the size of an eraser, a bar of soap, or a hamburger. And yet fruit, with their cute smiling faces, tend to be the dominant image.
I wonder if Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, her relative, wondered about these same questions as they sat together in their mutually pregnant state at a Judean city in the highlands, in the first century. The fruit references would have to be different of course, in the land of figs, grapes, and olives. Or perhaps, in a time before modern medicine, Mary and Elizabeth had no way to even imagine how big or small their babies were in the womb. They simply trusted in their presence. Elizabeth, months further along than Mary, felt a flutter of movement in her belly that assured her the child was there. And Mary, early in her pregnancy, perhaps not even showing, trusted in the presence of Jesus in her womb just as she trusted in the angel that appeared before her to announce this incredible news.
This narrative window into the lives of Mary and Elizabeth offer a different answer to the question: How big is God? Because, while it may sometimes be meaningful for us to think of God as impossibly large, it is also true that at one point God, in the person of Jesus, chose to be incredibly small. As small as an infant child, yes. But even smaller than that, when we think about it. Because at one time Jesus must have been as small as an avocado, as small as a lemon, as small as blueberry.
I think it is just as important for us to imagine God as being impossibly large, as it is for us to imagine God as being impossibly small. In truth God is both of these things – or none of these things… God is not bound by human dimensions such as time and space, except for those 33 years of Jesus’ life when God chose to be human. God chose to be literally small. And God chose small things to carry great meaning and significance.
Mary was aware of this, when she visited Elizabeth. She speaks out her feelings with these words, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”
These are the words that begin a speech which has since become known as the Magnificat, which is the Latin translation for the words that begin this passage. Indeed, some people translate that first line of Greek differently than the translation that we read today, and say instead, in English, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” I love this particular translation because it captures perfectly this idea of small things made large; lowly things made great. Mary continually references her “lowliness” throughout the Magnificat; yet these words don’t convey any sense of shame or inadequacy. Instead Mary revels in her smallness, pointing out the paradox of how God’s greatness is made manifest in small things.
This theme of smallness appears not only in our reading from the Gospel of Luke, but also in our reading from the Prophet Micah. Micah says, “You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth one who is to rule in Israel.” Again and again God does not see smallness as a liability or a lack of something. Instead, God sees small and seemingly insignificant things as the best place to reveal God’s presence; God’s power.
All of this makes me wonder: how many times in my life have I tried to make myself out to be bigger than I really am? How many times have I tried to seem more impressive; more successful; more independent; more competent; more… fill in the blank! On a daily basis, there are all kinds of ways that we “puff ourselves up.” And we do it for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes we do it out of an excess of pride. Sometimes we do it out of a kind of self-protection or self-preservation. But every time we “puff ourselves up” we separate ourselves further and further from God. Every time we aggrandize ourselves, we lose a sense of that sacredness that is most clearly present in our smallness; in our everyday actions; in our everyday lives.
God’s greatness is most clearly present in small things. And my prayer for all of us, this Advent season heading into Christmas, is that we have eyes to see the greatness of God in the small blessings of this season. Look for the greatness of God in a squirrel, tiptoeing across the fence in your backyard. Discover the greatness of God is a letter or a message from an old friend. Remember the greatness of God when the cookies burn at the edge of the pan – because it’s okay. And the small things don’t have to get us down. Instead they can be a reminder to us that we are alive, in this world that God chose to inhabit, and that is enough.
This season is not an easy one for all of us. For many people, the holidays are a time of acute grief, whether you are reflecting on the loss of a person or regrets from the year that has passed. Some of us may be starting to feel the physical and emotional upsets of Covid creep in once again, as infection rates rise across the city and the country, impacting our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Sometimes, when we look at the big picture, it can be easy to be overwhelmed or depressed. Remember, in those moments, that God is not only God of the universe. God is also the God of small things. When you can’t find hope in the big picture, find hope in the small picture – knowing that God has chosen small things, again and again, as a place to work great change.
Put the magnifying glass to your eyes this Advent and Christmas season, and find God in all the small things. Remember that smallness is not a sign of insignificance, but rather a source of sacredness and strength. Like Mary, may we each be bold enough to say: “My soul magnifies Lord.” Amen.