My husband and I watched a Ted Talk given by Margaret Heffernan on Monday night for his new job. And the speaker used a study as the illustrative story that really stuck in my mind. This study called Super Chickens was first conducted by Dr. William Muir and it studied pecking order in chickens. In short, he took a successful flock of chickens and singled out of every generation the strongest chickens to breed. The first generation brought about an increase in eggs. So what would you expect to happen as we approached the second generation? (Let Congregation answer) Well what happened is that all the chickens died except three. They were all too aggressive to survive the pecking order and it resulted in the failure of the flock. The lesson from this study was that all types of people are needed for success in life, society, business, and in churches. All types of people are valuable and used by God and God has been communicating this to us for generations.
Humanity tends to focus too much on the survival of the fittest thought in life. We want to be amongst the strongest. Yet the strongest is not necessarily the ones to get the most done. It is so ingrained in us that for generations humanity looked for a Messiah who would be the strongest, the biggest, the baddest in the pecking order of Israel. A militarily strong individual with the might of God’s arm behind them, an individual who would singlehandedly save the nation of Israel and punish the evil of the gentiles. This was the expectation of John the Baptist and the world at the time of the coming of Jesus.
But God works in mysterious ways and always has. God very rarely has chosen the expected people to be the champions of his people. He very rarely chose the “super chickens” of the generations. In the Old Testament, he chose a small shepherd in David instead of the stronger older brothers. God chose the smaller meeker Jacob instead of the stronger Esau. And again when it came to the Messiah, God chose a teacher and not military man. He chose a man raised by a carpenter and the child of a poor family. He chose a man who would have easily been overlooked even by John the Baptist who was so engrossed in preaching his fire and brimstone sermons that he nearly missed the Messiah even as he prepared to baptize him.
Jesus was not the expected Savior. He didn’t raise a military and did not offer military and political salvation. He was not the typical “super chicken” as humanity expected. What he offered was more thoughtful, more freeing and a salvation that could no longer be taken from the people by the outside forces of militaries, political upheaval, and the abuses of class warfare. In Jesus, we get someone who works with us in our lives to offer salvation that will free us from all that hinders us in our relationship with God. The salvation offered is not a physical one which fades with time. But rather it is a salvation that comes in spiritual form.
At the baptism of Christ, God was revealing to the world, much as he had with the star at Epiphany, that he was doing something new and wonderful. God was about to reach out to the people is a new and deeper way than what humanity was expecting. God never acts as expected but rather he chooses to reveal himself in ways that will shock us and grab our attention. When Jesus was baptized we are told that the spirit of God descended upon him as a dove, the ultimate sign of peace and tranquility. God was signifying to John and those present that this Messiah was not going to lead the people to military victory, which is temporary and full of violence, but rather he would lead the people to God’s peaceful pastures and lead them to spiritual victory over those who would oppress them.
God acts in unexpected ways and he chooses all of us to share in his revelations and work. He calls us, not to react in ways of hatred and violence, but to deal with this world with kindness, compassion, and joy, as Christ lived his life doing. No matter how hard life may be, no matter what challenges may arise, when we act and react to life with appreciation to God, joy, and love then we are victorious over the stressors of this world. Payne Best, a British secret service agent who came to know Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a concentration camp, wrote this of Bonhoeffer, who lived and worked to combat the hatred, fear mongering, and violence of Nazi controlled Germany in the 1930s and 40s, “Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to diffuse an atmosphere of happiness, of joy in every smallest event in life, and of deep gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive… He was one of the very few men that I have ever met to whom his God was real and close”.
Jesus may not have been physically strong; he may not have been highly educated, wealthy, or had any powerful political connections. But what Jesus offered to the world of his time and still offers to each one of us is the knowledge that our God is real, close, and actively touching our lives. With that knowledge, Jesus asks each one of us to allow God to act in our lives in new and unexpected ways by living each day with happiness and acting out of joy as we work to spread the love of God to others. We are called to set aside the struggles and challenges of the world to seek new ways of living out God’s love. So volunteer to help others whenever possible, be generous of yourselves, be forgiving, and make God’s compassion a defining feature of 2019 for your lives. Remember what our scriptures say, “when Jesus also has been baptized and was praying, the heaven’s opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him … as a dove”. Pray often, seek the voice of God, and live into the joy of his revelation allowing the dove of the Holy Spirit to find a resting place in your lives and in your work in this world. For we are all chosen to use our unique talents together with others to affect change in this world.
 Payne Best, British Secret Service Agent, came to know Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a concentration camp. 20th century.
 Luke 3: 21-22, RSV.
(Based on Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22)