On Sunday nights we have been preaching through Proverbs, which can be a very, very difficult book to preach. The proverbs collected have little or no defined theme throughout most of the book. The challenge is to search for similar sayings or verses about the same themes and piece them together into a cohesive group. By doing this we really begin to see just how important certain key ideas, themes, and attitudes are to those who collected these proverbs.

One such group of proverbs that I’ve been looking into for the past week or so has to deal with the righteous and the wicked. In chapters 10 through 17 alone (less than 1/4 of the whole book) I found about 40 different verses all giving the same hope – the righteous will be blessed by God and the wicked will get their due.

The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,
but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. (10:3)

The name of the righteous is used in blessings,
but the name of the wicked will rot. (10:7)

The wages of the righteous is life,
but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death. (10:16)

What the wicked dread will overtake them;
what the righteous desire will be granted. (10:24)

Trouble pursues the sinner,
but the righteous are rewarded with good things. (13:21)

The righteous eat to their hearts’ content,
but the stomach of the wicked goes hungry. (13:25)

The house of the righteous contains great treasure,
but the income of the wicked brings ruin. (15:6)

I could keep going, but you get the point. Deep down inside of us we all have a desire to see these proverbs play out in our lives. But it rarely works that way. We try to live well and be good people. We try to do the right thing and treat others with love. But rarely do we see any great prosperity from it. We even have a saying in our society, “Nice guys finish last.”
If we try out best to live our best then we feel that we should be rewarded, somehow, someway. That’s why we go see The Avengers or The Hobbit. We love movies, as predictable as they are, in which the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and everyone lives happily ever after (until the next alien attack or whatever).
Unfortunately we have to find that hope on the silver screen because it never quite seems to play out in reality.
This is true even when it comes to our faith.
Take a step back in history. Imagine you are a Jewish peasant, barely scraping by. You’re considered blessed because you have a meager roof over your head and some scraps to put on the table. All around you is chaos. The Roman oppression just seems to grow stronger and harsher with every attempted rebellion. God seems distant at best, powerless at worst. You keep hearing talk about the awaited Messiah who is going to come and set everything to rights – if only you would just pray harder, fast longer, memorize more Torah, offer more sacrifices, keep the Sabbath more strictly, and on the list goes.
You even hear the following passage read, reminding you that God will fulfill His end of the bargain when you obey His law more fully:

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to.

The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14)

Deuteronomy promises all sorts of blessings upon you and your people if you will just remain faithful and righteous. But then the other side – the nay-sayers and the pessimists remind you of Psalm 14.

The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

It’s hopeless. It’s pointless. You can never be good enough, so just stop trying so hard.

Fight the Romans! Befriend the Romans! Stay faithful to God! God has forsaken us! Do God’s will! Do whatever you want!

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which captures the mood surrounding the advent of Jesus Christ:

It’s in the midst of this chaos, confusion, frustration, and despair that God appeared to a young, Jewish peasant girl named Mary who was betrothed to a construction worker named Joseph. And it’s through Mary that God himself is going to burst into the middle of human history and set things straight. God is putting his very self at the mercy and care of Mary, even though a million and one things could go wrong from conception to birth to adulthood. That’s the risk God is willing to take to fulfill his promises.

So what was Mary thinking about all this? It’s pretty amazing actually. We get a glimpse into her thoughts. What did this all mean to her?

And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55)

All those promises in Proverbs, those grand promises in Deuteronomy – Mary knew that the baby growing inside her womb was the fulfillment of those promises. Her son, the Son of Man, had come to exalt the humble, to fill those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He had also come to scatter the proud, tear down the evil rulers of the age, and bring judgment on the wicked.

That’s what Christmas meant to Mary. That’s what Christmas means to us still today.