Throughout Advent, our congregation is tracing the theme of “hopes and fears,” echoing the line from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” We are identifying specific fears and then confronting them with our hope in the Christ child. This past Sunday, we began with the fear of scarcity.
Scarcity is the fear that there is not enough. We’re afraid we won't have enough, and we're afraid that we'll lose the little that we do have. Hear are some examples:
I was inspired by an article by Walter Brueggemann published in the Christian Century in 1999 titled, “The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity.” In the article, Brueggemann identifies the great fear of scarcity that drove Hitler. He writes of a young German pastor who met Hitler:
Martin Nieimoller, the German pastor who heroically opposed Adolf Hitler, was a young man when, as part of a delegation of leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, he met with Hitler in 1933. Niemoller stood at the back of the room and looked and listened. He didn't say anything. When he went home, his wife asked him what he had learned that day. Niemöller replied, "I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.” Hitler was afraid that there wasn’t enough. So he had to get more. Because he is fearful, he is ruthless.
In Luke chapter one, Mary could be the picture of scarcity. This teenage girl in first century Judea does not have enough. She is engaged, but not yet married. She’s still in her father’s house until the wedding day. In and of herself, she has no resources. Her survival lies entirely with her father and her future husband.
Gabriel's news could absolutely ruin Mary (Luke 1:31). The angel's message makes her a pregnant teenager. She could well be expelled and ostracized. We are familiar with the stigmas and statistics in our own society. Life for a single, teenage mother is challenging at best.
Yet in the midst of this scarcity, Gabriel declares royalty (1:32). "The Son of the Most High." "His throne." "Reign." "Kingdom." Gabriel is declaring an astounding reality. God comes to scarcity with abundance. Abundant power. An abundant plan. Abundant mercy. Scarcity means “not enough.” Abundance means “more than enough.”
The contrast is remarkable. Here is a teenager whose life is fragile and tenuous. To her comes a King of worldwide supremacy. Mary is a girl of humble means. Her son is a Savior of abundance. Recognizing the abundance of God in her scarcity, she does NOT respond with fear, but with faith: “I’m here. I trust. Let it be with me as you say" (1:38). And she goes on to sing a song that has survived the ages. Humble and lowly are given abundance. The proud and powerful are brought down and made scarce.
Fear of scarcity asks, "Will it be enough? How can I get more? What if I lose what I have?" But the hope of abundance believes there is no limit to what God might do, even with the lowest of means. With this God, there are no limits and there is no ceiling. The scarcity of Good Friday led to abundance on Easter Sunday. The fear of death is obliterated by the King born to a teenage mother.
It’s often those who have the least who see God’s abundance the most. God grant us vision beyond the horizon of scarcity. May we see his abundance, even in the scarcest of situations.