Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent 4 sermon

Advent 4 – December 23rd, 2012 – Luke 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          For the 4th Sunday in Advent, the Sunday immediately preceding Christmas, a pastor as two options in the lectionary for what Gospel lesson he can read.  He can read Luke and the account of Mary and the Magnificat, or he can read from John chapter 1, John pointing forward the Messiah – which is the one we’ve done more often these past few years.  It’s an interesting choice.  You have Mary, whom all women will call blessed, and you have John, who is by Jesus’ own words one of the greatest of men – and yet, in both readings there is a wonderful point of connection – both Mary and John don’t focus on themselves and how wonderful they are, they both point forward to Jesus and what He does.  We know John – he points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – we sing this whenever we celebrate communion.  But, as we have fallen out of the practice of having Matins, we don’t sing Mary’s song – the Magnificat – all the much here – so that will be our focus, our final preparation for Christmas.  We will look at Mary, and then let her point us to her Son.  Let’s dive in.

          In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  Well, I guess John shows up in this text too, but he’s not talking, he’s just leaping for joy when Mary brings Jesus by.  And it’s not just John who gets excited, even Elizabeth joins in.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  What the angel told Zechariah was all coming true – Elizabeth was pregnant despite her age, and indeed, it looks like her son will be preparing the way for the Messiah who has just showed up.  And there’s Mary – standing there.  Probably around 13 years old.  Easily she could have been overwhelmed, easily she could have let this all go to her head.  Easily she could have bragged about herself – because let’s face it, if for some stupid reason ever we are sitting down and bragging about who we are and what’ve done for the Lord, being able to say, “Yeah, I gave birth to Him” would be a fantastic trump statement.  So what does Mary do?  She stops talking about herself, and instead she points to God.

Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  We don’t often use the word “magnify” this way, but it means to make great, to make a big deal of, to focus upon.  Your magnifying glass lets you focus upon something and see it clearly – and praise does this – it focuses us upon God and what He has done.  This serves as a reminder of what all Christian praise must do if it is to be called praise – it has to focus upon God – it has to be about what God does.  It has to rejoice in God and in His salvation.  Christian praise is always tied, always points to the fact that God Himself acts on our behalf and saves us.  This is what we praise God for – and Mary will continue to expand aspects of this in her song.

          “for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed, for He who is mighty has done great things for me.”  Mary recognizes something about herself that we in America can forget.  She sees that she is but that she deserves to be humble – that she is lowly, that there is nothing in her that demands success or praise or glory.  It’s not about her.  And yet, God has beheld her, God has seen her, and God is the One who has elevated her – in fact, all generations, even our to day, learn of the Blessed Virgin Mary – her words will echo throughout churches, children will want to be her in Christmas programs – and why?  Not because she herself is wonderful, but because God, the Mighty One, has done great things for her.  If she were not the mother of our Lord, not a one of us would have even heard of her.  Mary is acutely aware of God’s blessings given to her, precisely because she knows that she does not deserve them.  She is humble.

          Sometimes it can be hard for us as Americans to remember that we too are humble people, and that any good, any blessing we have comes simply from God’s blessing and favor upon us.  That’s not the way we think as Americans.  We don’t tell our children that they are humble and lowly – we say, “Someday you could be president.”  We don’t say that God will use them and the talents He has given to them as He sees fit; we tell them that they can grow up into whatever they want to be.  And sometimes we can forget that our talents, our blessings are all things that come from God, that the opportunities that we see, these are gifts from God.  Our talents don’t say much about us – they rather proclaim how good God is.  Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify, not you, but glorify your Father in heaven.  This is what Mary understands, she understands because she sees she praises God for the great things that He has done for her.  And likewise, consider the wonderful gifts that God has given to you – your talents, your abilities, your opportunities.  These are things He has given to you freely and wondrously, and for this we ought give praise to God.

          “and Holy is His Name.  And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”  But it gets even better.  God’s Name, the God who does all this for you, His Name is holy, and He is full of mercy.  Mary sees that – and her name will ever be associated with God’s Name.  She will forever be remembered as Mary, the Mother of God.  And she sees the great mercy that she has received, that she, a sinful being, receives such wonderful things from God.

          Now, dear friends, consider the fact that you are Baptized.  You have been joined into God’s own Name, His own holiness has been applied to you.  You are made to be part of God’s Family as assuredly as Mary, Jesus’ own mother is part of His family – for you have been Baptized, you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father, you now have Christ for your brother, you are His family – and as such, you receive His Mercy.  The greatest and mightiest thing that God has done for you has nothing to do with the presents under the tree, or the size of your home or your bank account, or how talented you are – those are wonderful, but they aren’t the greatest.  You have been forgiven on account of Christ – you have been given the gift of faith and welcomed into the family of God.  God in His great mercy and love for you has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this is something that is for eternity – and it’s not dependent upon you, but flows totally from Him.  God is rightly praised for this.

          He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.  Mary brings out another thing that God does that we know yet often forget.  We do not need to look very hard to see the mighty and powerful abuse and harm others, indeed, even harm us.  But Mary’s words remind us of a truth that we can forget when we see the wickedness and oppression in this world – there is so much more that God prevents, there is so much that God brings to an end.  The proud are scattered, their plans fall apart and so often do not come to fruition.  The tyrants on their thrones fall, the powers crumble – evil doesn’t endure because God brings an end to it.  And this is a comfort to us, it gives us a new perspective – for even when evil is done to us, even when we are getting it heaped upon us – we know that God does not let it last, that it will crumble and fail sooner or later, and that He will deliver us. 

          Indeed, the great example of that is the very fact that Mary is pregnant with the Christ Child as she says this.  No more will God be content to have fallen king after fallen king come and rule on this earth – no more will He let this world’s prince have His sway – no, God Himself comes to be our king, to be our Lord, to defeat Satan – and because He has come we have victory assured.  The brief battles we face now in this life will give way and yield to the eternal victory celebration of heaven, because God’s strong arm wins the victory by being nailed to the cross and rising again on the third day.

          He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.  He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.  The coming of Christ changes things; things will be different because of Christ.  Wickedness will be overcome, the powerful will be cast down.  The failings and the disappointments that we face in this life eventually will go away.  And instead, God fills us with all joy and blessedness.  And as those of the New Testament, we see these words of Mary and the promises they point all gathered in to the Lord’s Supper.  If you believe that you are spiritually rich, that you need no forgiveness, that you have no need for God’s mercy – you will remain as empty and shallow as you were.  But for you, dear friends, you who see and know your own sin, who know your own struggles, who feel the pressures of life in this world and who are burdened – you who are hungry for righteousness – behold what God does for you.  He calls you to His own table, and here He fills you with not merely good things, but the very best thing – He fills you with Himself – Christ Jesus gives Himself unto you, in a way most wondrous and amazing – He forgives your sins in His Supper, He gives you His own strength – He helps you face down the fears of the past and helps you to face the trials of the future, because in His Supper we see the proof that He is with us, indeed, in His Supper He is with us.

          Dear friends, Christ Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, is here, and because He is Here, because He has called us unto His family through the waters of Baptism, because He gives Himself to us in His Supper, we see and understand His great love for us – we see and understand all that He has done and accomplished for us.  For indeed, while we were humble and lowly, while we were weak – He is the one who is strong for us, strong to save – who comes to rescue us and free us, not merely for the brief span of our lives, but for all ages and ages, even unto life everlasting.  This, dear friends, is why we magnify the Lord, this is why we focus our eyes upon Him and in thanksgiving sing His praise – because we see all that He has done for us, freely and without worth or merit in us.  Christ Jesus came to be our Savior, and He shall come again to bring us unto heaven, and so we say again, Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

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