I love old game shows on TV. How many of you remember the TV show Password? If you never saw it, the original version of Password ran from 1961 to 1975. The original host was Allen Ludden, Betty White’s late husband. We had a board game of Password when I was growing up, and it’s similar to a lot of board games now. There were two people on a team, and a secret word. The first person had to get the second person to say the secret word by giving one word clues, and you couldn’t use proper names. If you and I were on a team and the secret word was “horse,” I might say, “thoroughbred.” If that didn’t do it, I might say “pacer.” If that wasn’t enough, then I might say “charley….”
Did you notice the way I said that, with my voice going up at the end? That’s not because it was a question. It’s because “charley” is the first word of the phrase “charley-horse” and so that rise indicates that there’s something more that comes, something that goes with that word and that it’s something pretty common, something pretty well known, hopefully something obvious. It’s easy. Salt… pepper. Barack… Obama. Here’s one for DC football fans. Kirk… Cousins.
Two weeks ago when I preached you may remember that my sermon title was, “The Word of God Comes to…” Those three dots also indicate that something else is coming, right? They indicate that the sentence isn’t over, that there is something more to wait for. Those three dots are called an ellipsis. If you were to write out those clues I was giving you earlier, you would use an ellipsis. Charley (dot dot dot) horse. Fried (dot dot dot) chicken. You hear people use an ellipsis verbally in awards shows. “The Academy Award goes to (dot dot dot) Jack Nicholson.”
Those dots can mean other things when they are used in other places, but what they mean here is that there is more to come. An ellipsis means there is more to come. Now keep that in the back of your mind while I tell you the story of Jacoby. This story appears many places; this is kind of a combination of a number of different versions.
There once was a Jewish fellow named Jacoby. Jacoby grew up in Spain and moved to Israel. He attended synagogue regularly, but since Spanish was his first language he didn’t understand very much of the Hebrew that they did the services in. Still, Jacoby was a faithful man, and so he attended synagogue even though he understood very little of what was being said.
One Sabbath Jacoby was at the synagogue, and he heard and understood the word for “bread.” Jacoby hadn’t been sure what he could give to God, for he was a poor man, but this gave him an idea. He had his wife bake a dozen loaves of bread. A few days later, when the synagogue was empty and silent, Jacoby went to the synagogue and approached the altar. “Dios,” he said, “God, I understand that you like bread. My wife Costanzia makes the best bread in the world. You will love it, I promise. Here, I will leave the bread behind the altar for you. Take it and eat it and may the glory be yours.” And Jacoby left the fresh, warm bread behind the altar, and quickly slipped out of the synagogue.
A little later, a beggar came into the synagogue to pray. He said, “Dear God, my wife is hungry, my children are hungry, and you know there is no work. Maybe, God, you would have some food you could spare? Maybe some bread? Anything?” And the beggar sniffed the air, and he smelled something, and he looked behind the altar and there was an answer to his prayer – a dozen loaves of freshly baked bread! “God be praised!” said the beggar, “God be praised!” And the beggar gathered up the bread and ran home to his joyful family.
Well, you cannot imagine how happy Jacoby was when he came to the synagogue the next week and found the bread gone. God had eaten the bread! He ran home to tell Costanzia, and she baked another dozen loaves, which Jacoby took to the synagogue and placed behind the altar once again. And you cannot imagine how happy the beggar was when he came to the synagogue the next week and found another dozen loaves of fresh bread behind the altar. Glory to God!
This went on for twenty years. Week after week Jacoby brought fresh bread for God at exactly the same time, and week after week the beggar took home fresh bread from God at exactly the same time, and their paths never crossed. Until one night, when Jacoby brought the bread and he took a little longer than usual talking to God. “Dios, I am sorry the bread is so lumpy. My Costanzia, her arthritis in her hands makes it harder and harder to knead the dough. Maybe you could do something?”
The Jacoby heard someone coming, so he quickly put his bread behind the altar and hid in the shadows. It was the beggar, and he too had something extra to say. “Dear God, I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, but lately your bread has been a little lumpy. Maybe you could do something?” And the beggar stepped behind the altar to pick up his fresh bread.
“What are you doing?” cried Jacoby. “What are you doing?” cried the beggar. As they shouted at one another the rabbi heard them and came out. “What are you two doing?” he shouted.
Well, Jacoby and the beggar told the rabbi the whole story, and then everyone began to cry. he rabbi cried because it was his sermon that had led to the misunderstanding. Jacoby cried because his bread hadn’t been getting to God after all. The beggar cried because now there would be no more bread.
In the midst of all the tears and all the wailing loud laughter was heard in the back of the synagogue. The men looked and saw the great Rabbi ben Isaac. “Brothers, brothers, dry your eyes” said Rabbi ben Isaac. “There is nothing for which to cry. God and all the angels have laughed with delight each week as one man brought the bread and another man took the bread and God got all the credit. This is wonderful!”
“But now,” said Rabbi ben Isaac, “now comes a thing which will be very hard, a thing which will take great faith. You, Jacoby, must continue to bring the bread each week and give it directly to the beggar, but you must believe that you are giving it to God. And you, beggar, must believe each week that the bread is coming to you directly from God.”
This the men did, the rest of their lives. And in this simple thing they showed more faith than when they thought that the bread was a miracle.
So now you know the story of Jacoby. And we already talked about the ellipsis, the three dots that mean there’s something coming next. Now let’s talk a minute about Mary.
It’s interesting that for as important as Mary is to the gospel story, she doesn’t get mentioned all that much. Luke mentions her the most, twelve times by name, and all twelve in the section of the book that is about Jesus’s birth, the section called the infancy narrative. Matthew mentions her by name six times, five times in the infancy narrative. Mark refers to her once by name and once without naming her. John refers to her twice, but not by name either time.
I guess if we’re honest we don’t think about Mary a whole lot outside of the Advent and Christmas seasons. It’s different for Catholics and for Orthodox Christians and even for Muslims. There’s a whole chapter of the Qur’an just about Mary. We Protestants, and particularly within the Anabaptist wing of the Protestants, don’t pay much attention to her the rest of the year.
Although we don’t look back on Mary as much as we probably should, here in her song Mary is looking forward to us. Mary is singing not just to the reality of her setting, Mary is singing about our reality as well.
Listen again to verses 46 through 53: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
If you’re a writer one of the things you need to pay attention to is the agreement between verb tenses. There’s past tense, present tense, future tense. I did this. I am doing this. I will do that. We all learned that years ago, right? If you look at Mary’s song, you’ll notice that it encompasses that past, the present, and the future.
Take a look. My soul magnifies – my spirit rejoices – that’s present tense. He has looked – past tense. All generations will call – future tense. Past, present, and future , all three just in the first two sentences.
What I find the most interesting about this is that the last two sentences are all in the past tense. Let me read them again: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Is that true do you think? Have the proud been scattered? I don’t think so. Have the powerful been brought down and the lowly lifted up? Not so far as I can tell. Are the hungry filled with good things? Do the rich leave empty? No. They do not.
This brings us back to the end of the story of Jacoby and the beggar. Now comes a thing which will be very hard, a thing which will take great faith. You, all of you, must live as if God has done these things. You, all of you, must live out of the reality that Mary sings – that God has fed the hungry and turned away the rich, that God has lifted up the lowly and brought down the powerful and scattered the proud. You must live your lives believing that the Kingdom of God is here, even when you don’t see it. You must live your lives believing that the battle has been won, and that it is your job to claim the world in God’s name and for God’s kingdom. It is your job to believe Mary’s words and make them a reality in the world around you, and all around the world.
And that brings us back to the three dots, to the ellipsis. Mary’s song is not the end – Jesus is yet to be born. And when Jesus is born, when you celebrate Christmas next Friday, wherever you are, that’s not the end. That’s the beginning. That’s the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth. That’s the beginning of the call, the beginning of the work, the beginning of the season, not the end. There’s more to come.
In that spirit of Jacoby and the three dots, since I won’t see you again before Christmas day, let me take the opportunity now to close by wishing you a Merry Christmas…(voices rises at the end.) Amen.
One Comment Add yours
Very nicely written, Jeff. I have always thought that Luke, the Gentile who wrote the greater portion (Luke and Acts) of the New Testament, recorded the story of Mary’s pregnancy and Jesus’ birth after interviews with Mary. I agree that it is also interesting that the Koran mentions Mary so much. I have heard that believers in Islam have sometimes realized that the numerous references to Mary and also to Jesus and Biblical prophets have caused some of them to leave Islam and become Christians. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it is interesting to read the Koran and see the references to Biblical characters. Merry Christmas. Max Miller 22 December